Main Points:
  • Matrilineal Society Characteristics
  • Leadership in Minangkabau Society

A Typical Minangkabau Woman - In This Matrilineal Society, Property is Passed from Mother to Daughter

The Minangkabau social structure is (and has been) labeled as the world’s largest matrilineal society due to their practices of passing down ownership of a family’s property – homes, rice paddies, etc. – from mother to daughter. As a result of this assumption, many have been known to say that the Minangkabau political structure is completely based on gender as well; however, recent research has proved this statement to be wrong. Men are considered solely the leaders of the society, according to the Koran, but this by no means downgrades the position and importance of women in the society. Women tend to not be under the pressure of the male political figures in society because own status is cherished among the majority of the Minangkabau people. After marriage, the men move into the houses of their wives and the family hopes for a female child during their first phase of pregnancy. As stated by Danielle Shapiro, an author on Islamic feminism, “Yes, men have public power. But think of them as front men, representing the community to the state or to the mosque.” The men are in control to make sure that their society is following the rules set by the “head government officials,” but the women’s role in the traditional society is extremely crucial. Domestically, the women are at the forefront, but in official religious and governmental positions, the men are considered much more prominent (Shapiro). Without a need for these roles for women outside the immediate government positions, women may have never received the rights that they have in society today.

The Flag of the Minangkabau People - (West Sumatra, the western part of Riau and Jambi, the western coast of Aceh and North Sumatra, the northern part of Bengkulu, and Negeri Sembilan)

When it comes to leadership in the Minangkabau society, there are many terms that are specific to their society. The most highly dense area of Minangkabau people is located on a highland called “darek” in the province of West Sumatra, which is divided into three districts known as “luhaks” (Rahayu). Each "luhak" is comprised of its own political community called a “nagari.” Each village has a council hall, a mosque, roads and a public bathing place. Each of these “nagari” (villages) is lead by a male “penghulu” – the head of a matrilineal political unit (Rahayu). The matrilineal system can be described in a few distinct characteristics including society heads and authority. The “penghulu,” a ceremonial male head of the clan is elected ceremonially to manage the domestic and public issues throughout the exogamous matriclans of society. The authority often rests on the mother’s brother, not the father of each lineage (Rahayu).


MacGregor, Fiona. The Amazing Minangkabau, Matriarchs of West Sumatra.Web. 16 Nov. 2012. <>.

Rahayu, Sutria. The Minangkabau of West Sumatra (Friendly Borders). Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <>.

Shapiro, Danielle. Indonesia's Minangkabau: The World's Largest Matrilineal Society - The Daily Beast. 16 Nov. 2012. <>.