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Balinese Traditional Court  

by on Thursday, 1 March 20074 Comments | 4,240 views

The repugnance of the Balinese against having to appeal in the courtroom was inherited from the feudal era of Bali. The hatred of Balinese against the official high tribunal, the kerta is only a part of the Balinese policy of keeping the princess of interfering too much in the affairs. The kertas are the courts of the princes and they are generally composed of three Brahmanic priests who act as judges. They are assisted by a number of kantjas, “lawyers”, and scribe.



Trials take place in a special shed, built over the high stone or brick platform. The Kerta Gosa, the court house of Klungkung, one of the inevitable sights of Bali, is already famous because of the lurid paintings that cover the entire ceiling, depicting the punishments that await a law-breaker in the hell. The court house is beautifully decorated; two stone serpents flank the stairs that lead to the platform where the judges sit on great gilt chairs.


A trial must be conducted with the greatest dignity and restraint. There are rules for the language employed, the behavior of the participant, and the payment of trial expenses. It is interesting that court procedure resembles that of cockfights and its rules and terminology. On the appointed day the plaintiff and the defendant must appear properly dressed, with witnesses, and their cases and declarations carefully written down. An absentee or one whose case is badly stated loses his suit. The kantjas read the statements of each party and then those of the witnesses in their successive order. No one is allowed to speak unless he is addressed. Talking excessively or to loud, quarreling, or pointing at the judges is punishing by fine. When the case has been thoroughly stated, the witnesses have testified and the evidence has been produced, the judges study the statements and go into deliberation among themselves until they reach a decision.


Besides the witnesses and the material evidence, special attention is paid to the physical reaction of the participants during the trial, such as nervousness, change of the color in the face, or heart breathing. Dr. Korn writes that the former times there was a curious official, the batu tumpeng, also to be found at cockfights, whose participation in the procedure was to sit silently, watching and listening, so that he could form an unprejudiced opinion. After the judges reached a decision they submitted their verdict to the batu tumpeng and if he did not agree, they had to confer anew. As an absolute neutral, he informed the contestant of the decision.

The most important evidence is the swearing of the oath of truth that either one of the two parties (it is never foreseen which) will be required to take. After the verdict is announced, the judges will specify the type of oath and who shall take it. Then the date is set by the religious calendar. There are “little” and “big” oaths, all terrifying in their content, but with varying effects; some will affect only the person of the perjurer with minor misfortunes, but in the “big” oath all of his descendants, even onto the third generation, will be cursed by dreadful calamities.


Most of the materials for this writing are taken from Covarrubias’ Island of Bali.

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