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Monuments in the Landscape: Proof of Native Customary Land Rights With a Focus on the Kelabit of Sarawak

October 1, 2015 - 13:15-14:15

Ramy Bulan, PhD Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Malaya Head, Centre for Malaysian Indigenous Studies, University of Malaya, Visiting Researcher, NIAS, University of Copenhagen.

Venue: NIAS Meeting Room (18.1.08), Øster Farimagsgade 5, DK-1353 Copenhagen K, Denmark.

The seminar is free and open for all.

Abstract: Indigenous land rights may be derived from positive enactments or through common law which acknowledges that persons in exclusive occupation of land have title that is good against anyone who cannot show better title, or through indigenous peoples (own) legal systems. Under the latter, their rights exist because they are derived from native laws, governance, practices, customs and traditions, which are enforceable by the courts (through doctrine of continuity). Indigenous peoples should be able to rely on the source of land rights that fits their circumstances best. This paper discusses how the Kelabit in Sarawak, are navigating this legal landscape to prove their rights and connection to their traditional territory. With the backdrop of a minimal recognition of occupation under the Sarawak Land Code 1958, and a cut-off date for creation of native customary rights under that legislation, the paper shows how Kelabit occupation, and interaction on their land and territory is evidenced through anthropological and archaeological records as well as historical narratives of their cultural traditions. Unique megalithic and other non-megalithic features, which accompanied the burial and memorialization of loved ones, mark past Kelabit occupation and continuous connection to the Kelabit Highlands. Despite the absence of state demarcated and surveyed boundary, their monuments in the landscape mark their  presence on the land they call their ancestral homeland providing a basis of land rights claims both under their own laws and customs,  and common law, as well as fulfilling the requirements of statute.

Monuments in the Landscape: Proof of Native Customary Land Rights With a Focus on the Kelabit of Sarawak


October 1, 2015