Main Points:
Minangkabau women in traditional dress.

  • Matrilineal society - egalitarian
  • Women perform agriculture manual labor as society's "breadwinners"
  • Men control religious and political affairs
  • Emphasis on women supports a confident female presence in Minangkabau society

The Minangkabau culture is the world’s largest matrilineal society, which means that inheritance is connected to the female line and that children are considered descendants of their mothers, not their fathers (Minangkabau). This aspect of the Minangkabau directly affects lineage and kinship, but it also extends its impact to the gender roles in this society. The Minangkabau do not follow the “traditional,” Western gender roles. Although Minangkabau is an Islamic society, it is also an egalitarian society where equality exists between men and women (Minangkabau Society). Minangkabau women are seen as the “head of the family” and are referred to as the “breadwinners” of society (A Matriarchal Society). This emphasis on women generates a strong self-confidence among women in the Minangkabau society, a phenomenon that is much less widespread in patriarchal areas (Muslim Women of Minang).

Women have many responsibilities in Minangkabau. It is common for Minangkabau men to “go abroad to seek experience, wealth, and commercial success,” which leaves the women with the responsibility of “maintaining the continuity of the family and the distribution and cultivation of the land” (Indonesia-Minangkabau). In addition to maintaining the land, Minangkabau women are responsible for the domestic duties (Minangkabau Society). The importance that the Minangkabau place on women is clearly evident when examining the significant roles and responsibilities of women in the society. Women control the land, which makes up the “main source of income in its traditional agriculture economy” (Minangkabau Society). Women of the family own the longhouses and control the related finances (A Matriarchal Society).
A woman in Minangkabau performs much of the manual labor to sustain her family.

The men’s role in Minangkabau society incorporates other key aspects of the culture. Religion is considered to be a matter for the Minangkabau men (Minangkabau). The Islamic religious officials, including the ulama and khatib, are commonly men in Minangkabau society (Religion and expressive culture). The Minangkabau men are also in charge of political affairs in the community (Minangkabau). Men were expected to contribute to the family’s economic welfare with a wage labor position. “Males with civil service jobs in particular, were considered to be highly valued and respected because it implied regular salaries and extra money to buttress farming expenses, rebuild houses, buy luxury goods and start businesses” (Minangkabau). In some cases, men did work the land, although this was considered women’s work (Minangkabau).

The Minangkabau people are primarily Muslim, which has a large influence on the level of tolerance for different sexual orientations. Technically, under Islamic tradition, homosexuality is forbidden in the Minangkabau society (Minangkabau). Because of the heavy importance that the Minangkabauplace on marriage and family life, the most vocal protest concerning homosexuality is the conscious decision not to start a family (Minangkabau). When a married man or woman is secretly homosexual, but still participates in an active family life, the individual’s transgression is typically ignored and they are not shunned by the community (Minangkabau). There didn’t appear to be many publicized problems concerning sexual orientation or intolerance.


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