Main Points:

  • Location

  • Environment

  • Population


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Map of Indonesia, including Sumatra where the Minangkabau are located.

The Minangkabau indigenous peoples reside in the Central Highlands of West Sumatra, an island of Indonesia. Indonesia "is located astride the equator in the humid tropics and extends some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) east-west, about the same as the contiguous United States" (Indonesia). The region occupies a strategic location between East and South Asia and the Middle East; throughout history, Indonesia's location has played a significant role in its economic, political, cultural, and religious developments (Indonesia). Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago nation, and consists of the large islands of Sumatra, Java, most of Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes), Halmahera, and the Western side of Papua New Guinea, and many smaller islands such as Bali (ibid).

The traditional Minangkabau homeland is located in the Padang Highlands, which make up part of a chain of mountains that run parallel to the western coast of Sumatra. The highlands are referred to as darek, or "land above water" (Minangkabau- Orientation). The Minangkabau refer to their homeland as Alum Minangkabau, which translates to "the world of the Minangkabau". The alum consists of both the darat, regions in the high plateaus of central Sumatra, and rantau, frontier areas expanding to the coasts of east and west Sumatra. The Minangkabau are primarily still centralized in their homeland of West Sumatra, with about four million living in West Sumatra and three million others living in various Indonesian and Malay peninsula cities and towns (Minangkabau).The spread of Minangkabau cultue to other parts of Indonesia can be attributed, in part, to a process called merantau where young Minangkabau men travel to foreign lands, even overseas, to become educated (ibid). As early as age seven, Minangkabau men leave the matrilineal homes of their mothers to live in a surau, a prayer house and community center where they become instructed in religious and cultural (adat) teachings. When they reach their teenage years, Minangkabau men are encouraged to partake in merantau in order to return to their hometowns with new knowledge and wisdom that will add to their usefulness as adults. Minangkabau men use their wisdom to help administer the private affairs of their families and public affairs of their nagari, or hometown, by sitting as members of a "council of uncles" (ibid). According to the New World Encyclopedia, "This tradition has created Minang communities in many Indonesian cities and towns, which nevertheless are still tied closely to their homeland..." (ibid). For instance, there is a state in Malaysia called Negeri Sembilan that is greatly influenced by Minangkabau culture (ibid).

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Location of West Sumatra, home to the Minangkabau


West Sumatra, the homeland of the Minangkabau, is a tropical environment abundant with tropical forests, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, and rivers and waterfalls in the highlands (West Sumatra). The darek (highlands) where the Minangkabau primarily reside consists of three luhak (territories), which are classified according to rantau (peripheral area) (Minangkabau-Orientation). These include: Limapuluh Koto, Tanah Datar, and Agam (Minangkabau). These three highland valleys are situated around Lake Maninjau and Lake Singkarak, which are to the north and south of the volcanoes Gunung Merapi and Gunung Singgalang.Several of the mountain peaks of the Padang Highlands reach more than 3,000 meters in elevation. Additionally, some are active volcanoes. Rainfall in West Sumatra is sufficient for crops to grow throughout most of the area, and mountain lakes irrigate wet-rice fields in flat areas of the highlands (Minangkabau- Orientation).

Lembah Anai, a waterfall in West Sumatra
Bukittingi, West Sumatra


Approximately eight million Minangkabau live in Indonesia, with about half living in West Sumatra and the rest scattered throughout other parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, after centuries of gradual migration from their West Sumatran homeland (Orientation-Minangkabau). At least 300,000 Minangkabau live in Malaysia. Minangkabau are heavily concentrated in large cities, with an unbalanced demographic of mostly women and the elderly in rural areas of the traditional homeland, and primarily males and younger generations in urban and rantau areas (ibid). The Minangkabau are the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia, and therefore possess a significant amount of influence in the country (Indonesia's Muslim Minangkabau Peoples). Indonesia itself is the world's fourth most populous nation, with 203 million people living on nearly one thousand permanently settled islands (Indonesia).