Dou Donggo Justice: Conflict and Morality in an Indonesian Society. (Book Reviews: Legal Anthropology)

By Allerton, Catherine | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Dou Donggo Justice: Conflict and Morality in an Indonesian Society. (Book Reviews: Legal Anthropology)


Allerton, Catherine, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


JUST, PETER. Dou Donggo justice: conflict and morality in an Indonesian society. xi, 263 pp., illus., bibliogr. Oxford, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. [pounds sterling]20.95 (paper)

Why would a woman falsely accuse a young man of assaulting her with a bush knife? Why would a catechist be made to confess killing a goat he never touched? And why would a community's council of elders uphold both of these accusations as a kind of potential super-truth, above and beyond the events that 'really' took place? In this book, Peter Just provides the answers to these and other questions by revealing the 'moral ontology' lying behind Don Donggo notions of justice and legality. In doing so, he makes an important contribution to the anthropology of law, whilst providing insights into life in the highlands of western Sumbawa, one of Indonesia's lesser-known islands.

By 'moral ontology', Just means 'the fundamental cultural assumptions that the people have about the nature of the world, the beings who inhabit it, and their relationships to one another, as well as their ideas about causation, liability, and the like' (p. ix). The first part of the book is aimed at revealing a number of these assumptions. Just introduces the village of 'Doro Ntika', describing very vividly the aural, visual, and social 'density' of communal life (pp. 55, 96). He argues that despite half a century of social, religious, and economic change, the Don Donggo legal system has retained both its autonomy and a 'sense of balance' (p. 71), accommodating and resisting change in equal measure. Fearing the police and eschewing the courts of the Indonesian state, Don Donggo people continue to place their trust in their doumatuatua, a charismatic group of (male) elders and healers. Just argues that it is through public displays of emotion, particularly at various evaluative fora, that the village is cons tituted as a 'moral community'. Such displays reveal the importance of giving action to pity and maintaining humoral balance in a world of multiple 'beings', where 'the process of becoming aware' is profoundly collective (p. 156).

The second part of the book applies Just's conviction that 'stories' are what law (and ethnography) is about, by providing three in-depth case-studies of dispute settlement. The complexities of each story are described very clearly, and Just supplies telling extra details concerning judges, accusers, and accused. The first two cases - the aforementioned 'assaulted gossip' and 'dead goat' -- lead Just to argue that there is a 'liability of potentiality' in Dou Donggo justice, whereby 'what one might have done is as good an indication of one's state of awareness as what one does' (p. …

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