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Typical Minangkabau farms, 4 or 5 of a family clan grouped together...

With an amazing variety crops, fruit, vegetables; guide Anwar pointing out coffee...

Coffee flower


Cinnamon made of the bark


Zursap (sour juice) or Durian Belanda (says it all)

Cacao red variety

Cacao green variety




Cloves (kruidnagel)

Betel nuts


Rambutan (lichees)

Cow shed

Peeking inside: preparing lunch

Boiling cabbage

Storing prized possessions

Lady of the house

Plain new houses between the old ones. Big satellite dish in front

Older couple in their living room

Relatives burried on their own grounds

Tabek Patah: Beautiful Views

Quintessential Indonesian landscape

Sago tree, all parts are used, i.e. leaves for traditional cigarettes

Coffee Mill: Roasting coffee takes about three hours

Smelling nice these robusta beans

Deftly slicing banana for pisang saleh (dried and slightly salted banana)

Degustation sur place

Local coffee, bits of pisang saleh and a cinnamon stick as spoon

Old Minangkabau houses in Rap Rao

Preparing for lunch

Ground chili and...

...fried tahu (soy cheese)

She (48) is doing the talking

He (50) is doing the listening

Bougainville works well

Fighting cock, forbidden sport but very popular

Elegant play of curves and spires

Three bedrooms, one for each daughter and husband, parents sleep now in...

Area between two pillars and one window is dedicated per daughter/husband

Important guests are received on the raised area, others on the lower...

Children sleep on the lower area

They all want to get in the picture

Drying peanuts outside

...and inside

Mosque overlooking Rap Rao

Old colonial watermill, still working

Fish breeding pond

Open air toilet, just a plank over water, not so sure about...

Bowls of cacao seeds drying

Padang style lunch, you only pay for dishes you touched

Old meeting house in Batu Sangkar

(Former Dutch) Governor's house in Batu Sangkar

Queen's Palace in Silinduang Bulan, family member recently died, so we are...

A cage for a fighting cock on all four corners of the...

Queen's Palace and the two traditional rice storage buildingds

Rumah Gadan Pagaruyung, King's Palace burned down in 2007 and now being...

Restauration work ongoing

Wood carvings painted and ready

350 years old

Recently built entirely in Minangkabau style

“When a new house is built, the plan is based on the number of daughters: there will be a (bed)room for each daughter. Girls are married off very young, around fourteen, arranged marriages are still the norm in the Minangkabau. The oldest daughter and her husband will come and live in the first bedroom and the parents who have been living up there, will move one room down to the second bedroom“. We are in what I think is a ‘middle-class’ Minangkabau home and my guide, Arman again, is pointing out how the matrilineal principle is reflected in the layout of the house. The (bed)room, the space in front of that room between the outer wall and the first set of pillars, including one window, are the living room and (children) sleeping space of the first daughter’s family. When the second daughter is married off, she will get the second bedroom and the parents will move to the third one. The second daughter’s owns the living space and window in front of it, in between the first and second set of pillars. ”What will happen with the parents when all bedrooms are occupied by married daughters?” I wonder. “They will go and sleep in the open space with the children, unless there is enough money to build an extension to the house, then they will go and live there.“ Arman explains, without so much as blinking his eyes. How the Minangkabau matrilineal system works is already very interesting since with 4 million people this is the largest such civilisation, but also the change-over from one generation to another in the Minangkabau culture is remarkable, with the step by step removal of the parents from the centre of family life.

“Minangkabau, Minangkabau, the buffalo wins, the buffalo wins”, the West Sumatrans erupted in shouting, when their tiny calf had vanquished the massive Javanese bull. That at least is as legend has it. A Javanese king threatened to conquer West Sumatra, when he agreed instead to settle the imminent battle by whatever bull would win a bull fight. He dispatched the strongest bull he could find, but the wily West Sumatrans starved a calf, fitted its horns with knives and the calf, believing the bull to be its mother, shredded its belly while trying to suckle. There are other explanations for how ‘Minangkabau’ came about, but this one at least also fits in with the love for bullfighting, and cock fighting for that matter, that the people of Minangkabau have.

“All property follows the women, the house, the land. Sons leave the house of their parents when they are 7 and go sleep every night in the mosque. They return home to dress and wash, but they don’t sleep there anymore and when they get married, outside the clan of families they grew up in, they move in with their wife“. Arman grew up in a matrilineal family himself, so for him it is naturally self evident, including the justification why things should be like this, as he explains to me. “Suppose a couple do not go along and they divorce, the woman has to take care of the children, how else could she do that, but for having the house to live in and the land to live off”. His own oldest sister, he tells me, has divorced twice, she now has two children by different husbands and raises them in her own home. That story highlights another remarkable fact, husbands do not play a role in the upbringing of their own children; it is the wife’s eldest brother who is responsible for their education, not the husband.

We are on a tour in Minangkabau country around Bukittinggi, where traditional wooden houses with the trade mark buffalo-horn inspired metallic roofs, dot the terraced rice fields. It all looks very rural and charming and this is where Arman grew up. We walk along the paths of Rap Rao, the atmosphere is relaxed, people sit or work outside and Arman exchanges a few words with each of them; the only thing I recognise is ‘Belanda‘, that’s me, Dutch. We are welcome to visit homes and I can take pictures as I want. The women are the first ones addressed, they are more talkative and self assured it seems, while the men seem more subdued, indeed almost like an un-emancipated wife in a patrilineal society. Three older women are vividly talking as we walk past and Arman gets involved in what they are discussing. From a plot of one of them, she continues collecting rice she has dried on a cloth while crouching in that position only Indonesians can manage, the chili crop has been stolen. She is quite upset about it and it is the only crack in rural tranquility I came across.

The combination of Islam and a matrilineal society is not the first combination one would think of, considering the secondary role women tend to play in Muslim societies. Islam was introduced in the Minangkabau somewhere around the 16th century, replacing the Buddhist faith prevalent until then, but adherence to Muslim practices was not very strict until the Padri Wars erupted in the early 1800‘. Since then adherence has been stricter. Yet even today, Arnam tells me, ‘culture is more important than religion‘. Nevertheless Muslim fundamentalists planned to bomb a Bukittinggi café, frequented by foreigners as recently as October2007 and in 2008 the Bukittinggi city council banned Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve celebrations as ‘not compatible with Islam‘. (The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), a few days ago, even wanted to ban the movie ‘2012’, because ‘its doomsday theme runs counter to Islamic beliefs‘, but the council got widely ridiculed for their effort).

If the King’s Palace and the Queen’s Palace are relics of the Minangkabau’s past, the monarchy ended by the mid 1800’, the balai adat (meeting halls) you come across in even the smallest of villages, like the beautifully decorated one in Batu Sangkar, definitely are not. Because even if property follows the female line, matters of religion and politics are the men’s preserve and having assemblies to discuss and decide upon village matters is another of the distinguishing features of the Minangkabau.

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