Indigenous local law fights for its right to exist


In research sponsored by the Netherlands, René Orellana Halkyer investigated the development of indigenous law in Quechua-speaking Indian communities in Bolivia.

He revealed how the leaders of these areas develop their own forms of organisation and local law in which they draw upon the Bolivian state law.

Legal sociologist René Orellana Halkyer investigated how the village leaders in two indigenous communities in Bolivia maintained their own local law within the hostile Bolivian environment. This study provides insights into how communities of minority groups manage to survive in a time when minorities are trying to maintain their own identity.

The indigenous courts devoted a considerable amount of time to speeches and lots of villagers were present at each hearing. For example, in his thesis Halkyer described the case of an aggressive but powerful Indian who punched an indigenous dignitary in the face and locked him up for several hours. During the trial, the discussion continued for many hours, the public gave its opinion and the suspect also spoke. In the end, the suspect decided to reconcile with the attacked dignitary.

The Bolivian researcher recorded countless local court sessions covering a wide range of conflicts. The manner in which deliberations and decisions were made in such conflicts revealed that the forms of local law being developed contain both national and indigenous principles and methods. One of the two Indian communities studied was found to have incorporated elements of the national law, such as written laws, into its old customs. This hybrid form of national and indigenous law increases the chances of indigenous customs surviving.

In another Indian area it was found that the people had largely given up using their own system of laws: there the national authority determines how cattle steeling, ground conflicts, marital problems and aggression are dealt with. As a result of this the community gradually loses its identity.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on All rights reserved.