Sacred Contracts

I’ve been looking at a few contracts lately – including rental agreements and a “buy and sell coffee” contract; probably unlike anything your local Starbucks manager has ever seen or signed.

The two parties to the latter contract are an Australian coffee entrepreneur (with a name I can’t even pronounce) and the head of a Balinese village named Madé, who is also chief of the village subak – rice field network, one of the most ancient and venerable institutions on the island.

My friend’s brother, Komang, asked me to review it for grammatical mistakes and clarity because his English is rudimentary.

The entire document was hand-written, and with space for signatures, was a total of 1.5 pages.

The essence of the contract pertains to the sale and purchase of many tons of Arabica coffee a year. There are a handful of stipulations regarding costs, delivery and payment schedules, possible future modifications to the agreement; and sanctions in case of violation of the contract.

Towards the end of the agreement, just above the space for signatures, I read the following – apparently standard in many Balinese contracts – and smiled: Thus the agreement is meant to be used properly. For their participation and concern for him, we say thank you.

Thank you. In a contract.

And then there’s the one-page lease agreement that N signed with his landlord; it’s even simpler. After the perfunctory introduction and names of the parties, a few lines in the middle of the sheet refer to the length of the lease, the price (paid in full at the outset, welcome to Bali) and some other details. The final phrase notes that anything else will be decided upon in future discussion by the parties. Period.

No high-paid lawyers, no notaris, no stamps of approval. Done. And it’s worked out so well that they are now in the process of building a new house for N.

Good thing that none of my law school professors are following my blog – they might be rolling their eyes, wondering whether I was paying any attention in class…

I’m not advocating that we go whole hog Pollyana, or throw out the bath water… but when you live as a perpetual visitor in the midst of another culture, there is much to be said for not relying solely on a contract. Nothing in this culture will ever replace the solid foundation that can be created with the right ingredients: trust, a handshake, making good with the neighbors, paying your monthly dues to the banjar – for festivals and security, looking good at the family (as my grandmother used to say)… and the exchange of sweet treats.

What if more contracts in the northern hemisphere actually HAD to end with this line: For the participation and concern of all parties, we say thank you…??


  1. THank you! (for sharing, that is…yet another glimpse into your ‘new’ world..oh so far away…
    xo oj

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