12 / 1997
In the village council of Haruku, Indonesia, sasi regulations embody the main principles of law of the society. Sasi apparently became a part of the culture of Haruku in the 1600s. Sasi can be described as a prohibition on the harvesting of certain natural resources in an effort to protect the quality and population of such resources, plant or animal. It is also an effort to maintain the patterns of social life by equally distributing among all local inhabitants the benefits from the surrounding natural resources.
The rules of sasi are decided at a meeting of the village council. The kewang, members of which are chosen from every clan (soa)in Haruku, is the institution charged with supervising the implementation of sasi rules. The kewang is also responsible for punishing or disciplining citizens violating these rules.
There are four types of sasi in Haruku- sea, river, forest and village. These comprise several detailed rules, such as those specifying the fishing gear, which may be used, as well as prescriptions of fines.
A number of additional regulations have been formulated in tune with modern developments. An example is the ban on the use of a type of fine-mesh factory-made net called karoro, which has appeared only in recent years.
The sasi relating to the lompa fish (a kind of small sardine)is of particular interest since it represents an integration of the sea and river sasi. The lompa is found only in Haruku and not elsewhere in Maluku. Like salmon, it lives both in the sea and the river, moving out in the evening to the open sea in search of food, and returning to the river only in the early hours of the morning.
The sasi on lompa comes into effect when young lompa or fingerlings are first seen off the coast of Haruku, between April and May. These schools of young fish usually enter the river after a month or two.
A ceremony called the panas sasi is held thrice a year to mark the start of sasi. The kewang head then delivers a speech declaring the beginning of sasi. The secretary of the kewang reads out the sasi regulations on lompa and the punishments for violations.
The sasi rules specify, among other stipulations, that the lompa may not be caught or otherwise disturbed, in the area covered by the sasi. There is also a ban on sea-going motor boats entering the river with their engines running. Lompa needed for bait may be caught only with a hook, but not from the river. Those who violate the rules are fined. Even child culprits are punished.
Five to seven months later, when the protected lompa fish grow large enough to be harvested, a second, similar panas sasi takes place. After the ceremony, the head of the kewang lights a bonfire at the mouth of the river to draw the lompa into the river. After schools of lompa crowd into the river, the villagers stretch barriers across the river mouth to prevent the lompa from escaping into the sea when the tide ebbs.
The beating of drums signals the villagers to get ready to go to the river. Council leaders- the king, the Seniri Negeri and the pastor- throw the first nets. After that, all the villagers are free to catch whatever lompa there are.
According to a research conducted in 1984, lompa harvested that year totalled around 35 tonnes in gross weight- certainly not a small amount for a single harvest.
The sasi system is increasingly under stress. Illegal bombing by irresponsible persons, for instance, is damaging the coral reefs off the Haruku coast. Several efforts, including complaints to the police and courts, have been made to check this practice. However because the simple and ordinary people of Haruku do not have access to the centres of power, the authorities have taken little action.
Traditional societies have historically evolved unique systems, such as the one described above, to protect, conserve and manage the natural resources on which they depend, and to ensure equitable distribution of these resources. These systems are based on the principle of conservation and a harmonious balance in the relationship between human beings and their environment. They draw from a wealth of knowledge, based on centuries of observation, about their surrounding environment. However, modern development strategies rarely accord recognition to such systems of knowledge and management. Governments have typically super-imposed modern systems of management and property rights on such societies. Faced with a situation where their claim to the resource or their ability to manage it is not recognised and supported, several such systems of management are breaking down. There is a need to legitimise such knowledge systems and to learn from them.
This article also exists in French: Le système traditionnel ‘sasi’ de gestion des ressources de pêche en Indonésie.
Artículos y dossiers
KISSYA, Eliza, Managing the sasi way in. Samudra Report, 1994/12, 10 11