Excerpted from Moon's sixth edition of Indonesia Handbook
The Minangkabau of West SumateraAdjacent to Batak territory in West Sumatra is the land of the Minangkabau people, remarkable for their unique matrilineal society. The Minangkabau have a level of political and social equality unique in Southeast Asia. Although sometimes called Orang Padang, they're an interior, not a coastal people. West Sumatra is almost entirely ethnic Minangkabau, who comprise about a quarter of Sumatra's total population and are Indonesia's fourth largest ethnic group.
Most Minang are farmers who live in small independent villages. The rest are skilled traders who live in or near the towns. Due to the rich soil of the rice fields, their villages are prosperous. They are easygoing, peaceful, self-confident, hardworking, and shrewd commercially—the only ethnic group that can compete successfully with the Chinese in Jakarta. Fervent Muslims, they are one of the best-educated and most vigorous peoples in the whole country; many of the nation's intellectuals, leaders, and authors are Minangkabau.
This ethnic group is famous for its matrilineal and matrilocal social system. Minangkabau queens are still celebrated in many old legends, such as Kaba Cindua Mato, the formal narration of which can take 17 evenings. Even afterlife beliefs are mother-oriented, reflected in the saying "Heaven is below the sole of mother's foot" (i.e., you won't get to heaven if you mistreat your mother). All decisions are made in a democratic manner. Little squabbling occurs among the Minang, as everything is ruled by strict adat, with consensus the basic principle. The culture of the coastal towns, although bearing the stamp of Minangkabau adat, tends to be more male-oriented and less democratic.
Descent And Inheritance
In this strong matrilineal society, probably the largest in the world, titles, property, and family names are handed down through the female line. Here a man's children are not his heirs. Instead, he's bound to leave his possessions to the children of his eldest sister. His nephews and nieces are therefore his kamanakan, "those who inherit." The grandmother is the grand matriarch, with her eldest brother or first son considered the family representative. Houses are very much the domain of women. Daughters usually inherit property worked collectively, and women own most of the shops.
In Minangkabau society, all the children bear the clan name of their mother. Membership in a clan—the right to use its land and the right to a clan title—is transmitted by the mother's or grandmother's brother. The family consists of a saparuik (people of the same womb)—mothers, their offspring, and their brothers. Descendants of an ancestral mother live together in one house; in the highlands, up to 30 members live under a single roof. Each clan has a chief, called penghulu or datuk, who is chosen among the brothers of certain families. The penghulu settles clan disagreements or quarrels before they go to civil courts. When a penghulu dies or grows too old to lead his people, the title passes to his first nephew or one of his brothers.
The woman's family generally initiates the marriage proposal, though if a man has his eye on someone, his family may propose also. The only restriction is that the spouse be from a different suku, or clan. In rural and coastal areas there may even be a groom price. The bride doesn't leave home; instead, the husband moves in with her. After the wedding, the bridegroom is escorted to the home of his bride, proudly taking with him all his possessions or his workshop, proving he's a man of substance. After marriage, the man will spend most of his time at his sister's house, working and eating there, returning to his wife's house only at night. A man loitering around his in-laws' place is considered lazy. Today, the men assume more responsibility for their own families. Many of the old ways are changing; in the big towns, married couples spend a symbolic few nights at the mother's house and then go live on their own.
Once, it would seem, men were used mainly for procreation, ceremony,
and labor. In the past, when a boy was about 10 years old, he would move
out of his mother's house and into a surau (prayer house) to live
and study cooking, martial arts, and the Koran. A child is considered a
member of the mother's family group; the father's group regards the child
as purely a blood relative without any rights of inheritance. This doesn't
mean male privileges are nonexistent or that a man is free from his responsibilities
toward his own family; his guidance and wisdom is very much sought. A Minang
proverb sums it up: "Anak dipangku, kemanakan dibimbing." ("Put
your own children on your lap, but give guidance to your nephews and nieces.")
The central area of the Minangkabau culture, a group of fertile valleys
surrounding three imposing volcanos (Gunung Merapi, Gunung Sago, and Gunung
Singgalang), is known as the Darek. Because of rapid population
growth, this central homeland area has expanded along the west coast around
Padang and into much of the swampy lowlands extending toward the east coast.
Areas outside the Darek are called Pasisia/Rantau,
originally meaning "outer reaches" or "frontier" but now referring to any
area where one goes out in the world to seek his fortune. Thus the word
merantau today means "to go abroad"—a vital part of Minangkabau
custom. From time immemorial Minangkabau men have had to leave the darek
to do business, for scholastic study, or to seek more land or opportunities.
Spirits And Magic
Although strong believers in Allah, Minangkabau also believe in many spirits: urang jadi-jadian can become tigers; cindaku are human-appearing monsters like Dracula who suck people's blood and eat naughty children; cindai are beautiful women with long flowing hair who laugh eerily and lure unwary men; palasik make children sickly and weak.Urang Bunian an Invisible Society .Visit Bukittinggi's market (Wednesday and Saturday), which has probably Tukang Ubek the weirdest collection of magicians, charlatans, electrotherapists, acupuncturists, drug-sellers, chanting Muslim holy men, and snake-oil merchants in the whole of Indonesia.
The Minang attribute their origin to Adam's youngest son, who married
a nymph from paradise and begat Iskander Zulkarnain, purported in some
versions to be Alexander the Great. His third son, Maharaj Diraja, sailed
to Gunung Merapi when the rest of Sumatra was still submerged in water.
There he started the first matrilineal clan. As the water receded, the
people spread out into what is now the interior of West Sumatra. Some say
the word Minangkabau derives simply from pinang kabhu, meaning "original
home"—their earliest homeland.
The Hindu-Malay kingdom of Minangkabau rose in the 12th-14th centuries
after the decay of the Sriwijaya Empire to the east, when Indian influences
began to spread into the highlands. The imprint of this Brahmanic Indian
civilization is still evident: a multitude of Hindi loan words, certain
agricultural skills, methods of political organization, even remains of
Hindu-Buddhist monuments. They once had an Indian-type alphabet, but only
the Arabic is used today.
Advent Of Islam
Eventually, small Muslim states ruled by sultans became powerful in
West Sumatra, gradually forcing the Minang Kingdom into the central regions,
where it hung onto its independence. From 1820 to 1837 a violent struggle
in Minangkabau regions raged, with the Dutch and the traditional adat
chiefs and the Minangkabau royal family on one side, and the Padris on
the other. The Padris were ultra orthodox religious extremists who tried
to enforce Islamic regulations on a non-Islamic population and to eliminate
such widespread pre-Islamic customs as gambling and drinking. In this prolonged
and bloody rebellion, the Padris annihilated virtually the entire royal
bloodline. This resulted in Dutch resolve to rid Minang territory of the
Padris. A religious and political leader, Tuanku Imam Bonjol, along with
his Padri defenders, held out until the last fortress fell at Bonjol and
the power of the Padris was at last broken. Songs, poems, and books have
been written about this folk hero.
ArchitectureMinangkabau architecture is some of the most magnificent and influential in all of Indonesia, even seen in new government offices and public buildings on Java. The peaked, swooping roofs of many Minang buildings are reminiscent of the curved horns of the revered water buffalo and of the women's ceremonial headdress. Traditional houses are disappearing now, replaced with brick and iron-roofed structures; aside from hotels and government buildings, few of the expensive thatch-roof rumah adat are being built nowadays.
Means "big house," the traditional Minang dwelling. Each cluster of
houses in a village is often the locale of one matrilineage, with a communal
surau nearby where the men and boys hang out. Bedrooms are set aside
for daughters of the household and their husbands, and there's a long common
room for living and dining. The back half of the house is divided into
small rooms where the married and marriageable women sleep. The maternal
uncle, responsible for adding on to a house or building a new one, makes
sure each marriageable woman has a room of her own. An annex may be added
for each daughter who comes of age, and that structure is home for her
lifetime. You can often tell how many husbands and children a family's
daughters have by the number of "horn" extensions on the rumah gadang,
each curving skyward and adorned with swinging ridgepoles.
Arts and CraftsSilek
A technique of self-defense originating in West Sumatra. Although found
in different forms throughout the country, the Minang regional version
is feared and admired all over Indonesia. In fact, the art is accorded
the ultimate honor: it's taught in the national military. A male is not
considered ready to enter manhood until he's mastered the martial arts.
The Minang have one of Indonesia's highest literacy levels, partially
due to strong family support. Their traditional literature is oral, first
written down only in the 16th century when Arabic script was introduced.
The Minangkabau are very fond of oratory. Whenever any customary ceremony
takes place, such as at a wedding party, the maternal uncle opens with
an obligatory and formal speech of welcome and gratitude called panitahan,
which can last up to four hours. Minangkabau men love to argue at length
in their mosques and coffeehouses.
In the graceful tari piring, or "dish dance," entranced dancers
hold plates alit with candles, deftly twisting and turning without extinguishing
the flame. Your only chance of seeing a performance is to charter one for
two hours for around Rp150,000. Tari payung, the "umbrella dance,"
portrays a young man's loving protection of his girlfriend.
Each Minangkabau village is known for its specialty: woven sugarcane
and reed purses (Payakumbuh), gold jewelry (Bukittinggi), silver filigree
(Kota Gadang), weaving (Pandai Sikat and Silungkang), embroidery (Pariangan),
pottery (Sungai Janiah), and metallurgy (Sungaipuar). Artisans in other
villages turn out bamboo carving, landscape paintings, wooden models of
Minangkabau traditional houses. Antiques galore can be bought in Padang
FoodThe Minangkabau region of West Sumatra produces some of the best cooks in Indonesia, and it is in their nasi padang restaurants where the visitor will find the tastiest, spiciest Indonesian food. If you're in a hurry, nasi padang restaurants offer the quickest service of any eatery; they're also some of the most expensive. A rumah makan padang is sure to occupy the main street of any town or village in the country, no matter the size.
You're first brought a cold napkin, a free glass of hot tea, a lit candle to keep the flies away, and your eating utensils, semi-sterilized in a glass of hot water. No menu is needed. All you have to do to start the unending procession of food is utter the simple word "nasi," at the same time pointing to the window filled with great basins and platters piled high with spicy-hot food. Waiters will then descend with up to 10 small dishes balanced precariously on each arm, setting them all on the table before you. You pay only for those dishes you eat, so get the prices right before diving in. Vegetable dishes are always cheapest—meat dishes can really run up the tab. The sauce from each is free so you can just order a lot of rice, eat only a couple of dishes, and use the sauce from the rest; this is what the Indonesians do. Afterwards, you're given a fingerbowl and wet napkin to clean yourself.
Stick with the old standbys—fried fish (ikan goreng), curries, fresh vegetables (sayur-sayuran). Or try something more exotic—spiced prawns, calf's brains, steamed sweet potato leaves. West Sumatrans are especially fond of curries, eggs with chilies, and a great variety of kambing (goat), ayam (chicken), and lembu (beef) dishes. Rendang, a wonderfully flavored beef and sauce dish, requires a long time to cook and is tantalizingly seasoned with ginger, garlic, hot chilies, coconut, lemongrass, and coriander.
If you're lucky you'll see a Minang procession on the road. These could celebrate, for example, that a man has just become an uncle—an even more significant transition here than when a man becomes a father. Another traditional ceremony, Batagak Panghulu, is held to replace a village headman. This two-day event is enlivened with a debating session. Dress nicely on a Sunday and you may find a wedding to go to; wedding processions could very well take place down any one of Padang's, Solok's, or Bukittinggi's streets. Usually Minang weddings start at 0700 and last all day and night, especially on the last Sunday before Ramadan begins. Weddings display a curious blend of old and new customs. The bride might wear the traditional Minangkabau wedding attire with a magnificent gaudy golden headdress, while her ladies-in-waiting cover their heads discreetly in Muslim scarves.
When it's time to prepare the rice fields for planting, many villages hold a pacu Jawi(sapi), or bull race. Cattle compete by racing down a muddy field pulling rice plows behind them. Duck racing (pacu itik) is held only in the tiny village of Limbukan near Payakumbuh. Ask about the riotous bareback horse races (pacu kuda) held at least once every three months in each of the following towns: Padang, Solok, Padangpanjang, Bukittinggi, Batusangkar, Pariaman, Payakumbuh. They're a major, well-organized event, with vividly dressed jockeys. The Minangkabau also race dogs.
Also called lagu minang, this exciting event pits bull against
bull. Bullfights are usually held twice a week in the vicinity of Kotobaru,
10 km south of Bukittinggi; fights are also held in Pasarrebo, Kotolawas,
and Pincuran Tujuh. Ask bemo drivers for times and locales. These
events are the province of village men; few women attend. Quite popular;
there could be as many as 1,000 spectators.
Pig-Hunting/ Buru Babi
The quintessential male activity in the Minangkabau Highlands. Males
of all ages, titles, and classes take part in this violent and exciting
sport. There are hunt associations with elected chairmen in nearly every
village; from bus windows you often see men with their hunting dogs along
the roadside. Locations and times of the hunt are often posted in the town
lepau (coffee shop), snack house, or toko.
Record created on 2000-04-10 03:50:28.670
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