Rampi’s Law and Order

Hidden in the highlands of North Luwu in South Sulawesi, live the Rampi tribe, which have always lived under the protection of their traditional laws. Lives tock roam freely, doors are never locked and the environment sustainably managed. The  people have no concept of prisons or law enforcers, and relations between tyoung people are still regulated by customs. How have they been able to sustain this traditional culture? Tempo reporter Irmawati in Makassar studied the life of the Rampi tribe three weeks ago and wrote the following report for Tempo English Edition.  

Plowing rice paddies the old-fashioned way.

Pounding rice with mortar in Onondowa village.

HEAVY rain, steep and slippery banks, unstable sandy tunnels and rivers were the conditions Tempo went through on the way to Rampi district. From Masamba–the district closest to Rampi—one had to walk as far as 100 kilometers, as the path was impassable by vehicles. But all the exertion paid off on reaching at Rampi. We feasted our eyes on natural beauty that defied description. Soaring mountains surrounded the six villages of Leboni, Sulaku, Onondowa, Dodolo, rampi and Tedeboe. They sat on hillsides, at altitudes ranging from about 200 meters to 2,000 meters.

Amid the mountains, life in Rampi seems to have frozen ini time. Most of the settlements comprise wooden houses on stilts, unpainted and unvarnished. Some homes are partitioned, others are single units. Tehere is minimum furniture. Woven pandanus mats serve as seats. Occasionally, a wooden bench could be seen. Few families have cupboards. So they hang their clothes from a rope strung across the room, or fold them and wrap them in sarong bundles, stored in a corner.

Housewives cook with firewood, sometimes a nila fish when a neighbor happened to be emptying their fish ponds. On occasion, they would treat themselves to game meat, when hunters share their catch. But other goods can be quite high: sugar costs Rp 20,000 per kilogram and gosaline Rp 12,000 per liter.

The area is so remote that for almost 10 years, Rampi never had a police presence, despite its status as a district. Today only two police officers control the whole area. “Its population is small and there’s a great distance to cover, while personnel in North Luwu is limited, so we see it unnecessary to set up a police post  there,” said North Luwu Resort Police, Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Agus Risendi. “Besides, no serious cases have happened in Rampi. Everything can be solved in the traditional way,” he added.

The customary law in this district of 3,000 people is strong and strictly enforced. A few crimes were settled according to the traditional law, withoutpolice intervention. One example was the beating of a resident at Totahi village, last month. As he was carrying pies from Bada village to Sulaku, 30 year old Epak was waylaid and beaten up by Taimba. The cause was trivial: a previous drunken quarrel. The head of Sulaku ordered Taimba to pay a Rp 1.5 million fine. “Taimba’s wife had to sell several sacks of cement to get that sum,” said Hajjah Hadera, the owner of the local shop where Taimba’s wife sold the cement.

Rembulan Gasang, 22, had another story to tell. About five years ago, he was punished by the Leboni traditional council for having relations with a 13-year-old girl. “Because I didn’t want to marry the girl, I was subjected to a fine,” he said. The fine? In addition to giving livestock to the family of the girl he took advantage of, he was ordered to provide some livestock to her fellow villagers, as a peace token. The  cattle is normally cooked and consumed together by the villagers. “As I had no cattle, I paid the fine with pigs,” said father of one child.


Onondowa village kids at a Sunday church service.

PAULUS Sigi, 53, the Rampi customary chief, said the traditional laws obeyedby the communities in the district’s six villages had been passed down through the generations. “The ancestral rule continues to be applied today. What they are, the violations and the punishments are recorded and kept by each village’s protectors of the customs,” he said.

The one at Onondowa village, is headed by Paulus. He is assisted by nine councilors functioning as “ministers.” Each of them  is given a specific duty: Kabilahan (judge), Topekoalo (spokesman), Bololae (guard/liaison), Topobeloi (agriculture and forestry expert), Pantua (financial expert), Tobolia (health expert), Timoko (livestock expert), Pongkallu (in charge of start-up activities) and Pobelai (land reclaimer).

Each village is led by the chief of this customary council  (Tokoi Bola), who is also assisted by nine councilors. The officials are elected based on consultations between the council and the villagers, for an indefinite period. Some of the crimes regulated in the customary law of the Rampi ethnic group are theft, punishable by a fine worth twice the value of the amount stolen; murder and slader, punishable by beheading; rape, punishable by a fine of four buffalos as sacrifice and one buffalo as peace token  and as compensation for adultery. The four buffalos are given to the victims. “If they are both unmarried, two buffalos is the fine,” said Paulus.

When any of the law is broken, the victim usually reports it to the customary council. Sometimes, the cases are immediately investigated. After everything is clear, all council members, administration and the affected parties are invited to discuss the case.

This system manages to maintain order at Rampi, despite the absence of official security personnel. Livestock are not fanced in and homes are mostly uslocked. “We have no prison,” said Paulus. However, to keep the peace between the customary council and government officials, the villagers make sure they consult with the officials on cases. “But our priority is customary law before the public law,” said rampi District chief, Yan Imbo.


Women and children going to work in the fields at Sulaku village, Rampi, North Luwu, South Sulawesi.

NEARLY all the residents of Rampi are poor farmers. They plant their rice fields just once a year. When they are not growing crops, the men make a living by hunting in the nearby forest. The games hunted are consumed as well as sold to the local market. Others seek honey in the forest and collect palm water to make liquor. Women help to plant. When harvest time is over, they pan for gold on the banks of the Malotu River, to get axtra income.

As their livelihood depends on nature conservation has become part of the customary law. For instance, they are banned from  felling trees to conserve their forest and prevent disasters like landslides and droughts. “If some residents need wood to build houses, they must report it first to the local customary council,” Paulus explained. Even when hunting, they must be selective. Their prey must be utilized to the maximum.

Parts of the customary law are quite strange. References to the name of parents-in-law in everyday life must be avoided. “I cannot use the name of my father-in-law to describe something,” said Mun, a male resident of Onondowa. Mun’s father-in-law is named Kulit (skin), so he is careful never to use the word meaning skin, using instead another word to replace it. When Mun says he is peeling the skin off something, he will use another work to describe skin. Meanwhile, Rin, living in the same village as Mun, has a father-in-law called Suara (voice). “In church, every time people sing psalms which have the same word as my parent-in-law’s name, I have to keep silent,” said Rin.

This practice can be traced to a history of the Rampi tribe, during a time  when when Buhu, a Rampi wanted to propose to his would-be bride, Moniwa, he promised his prospective parents-in-law never to call them by their names. This became a symbol of Buhu’s respect for his parents-in-law. This example is followed by their descendants.


Weaving a pandanus mat at Onondowa.

Mountains surounding Onondowa village.

LIKE IN other villages, the influence of external culture is hard to stop. Local people now enjoy electricity from micro-hydro power generators. Several houses even own TV and radio sets. “The effect is that there’s freer behavior among the younger generation today,” Paulus said.

“Formerly, socializing between men and women  was clearly restricted. Even brothers and sisters lived in separate homes,” he explained. In fact. male and female family members tended to live separately. They always built two homes; one for the males and the other for  the females. A number of such homes could still be found when Tempo visited the area recently.

To mask their shame when parents in Rampi see their children going out with the opposite sex, they suggest that the couples get married soon. Indeed, there are many early marriages among Rampi villagers, particularly among the young women.

Despite the uniqueness of their culture, no scholars have studied the Rampi community. Several academics interviewed by Tempo such as Suriadi Mappangara, a lecturer of history and traditional culture, and anthropologist Munsi Lampe from Hasanuddin University, claomed they have never heard of the Rampi community. (by Irmawati,  Majalah Tempo English Edition, February 20-26, 2012. Outreach)


1 Comment

  1. esaul said,

    June 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    masyarakat RAMPI meNingkatkan kualitas lebih maju..

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