Main Points:
  • Rich Language and Customs
  • The History and Modern Use of the Language
  • Oral Traditions That Influence the Younger Generations

The Landscape of an Area in West Sumatra
The Landscape of an Area in West Sumatra

The Minangkabau, one of the many groups of people that inhabit Indonesia, are known for their rich language and oral traditions that give their culture a specific definition that separates them from the others. The Minangkabau language (one of three hundred to four hundred Indonesian languages) is an Austronesian, Indonesian-type language spoken in West Sumatra by about seven million people (Crouch). Although this number seems large, it is extremely lame in comparison to the number of Javanese speakers – another language that is a large part of the Indonesian society (Crouch). Considering relationships between Minangkabau language and the Malay language, some controversy exists due to the fact that they have a particularly similar grammatical structure. Some recognize Minangkabau as a dialect of Malay, while others think of Minangkabau as a proper Malay language (New World Encyclopedia). The Minangkabau language was originally written using the Jawi script, a modified Arabic alphabet and the Romanization of the language dates from the 19th century. As the language has evolved over the years, regional dialects have become much more prevalent in societies throughout Indonesia (EveryCulture). Regional dialects are often used by different groups throughout the Minangkabau society for everyday conversation. Although this regional dialect may be spoken very often in certain areas, the Indonesian language is used for most formal occasions, in education, and in writing, and sometimes even used for communication between relatives and friends. Most of these dialect variations come from differences in cultural practices and traditions. Aside from the specific cultural differences between clans, the Padang dialect has become the lingua franca – the language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different – for people of different language regions. Another unique characteristic of the Minangkabau language comes into play when analyzing the morphology and the system of voice alterations that is used (EveryCulture).

An American Student Studying Minangkabau Language and Culture in a Traditional Minangkabau Home
An American Student Studying Minangkabau Language and Culture in a Traditional Minangkabau Home

Although traditional writing styles and the modern script are very important to the people, spoken language is highly crucial component to their culture because of the strong tradition of Minangkabau storytelling. In order to influence the younger generations, elders and parents of children often use storytelling to pass down myths, legends, traditional folktales, and true stories form generation to generation. These stories often have a strong moral and are used as somewhat of a “teaching tool” in not only the home environment, but also in the education system (Joshua Project). The stories contain messages about the consequences and rewards of obeying or ignoring ethical teachings. Another one of the important traditions of the Minangkabau is known as the pidato adat, meaning ceremonial orations. These speeches and stories are given by the chief of the group at gatherings that are focused on family and loved ones, past and present (Joshua Project).

Here is an example of Minangkabau writing with an English translation:

external image minangkabau.gif

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty (LM Languages)."


Crouch, S. E. Voice and verb morphology in Minangkabau. A language of West Sumatra, Indonesia. MPG Publication Depository. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. <>.

Culture of Indonesia. Countries and their Cultures. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.<>.

Minangkabau. Cultural Overview. The New World Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. <>.

Minangkabau. LM Languages. Web. 17 Nov. 2012.

Minangkabau, Padang of Indonesia Ethnic People Profile. Unreached Peoples of the World. Josua Project. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <>.