Main Points:
  • Gender Roles
  • Rumah Gadang (Long Houses)
  • Marriage

The Minangkabau people are one of the few surviving matrilineal societies still present today. Matriarchy is a form of social organzation in which descent and relationships are reckoned through the female line. This sparks interest to many anthropologists because throughout history, it is evident that most culture groups have been dominated by males. Although women have become equal in most countries, they are still put beneath men in several parts of the world. To see a female dominated society is something unique and interesting, to say the least.

Furthermore, in this Indonesian culture group mother's run the show. All inherited items and property is on the basis of the mother's lineage. Children grow up in clans that put women in front of men. Their name and identity is used when describing the clan and the families revolve around this idea. The fathers and sons do not attempt to challenge this way of life, as it has been that way for very long period of time. Communities seem to run smoothly in this style, and trying to break cultural norms would be seen as disobedient and disrespectful. Because the women own all the rights to property and children, men act as "guards" rather than fathers. They are there to continue the lineage and protect the women and their possessions. At a young age, boys learn to live separate from their family. The matriarchal ideas come partly from the Islamic traditions. That being said, males are expected to seek education and experience away from home. Boys learn this cultural norm at a young age, as they leave the house to sleep at local mosques with other boys in the community. The sisters and mothers remain in their households, maintaining control of the property and sharing each other's company.

The "long houses" that these women live in are referred to as rumah gadang. The structure of these homes are correlated with the culture. These houses are used not only for residence, but also for family meetings and ceremonial activities. For example, many of the Minangkabau use their homes for wedding parties and "head of house" inaugurations. Each has a large common living space with several bedrooms against the back wall. In front of the bedrooms lies a small kitchen area. Also, some houses have a raised platform which may be used in certain ceremonial events. From the outside, the rumah gadang appears horizontally long. The roof has two pointy ends on the left and right, resembling the horns of a buffalo. These houses are made of special types of wood that are more flexible, but very strong.

Minangkabau "Long House" or Rumah Gadang

Men are only to return to these homes when they are ready to contribute financially. It is their responsibility to come up with money for resources and food. They spend most of their time outside the house, working or going to school. Other reasons to return to the house is to comfort their wives and ensure that they have everything necessary to live at the given time. Adult sons and grandsons who are not yet married sleep daily in local prayer houses or the homes of their wives sister. Husbands sleep with their wives in their bedrooms but are seen and recognized as guests by the rest of the family. The wives and daughters have complete control in the household, and this a very unique and unusual way of living.

Marriage is seen as advantageous for females for several reasons. People believe that marriage bestows women with political, economic, and social privileges. This is somewhat true, but men also gain social status when they become married. This is because they now contribute to a female household, and women are held with the utmost respect in the Minangkabau communities. Men look for spouses who have large houses, a lot of property, and a good amount of resources. Women look for men who have "clean blood" and a strong seed. Women are usually married between the ages of 15 and 25, while men do not have a specific age in which they become engaged. The engagement process is more detailed than many would assume to believe. Because of the importance of social status, the parents of the bride visit the village of the potential groom to observe his level of respect in his community, while also looking at his descent.

Traditional Minangkabau Wedding Ceremony. There are various types of clothing used in the wedding, but most are similar to those in the picture above.

The wedding ceremony begins with the the bride's side of the family travelling to the house of the groom. At his house, there is a large feast in the common area, and sometimes outside. The family of the female then presents the groom and his family with a marital basket full of gifts. This is to represent the social prestige of the female, and also the groom who is now a new member of the family. After the feast and toasts, the women on the side of the bride's family tie the hands of the bride and groom together and they then lead the way to the bride's house. However, the groom must fight his way through the males of the bride's family before making his way to her home. This is a playful event, and when it is over, the groom spends the night at the bride's home. When the entire process is completed, the two are officially married and have a new level of respect in their society.


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