The Minangkabau ethnic group (also known as Minang) is indigenous to the highlands of West Sumatra, in Indonesia. Their culture is matrilineal, with property and land passing down from mother to daughter, while religious and political affairs are the responsibility of men (although some women also play important roles in these areas). Today 4 million Minangs live in West Sumatra, while about 3 million more are scattered throughout many Indonesian and Malay peninsular cities and towns.
The Minangkabau are strongly Islamic, but also follow their ethnic traditions, or adat. The Minangkabau adat was derived from animist beliefs before the arrival of Islam, and remnants of animist beliefs still exist even among some practicing Muslims. The present relationship between Islam and adat is described in the saying "tradition [adat] founded upon Islamic law, Islamic law founded upon the Qur'an" (adat basandi syara', syara' basandi Kitabullah).
Their West Sumatran homelands were the location of the Padri War from 1821 to 1837.
The name Minangkabau is thought to be a conjunction of two words, minang ("victorious") and kabau ("buffalo"). There is a legend that the name is derived from a territorial dispute between the Minangkabau and a neighbouring prince. To avoid a battle, the local people proposed a fight to the death between two water buffalo to settle the dispute. The prince agreed and produced the largest, meanest, most aggressive buffalo. The Minangkabau produced a hungry baby buffalo with its small horns ground to be as sharp as knives. Seeing the adult buffalo across the field, the baby ran forward, hoping for milk. The big buffalo saw no threat in the baby buffalo and paid no attention to it, looking around for a worthy opponent. But when the baby thrust his head under the big bull's belly, looking for an udder, the sharpened horns punctured and killed the bull, and the Minangkabau won the contest and the dispute.
The roofline of traditional houses in West Sumatra, called Rumah Gadang (Minangkabau, "big house"), curve upward from the middle and end in points, in imitation of the water buffalo's upward-curving horns.
The first mention of the name Minangkabau as Minangkabwa, is in the 1365 Majapahit court poem, the Desawarnana (or Nagarakrtagama) composed by Mpu Prapanca.
People who spoke Austronesian languages first arrived in Sumatra around 500 BCE, as part of the Austronesian expansion from Taiwan to Southeast Asia. The Minangkabau language is a member of the Austronesian language family, and is closest to the Malay language, though when the two languages split from a common ancestor and the precise historical relationship between Malay and Minangkabau culture is not known. Until the 20th century the majority of the Sumatran population lived in the highlands. The highlands are well suited for human habitation, with plentiful fresh water, fertile soil, a cool climate, and valuable commodities such as gold and ivory. It is probable that wet rice cultivation evolved in the Minangkabau highlands long before it appeared in other parts of Sumatra, and predates significant foreign contact.
Adityawarman, a follower of Tantric Buddhism with ties to the Singhasari and Majapahit kingdoms of Java, is believed to have founded a kingdom in the Minangkabau highlands at Pagaruyung and ruled between 1347 and 1375, most likely to control the local gold trade. The establishment of a royal system seems to have involved conflict and violence, eventually leading to a division of villages into one of two systems of tradition, Bodi Caniago and Koto Piliang, the later having overt allegiances to royalty. By the 16th century, the time of the next report after the reign of Adityawarman, royal power had been split into three recognized reigning kings. They were the King of the World (Raja Alam), the King of Adat (Raja Adat), and the King of Religion (Raja Ibadat), and collectively they were known as the Kings of the Three Seats (Rajo Tigo Selo). The Minangkabau kings were charismatic or magical figures who received a percentage of gold mining and trading profits, but did not have much authority over the conduct of village affairs.
In the mid-16th century, the Aceh Sultanate invaded the Minangkabau coast, occupying port outlets in order to acquire gold. It was also around the 16th century that Islam started to be adopted by the Minangkabau. The first contact between the Minangkabau and western nations occurred with the 1529 voyage of Jean Parmentier to Sumatra. The Dutch East India Company first acquired gold at Pariaman in 1651, but later moved south to Padang to avoid interference from the Acehnese occupiers. In 1663 the Dutch agreed to protect and liberate local villages from the Acehnese in return for a trading monopoly, and as a result setup trading posts at Painan and Padang. Until early in the 19th century the Dutch remained content with their coastal trade of gold and produce, and made no attempt to visit the Minangkabau highlands. As a result of conflict in Europe, the British occupied Padang from 1781 to 1784 during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, and again from 1795 to 1819 during the Napoleonic Wars.
Late in the 18th century the gold supply which provided the economic base for Minangkabau royalty began to be exhausted. Around the same time other parts of the Minangkabau economy had a period of unparalleled expansion as new opportunities for the export of agricultural commodities arose, particularly with coffee which was in very high demand. A civil war started in 1803 with the Padri fundamentalist Islamic group in conflict with the traditional syncretic groups, elite families and Pagaruyung royals. A large part of the Minangkabau royal family were killed by the Padri in 1815. As a result of a treaty with a number of penghulu and representatives of the murdered Minangkabau royal family, Dutch forces made their first attack on a Padri village in April 1821. The first phase of the war ended in 1825 when the Dutch signed an agreement with the Padri leader Tuanku Imam Bonjol to halt hostilities, allowing them to redeploy their forces to fight the Java War. When fighting resumed in 1832, the reinforced Dutch troops were able to more effectively attack the Padri. The main center of resistance was captured in 1837, Tuanku Imam Bonjol was captured and exiled soon after, and by the end of the next year the war was effectively over.
With the Minangkabau territories now under the control of the Dutch, transportation systems were improved and economic exploitation was intensified. New forms of education were introduced, allowing some Minangkabau to take advantage of a modern education system. The 20th century marked a rise and cultural and political nationalism, culminating in the demand for Indonesian independence. Later rebellions against the Dutch occupation occurred such as the 1908 Anti-Tax Rebellion and the 1927 Communist Uprising. During World War II the Minangkabau territories were occupied by the Japanese, and when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945 Indonesia proclaimed independence. The Dutch attempts to regain control of the area were ultimately unsuccessful and in 1949 the Minangkabau territories became part of Indonesia as the province of Central Sumatra.
In February 1958, dissatisfaction with the centralist and communist-leaning policies of the Sukarno administration triggered a revolt which was centered in the Minangkabau region of Sumatra, with rebels proclaiming the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI) in Bukittinggi. The Indonesian military invaded West Sumatra in April 1958 and had recaptured major towns within the next month. A period of guerrilla warfare ensued, but most rebels had surrendered by August 1961. In the years following, West Sumatra was like an occupied territory with Javanese officials occupying most senior civilian, military and police positions. The policies of centralization continued under the Suharto regime. The national government legislated to apply the Javanese desa village system throughout Indonesia, and in 1983 the traditional Minangkabau nagari village units were split into smaller jorong units, thereby destroying the traditional village social and cultural institutions. In the years following the downfall of the Suharto regime decentralization policies were implemented, giving more autonomy to provinces, thereby allowing West Sumatra to reinstitute the nagari system.
The traditional historiography or tambo of the Minangkabau tells of the development of the Minangkabau World (alam Minangkabau) and its adat. These stories are derived from an oral history which was transmitted between generations before the Minangkabau had a written language. The first Minangkabau are said to have arrived by ship and landed on Mount Marapi when it was no bigger than the size of an egg, which protruded from a surrounding body of water. After the waters receded the Minangkabau proliferated and dispersed to the slopes and valleys surrounding the volcano, a region called the darek. The darek is composed of three luhak - Limapuluh Koto, Tanah Datar and Agam. The tambo claims the ship was sailed by a descendant of Alexander the Great (Iskandar Zulkarnain).
A division in Minangkabau adat into two systems is said to be the result of conflict between two half-brothers Datuk Ketemanggungan and Datuk Perpatih nan Sabatang, who were the leaders who formulated the foundations of Minangkabau adat. The former accepted Adityawarman, a prince from Majapahit, as a king while the latter considered him a minister, and a civil war ensued. The Bodi Caniago system formulated by Datuk Perpatih nan Sabatang is based upon egalitarian principles with all panghulu (clan chiefs) being equal while the Koto Piliang system is more autocratic with there being a hierarchy of panghulu. Each village (nagari) in the darek was an autonomous "republic", and governed independently of the Minangkabau kings using one of the two adat systems. After the darek was settled, new outside settlements were created and ruled using the Koto Piliang system by rajas who were representatives of the king.
The Minangs are the world's largest matrilineal society, in which properties such as land and houses are inherited through female lineage. Some scholars argue that this might have caused the diaspora (Minangkabau, "merantau") of Minangkabau males throughout the Maritime Southeast Asia to become scholars or to seek fortune as merchants. As early as the age of 7, boys traditionally leave their homes and live in a surau (a prayer house & community centre) to learn religious and cultural (adat) teachings. When they are teenagers, they are encouraged to leave their hometown to learn from schools or from experiences out of their hometown so that when they are adults they can return home wise and 'useful' for the society and can contribute their thinking and experience to run the family or nagari (hometown) when they sit as the member of 'council of uncles'.
This tradition has created Minang communities in many Indonesian cities and towns, which nevertheless are still tied closely to their homeland; a state in Malaysia named Negeri Sembilan is heavily influenced by Minang culture.
Due to their culture that stresses the importance of learning, Minang people are over-represented in the educated professions in Indonesia, with many ministers from Minang. The first female minister was a Minang scholar.
In addition to being renowned as merchants, the Minangs have also produced some of Indonesia's most influential poets, writers, statesmen, scholars, and religious scholars. Being fervent Muslims, many of them embraced the idea of incorporating Islamic ideals into modern society. Furthermore, the presence of these intellectuals combined with the people's basically proud character, made the Minangkabau homeland (the province of West Sumatra) one of the powerhouses in the Indonesian struggle for independence.
Today both natural and cultural tourism have become considerable economic activities in West Sumatra.
Ceremonies and festivals
Turun mandi - baby blessing ceremony
Sunat rasul - circumcision ceremony
Baralek - wedding ceremony
Batagak pangulu - clan leader inauguration ceremony. Other clan leaders, all relatives in the same clan and all villagers in the region are invited. The ceremony will last for 7 days or more.
Turun ka sawah - community work ceremony
Manyabik - harvesting ceremony
Hari Rayo - Islamic festivals
Wild boar hunt ceremony
Maanta pabukoan - sending food to mother-in-law for Ramadhan
Tabuik - Muslim celebration in the coastal village of Pariaman
Tanah Ta Sirah, inaugurate a new clan leader (Datuk) when the old one died in the few hours (no need to proceed batagak pangulu, but the clan must invite all clan leader in the region).
Mambangkik Batang Tarandam, inaugurate a new leader (Datuk) when the old one died in the pass 10 or 50 years and even more, must do the Batagak Pangulu.
Traditional Minangkabau music includes saluang jo dendang which consists of singing to the accompaniment of a saluang bamboo flute, and talempong gong-chime music. Dances include the tari piring (plate dance), tari payung (umbrella dance) and tari indang. Demonstrations of the silat martial art are performed. Pidato adat are ceremonial orations performed at formal occasions.
Randai is a folk theater tradition which incorporates music, singing, dance, drama and the silat martial art. Randai is usually performed for traditional ceremonies and festivals, and complex stories may span a number of nights. It is performed as a theatre-in-the-round to achieve an equality and unity between audience members and the performers. Randai performances are a synthesis of alternating martial arts dances, songs, and acted scenes. Stories are delivered by both the acting and the singing and are mostly based upon Minangkabau legends and folktales. Randai originated early in the 20th century out of fusion of local martial arts, story-telling and other performance traditions. Men originally played both the male and female characters in the story, but since the 1960s women have also participated.
Particular Minangkabau villages specialize in cottage industries producing handicrafts such as woven sugarcane and reed purses, gold and silver jewellery using filigree and granulation techniques, woven songket textiles, wood carving, embroidery, pottery, and metallurgy.
The staple ingredients of the Minangkabau diet are rice, fish, coconut, green leafy vegetables and chili. The usage of meat is mainly limited to special occasions, and beef and chicken are most commonly used. Pork is not halal and therefore not consumed, while lamb, goat and game are rarely consumed for reasons of taste and availability. Spiciness is a characteristic of Minangkabau food, and the most commonly used herbs and spices are chili, turmeric, ginger and galangal. Vegetables are consumed two or three times a day. Fruits are mainly seasonal, although fruits such as banana, papaya and citrus are continually available.
Three meals a day are typical with lunch being the most important meal, except during the fasting month of Ramadan where lunch is not eaten. Meals commonly consist of steamed rice, a hot fried dish and a coconut milk dish, with a little variation from breakfast to dinner. Meals are generally eaten from a plate using the fingers of the right hand. Snacks are more frequently eaten by people in urban areas than in villages. Western food has had little impact upon Minangkabau consumption and preference to date.
Rendang is a dish which is considered to be a characteristic of Minangkabau culture, and is cooked 4-5 times a year. Other characteristic dishes include Asam Padeh, Soto Padang, Sate Padang, Dendeng Balado (beef with chili sauce).
Food has a central role in the Minangkabau ceremonies which honor religious and life cycle rites.
Minangkabau food is popular among Indonesians and restaurants are present throughout Indonesia. Nasi Padang restaurants, named after the capital of West Sumatra, are known for placing a variety of Minangkabau dishes on a customer's table along with rice and billing only for what is taken. Nasi Kapau is another restaurant variant which specializes in dishes using offal and the use of tamarind to add a sourness to the spicy flavor.
Rumah gadang (Minangkabau: 'big house') - or more correctly rumah bagonjong - are the traditional homes (Indonesian: rumah adat) of the Minangkabau. The architecture, construction, internal and external decoration, and the functions of the house reflect the culture and values of the Minangkabau. A rumah gadang serves as a residence, a hall for family meetings, and for ceremonial activities. The highest elevated part on the end of rumah bagonjong is called anjuang, it is the most important and revered room, reserved only for honorable guests, the elder, or for the wedding bedroom during the wedding ceremony. With the Minangkabau society being matrilineal, the rumah gadang is owned by the women of the family who live there - ownership is passed from mother to daughter.
The houses have dramatic curved roof structure with multi-tiered, upswept gables. According to Minangkabau tradition, the roof shapes was meant to mimic the horn of buffalo. Shuttered windows are built into walls incised with profuse painted floral carvings. The term rumah gadang usually refers to the larger communal homes, however, smaller single residences share many of its architectural elements.
Oral traditions and literature
Minangkabau culture has a long history of oral traditions. One oral tradition is the pidato adat (ceremonial orations) which are performed by panghulu (clan chiefs) at formal occasions such as weddings, funerals, adoption ceremonies, and panghulu inaugurations. These ceremonial orations consist of many forms including pantun, aphorisms (papatah-patitih), proverbs (pameo), religious advice (petuah), parables (tamsia), two-line aphorisms (gurindam), and similes (ibarat).
Minangkabau traditional folktales (kaba) consist of narratives which present the social and personal consequences of either ignoring or observing the ethical teachings and the norms embedded in the adat. The storyteller (tukang kaba) recites the story in poetic or lyrical prose while accompanying himself on a rebab.
A theme in Minangkabau folktales is the central role mothers and motherhood has in Minangkabau society, with the folktales Rancak diLabueh and Malin Kundang being two examples. Rancak diLabueh is about a mother who acts as teacher and adviser to her two growing children. Initially her son is vain and headstrong and only after her perseverance does he become a good son who listens to his mother. Malin Kundang is about the dangers of treating your mother badly. A sailor from a poor family voyages to seek his fortune, becoming rich and marrying. After refusing to recognize his elderly mother on his return home, being ashamed of his humble origins, he is cursed and dies when his ship is flung against rocks by a storm.
Other popular folktales also relate to the important role of the woman in Minangkabau society. In the Cindua Mato epic the woman is the source of wisdom, while in whereas in the Sabai nan Aluih she is more a doer than a thinker. Cindua Mato (Staring Eye) is about the traditions of Minangkabau royalty. The story involves a mythical Minangkabau queen, Bundo Kanduang, who embodies the behaviors prescribed by adat. Cindua Mato, a servant of the queen, uses magic to defeat hostile outside forces and save the kingdom. Sabai nan Aluih (The genteel Sabai) is about a young girl named Sabai, the hero of the story, who avenges the murder of her father by a powerful and evil ruler from a neighboring village. After her father's murder her cowardly elder brother refuses to confront the murderer and so Sabai decides to take matters into her own hands. She seeks out the murderer and shoots him in revenge.
A 2009 update
A recent (2009) update on the Minangkabau culture is available online: In brief, the traditional matrilineal customs have started to erode or to change. The traditional merantau is changing to include teenage women, in addition to teenage men, leaving their hometown for a few years of school and/or work experience before returning to start a family – and nowadays fewer young adults actually return except for an annual visit. Now the traditional clan bighouse often falls into disuse as its families feel more free to live in their own smaller modern house built next door. This erosion is due partly to the high upkeep on the old houses and partly to the desire for a modern lifestyle. To assure the continuation of the famous bighouse curved roof, the "government" has mandated that public buildings, such as banks and petrol stations, must have a "Minangkabau roof". (A version of this paragraph can also be found in a different context, in the Matrilineality article's Minangkabau subsection.)
The Minangkabau language (Baso Minangkabau) is an Austronesian language belonging to the Malayic linguistic subgroup, which in turns belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian branch. The Minangkabau language is closely related to the Negeri Sembilan Malay language used by the people of Negeri Sembilan, many of which are descendants of Minangkabau immigrants. The language has a number of dialects and sub-dialects, but native Minangkabau speakers generally have no difficulty understanding the variety of dialects. The differences between dialects are mainly at the phonological level, though some lexical differences also exist. Minangkabau dialects are regional, consisting of one or more villages (nagari), and usually correspond to differences in customs and traditions. Each sub-village (jorong) has its own sub-dialect consisting of subtle differences which can be detected by native speakers. The Padang dialect has become the lingua franca for people of different language regions.
The Minangkabau society has a diglossia situation, whereby they use their native language for everyday conversations, while the Indonesian language is used for most formal occasions, in education, and in writing, even to relatives and friends.The Minangkabau language was originally written using the Jawi script, an adapted Arabic alphabet. Romanization of the language dates from the 19th century, and a standardized official orthography of the language was published in 1976.
Despite widespread use of Indonesian, they have their own mother tongue. The Minangkabau language shares many similar words with Malay, yet it has a distinctive pronunciation and some grammatical differences rendering it unintelligible to Malay speakers.
Adat and religion
Animism has been an important component of Minangkabau culture. Even after the penetration of Islam into Minangkabau society in the 16th century, animistic beliefs were not extinguished. In this belief system, people were said to have two souls, a real soul and a soul which can disappear called the semangat. Semangat represents the vitality of life and it is said to be possessed by all animals and plants. An illness may be explained as the capture of the semangat by an evil spirit, and a shaman (pawang) may be consulted to conjure invisible forces and bring comfort to the family. Sacrificial offerings can be made to placate the spirits, and certain objects such as amulets are used as protection.
Until the rise of the Padri movement late in the 18th century, Islamic practices such as prayers, fasting and attendance at mosques had been weakly observed in the Minangkabau highlands. The Padri were inspired by the Wahhabi movement in Mecca, and sought to eliminate societal problems such as tobacco and opium smoking, gambling and general anarchy by ensuring the tenets of the Koran were strictly observed. All Minangkabau customs allegedly in conflict with the Koran were to be abolished. Although the Padri were eventually defeated by the Dutch, during this period the relationship between adat and religion was reformulated. Previously adat was said to be based upon appropriateness and propriety, but this was changed so adat was more strongly based upon Islamic precepts.
As further described in an online source, the Minang's adat and their Islam religion each help the other to avoid the extremes of some modern global trends: Their strong belief in and practice of adat helps their Islam religion to not adopt a "simplistic anti-Western" version of Islam, while their strong belief in and practice of both Islam and adat helps the Minangs to limit or avoid some undesired effects of modern global capitalism.(A version of this paragraph can also be found in a different context, in the Matrilineality article's Minangkabau subsection.)
With the Minangkabau highlands being the heartland of their culture, and with Islam likely entering the region from coast it is said that ‘custom descended, religion ascended’ (adat manurun, syarak mandaki).
The Minangkabau are known as the educated society and therefore they are spread across Indonesia and even foreign countries in a variety of professions and expertise such as politicians, writers, scholars, teachers, journalists, and businesspeople. Based on a relatively small population (2.7% of the population of Indonesia), Minangkabau is one of the most successful with many achievements. Based on Tempo magazine (2000 New Year special edition), six of the top ten most influential Indonesians of the 20th century were Minang. Three out of the four Indonesian founding fathers are Minangkabau people.
Minangs had settled outside West Sumatra since 14th century. They spread out to Java, Sulawesi, the Malay peninsula, Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines. Raja Bagindo migration to southern Philippines and founded the Sultanate of Sulu in 1390. The Minangkabaus were moved to the state of Negeri Sembilan in the 14th century and began to control local politics. In 1773 Raja Melewar was appointed the first head of state of Negeri Sembilan. Late in the 16th century, Dato Ri Bandang and Dato Ri Tiro taught Islam in Sulawesi, Borneo, and Nusa Tenggara. They were converted kings of Gowa and Tallo to be Muslim.
Muslim reformist from Middle East (Mecca and Cairo) influenced the education system in Minangkabau hinterland. Sumatera Thawalib, Adabiah and Diniyah Putri, borned of hundreds activist for modern Indonesia, such as Djamaluddin Tamin, A.R Sutan Mansyur, and Siradjuddin Abbas.
Many of Minangkabau people had prominent positions in the Indonesian and Malay nationalism movement. In 1920-1960, the political leader in Indonesian dominated by Minangkabau people, such as Mohammad Hatta a former Indonesian government prime minister and vice president, Agus Salim a former Indonesian government minister, Tan Malaka international communist leader and founder of PARI and Murba, Sutan Sjahrir a former Indonesian government prime minister and founder of Socialist Party of Indonesia, Muhammad Natsir a former Indonesian government prime minister and founder of Masyumi, Assaat a former Indonesian president, Abdul Halim a former Indonesian government prime minister. Beside in Central/West Sumatra, Minangkabau people also sat as governor in other provinces. They are Datuk Djamin (second governor of West Java), Muhammad Djosan and Muhammad Padang (second and third governor of Maluku), Datuk Madjo Basa Nan Kuniang and Moenafri (first and fourth governor of Central Sulawesi), Daan Jahja (military governor of Jakarta), Eny Karim (eighth governor of North Sumatra), Adnan Kapau Gani (first governor of South Sumatra), Djamin Datuk Bagindo (first governor of Jambi). While liberal democracy era, Minangkabau politician had dominated of parliament and Indonesian cabinet. They were affiliated to all of faction, islamist, nationalist, socialist and communist.
Minangkabau writers and journalist made significant contributions to modern Indonesian literature. They are Marah Roesli, Abdul Muis, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, Idrus, Hamka, Ali Akbar Navis as authors, Muhammad Yamin, Chairil Anwar, Taufik Ismail as poets, and Djamaluddin Adinegoro, Rosihan Anwar, Ani Idrus as journalist. Most of the prominent Indonesian novels wrote by Minangkabau writer and its influenced development of modern Indonesian language.
Many of Minangkabau people as artist, singer, film director, and producer. They raised to be famous entertainer, such as Usmar Ismail, Arizal, and Asrul Sani as film director, Soekarno M. Noer, Dorce Gamalama, and Nirina Zubir as artist.
Nowadays, beside Chinese Indonesian, Minangkabau people have significant contributions in economic activities. Most of Minangkabau businessmen success in hospitality, media, healthcare, and textile trader. Minangkabau businessmen also prominent in traditional restaurant chain that settled in many cities of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The success figure such as Abdul Latief, Basrizal Koto, and Tunku Tan Sri Abdullah. In medieval century, Minangkabau traders made large contributions in Malays kingdom, connected among Aceh, Kedah, Siak, Johor, and Malacca.
People of Minangkabau descent who made significant contributions outside of Indonesia include Yusof bin Ishak, who was the first President of Singapore, Tuanku Abdul Rahman, was the first Supreme Head of State (Yang di-Pertuan Agong) of the Federation of Malaya, Zubir Said, who composed the national anthem of Singapore Majulah Singapura, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, was the first Malaysian astronaut, Lieutenant Adnan Bin Saidi who became a hero in World War II, Roestam Effendi, was the member of Netherlands parliament, and Ahmad Khatib, was the head (imam) of the Shafi'i school of law at the mosque of Mecca (Masjid al-Haram).