The field of conflict resolution embraces a range of “restorative justice” practices, and, as interest grows, it is valuable to understand some of its roots and, particularly, the value placed on restorative practices in cooperative, small societies.

National Academy Anthropologist Polly Weissner, a member of Rutgers’ CIG@R’s collaboration with Arizona State University, has published a superb paper that provides insight into the value of restorative justice in indigenous communities.  From her work with the Enga in Papua New Guinea, where formal courts and customary courts form a plural justice system, with the formal courts practicing retributive justice and the customary—the informal courts—providing restorative measures, Weissner observes that most cases are brought to the customary courts.

Practices for dealing with conflicts and the breaking of norms and laws, preserve social processes rather than specific traditions. The first is the process of hearing all sides, apology, compensating the victim to correct for harm done, reintegrating the wrongdoer, and formulating settlements to satisfy community. The second is the engagement of community for gathering evidence, giving advice, and contributing to settlement costs, as well as to keep compensation under the broader umbrella of exchanges from birth to the grave that tie communities together.

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