By Samuel Aubrey on November 28, 2023, Tuesday at 7:00 AM
KUCHING (Nov 28): Two new Bills would be tabled at the next State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting, in May next year, to establish the Institute of Adat Sarawak and to elevate the Native Courts of Sarawak, said Dato Sri John Sikie Tayai. In this regard, the Minister in Sarawak Premier’s Department said the Bill to establish Institute of Adat Sarawak would be tabled under the amendment to the Majlis Adat Istiadat Sarawak (Mais) Ordinance 1977.
“Since its establishment 46 years ago, the Majlis Adat Istiadat Sarawak has no proper agency such as a department or an institution to support it. In view of these challenges, the ‘Majlis’ (Council) plans to establish a supporting agency to assist in discharging its duties and functions. “This proposal would be implemented through the amendment to the Majlis Adat Istiadat Sarawak Ordinance 1977. Barring any untoward event, the Bill may be tabled next year,” he said in his ministerial winding-up speech in DUN yesterday.
On the transformation of the Native Courts, he said its master plan had been duly considered and approved by the Sarawak Cabinet for implementation. “Based on the recommendations in the master plan, the current Native Courts will be restructured and elevated from being just a unit under the Premier’s Department to be a full-fledged judiciary, which is independent and autonomous. “The other major change would involve the hierarchy and organisational structure of the current native court system. In terms of court hierarchy, the recommendation is to restructure our current six-layer court to a four-layer structure comprising the Native Magistrates Court and the Native High Court. The Native High Court would comprise three layers; namely the Native High Court, Native Court of Appeal and Native Supreme Court,” he said.
He said for these changes to take effect, the recommendation in the master plan would be for the government to repeal the current Native Courts Ordinance 1992 and Native Courts Rules 1993, and to enact a new Native Courts Ordinance and new Native Courts Rules. “The functions, powers and jurisdiction of the new Native Courts will be spelled out in the new Native Courts Bill which will be tabled at this Dewan. At this juncture, our target is to table the New Native Court Bill during the next sitting of this august House,” he said. On another matter, he said Mais had conducted a round-table discussion with the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church to resolve the issue involving ‘Adat Deya Tarih Pasid’ practised by most Bidayuh communities.
He said there were issues faced by some Bidayuh communities with regard to the rights of burial of the dead in the village or church cemetery, since most of the cemeteries in the Bidayuh communities are administered by the ‘kampung’ (village) church committee. Based on the old ‘adat’ (customs) practised by most Bidayuh groups, every Bidayuh has the right to be buried in the cemetery of his or her ancestral ‘kampung’, according to ‘Adat Deya Tarih Pasid’. “The place where his or her ancestors’ umbilical cords were buried is regarded as the ancestral ‘kampung’ of every Bidayuh. However, now, the authority to decide the right of burial is in the hands of ‘kampung’ church committee, which overrides the authority of the Ketua Kampung and ‘Adat Deya Tarih Pasid’.
“According to the current practice, only members of the church are entitled to be buried in the kampung or church cemetery. Otherwise, they are not entitled to be buried in the ‘kampung’ or church cemetery. “As such, Adat Deya Tarih Pasid is no longer relevant for the regulation of burial of the dead. This has caused a lot of burial problems and anxiety in some Bidayuh communities, bearing in mind the period for managing and arranging the burial of the dead is very short,” he said. Sikie also said the ‘Adat Deya Tarih Pasid’ was quite similar to ‘Adat Temuni’ (Umbilical Cord Custom) in some other native communities, which states that a person has the right to be buried in the land where his/her ‘temuni’ (umbilical cord) was buried, i.e. place of birth.
On the discussion to resuscitate Adat Deya Tarih Pasid, he said the Archbishop of the Catholic Church stated in principle that if the land in which the cemetery was situated was registered in the name of the Archbishop, then only members of the Catholic Church could be buried in that cemetery. If the land was not registered under the Archbishop’s name, he said it was discussed that the rights to be buried in the cemetery would be decided by the village security and development committee (JKKK) and the ‘kampung’ church committee. “With regard to the Anglican Church, the Church’s representative stated the issues could have arisen due to certain approach or stand taken by the JKKK and ‘kampung’ church Committee. The Anglican Church seemed to prefer that JKKK and the church committee would decide on the rights of burial in the kampung cemetery,” he said. Sikie added as there had been no clear or definite decision made and endorsed in writing by the parties involved following the discussion, this issue was still far from settled and more follow-up discussions would be arranged.