Main Points:
  • Economy/ World Market
  • Global Relations/ Influence
  • The Minangkabau Today
    Minangkabau woman working in rice paddy

All Minangkabau wet-rice land and house land is ultimately acquired through matrilineal inheritance. Because the Minangkabau women traditionally are the ones who own and work the land, Minangkabau men play an influential role in trade and international relations. In fact, "Minangkabau men are among the most widely known and active traders in Southeast Asia" (Minangkabau- Economy). The men in Minangkabau society are heavily engaged in commercial activities outside the Minangkabau homeland, which is due largely to the fact that they cannot inherit Minangkabau rice fields (ibid). The Minangkabau have an intricate system of labor division and commercial activities that contribute to their economic sustainability.The Minangkabau harvest a variety of crops based on the ecological conditions of their territories. Ecological conditions vary due to West Sumatra's diverse geography and ecosystems. Wetter areas such as well-watered valleys and small slopes are ideal for rice cultivation; drier hills support commercial crops like coffee, fruit, cinnamon, and rubber; the sea communities support a sizable fish market; forests offer an abundance of wild plants and species; and the village communities support "vegetable gardening, crafts, and petty commerce" (ibid). The economies of West Sumatra's different geographical terrains do not follow a specific pattern, however; "The economy of each nagari is a a particular mixture of these activities. Moreover, the distant rantau communities of emigrants contribute to the economies of their respective home nagari" (ibid). The division of labor between men and women in Minangkabau society assigns a relatively equal amount of responsibilities between men and women, since the Minangkabau value equality of the sexes (Minangkabau Society). This equal division of labor results in an organized, systematized economic system. Men are responsible for harvesting rice, commercial agriculture, fishing, metal and wood-working, and trade. Women, on the other hand, have duties such as vegetable gardening, upkeep of their rice fields, food preparation, child care and household chores, and crafts like weaving and pottery (Minangkabau- Economy).

A crucial factor in the spread of Minangkabau culture to other parts of Indonesia and the world is the merantau performed by Minangkabau males that begins as early as age seven when boys leave the homes of their mothers to live in a prayer house and community center called a surau to become educated in the religion and culture of their people. When Minangkabau males become teenagers,
they often leave their hometowns to gain educations and become involved in world affairs, so that they can return with new insight and wisdom that they can use to help administer family affairs and the affairs of their nagari (hometown) by taking part in a gathering of men to discuss public affairs, known as a "council of uncles" (Minangkabau). Some scholars propose that homes and land being inherited through the female lineage is the cause of the "diaspora (Minangkabau, merantau) of Minangkabau males throughout the Malay Archipelago to become scholars or to seek their fortunes as merchants" (ibid). The merantau tradition has resulted in the creation of Minang communities in other Indonesian cities and towns, still bound to their homeland, but geographically separated. An example is a state in Malaysia called Negeri Semblian that has been profoundly influenced by Minangkabau culture (ibid).

While the Minangkabau have an organized and influential economic system, the economy and global affairs of the Minangkabau society specifically are too small to compare with other economic systems on a global scale. However, since the Minangkabau occupy such a pivotal role in Indonesian public life with their contributions in trade and the spread of their culture, it is important to look at the Indonesian economy as a whole to assess the Minangkabau culture's influence in the world market, how their culture is influenced by interaction with other world systems and cultures, and how, likewise, other cultures are influenced by the spread of Minangkabau values and beliefs. Looking at the Indonesian economy as a whole, about 60% of the population are farmers who grow subsistence and commercial crops such as rice, fruit, vegetables, tea, coffee, sugar, and spices (Culture of Indonesia). Large plantations serve to produce oil palm, rubber, sugar, and sisel for domestic use and export (ibid). Freshwater and ocean fishing are important to both local and national economies. Timber and processed wood are important for domestic consumption and export, particularly in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Resources such as oil, natural gas, tin, copper, aluminum, and gold are exploited primarily for the purpose of export (ibid). Indonesia's primary industries include agro-business, resource extraction and export, construction, and tourism (ibid). According to, "Agro-business and resource extraction, which still supply Indonesia with much of its foreign exchange and domestic operating funds, are primarily in the outer island", especially in Sumatra where plantations, oil, gas, and mines are key capital resources (ibid). A small industrial sector has been developing as well since the 1970s, especially in Java. Java, an island of Indonesia, was dramatically changed during Suharto's "New Order" regim from 1968-1998, which ultimately affected the rest of Indonesia as well. Java was drastically urbanized and industrialized, greatly increasing its output of goods for export; Java now plays an economic role in Indonesia that is more in balance with its population (ibid). Although Java's economic development benefited most of the population, the gap between the rich and poor and between urban and rural areas expanded. The severe economic downturn following the fall of Suharto severely reduced foreign investment in all of Indonesia and the lower and middle classes, mostly in urban areas, suffered the greatest from the ensuing recession (ibid).

Today, the Minangkabau occupy a powerful position within the world in terms of their trade interactions and cultural influence. They currently make up 2.7% of Indonesia's population (The Minangkabau Today). Because of the cultural importance the Minangkabau put on education, they are over-represented, in proportion to their numbers, in Indonesia's public life. Some of Indonesia's most renowned writers, poets, statesmen, religious leaders, and scholars are of the Minangkabau culture. The Minangkabau's high population of intellectuals combined with their cultural pride, has "made the Minangkabau homeland (the province of West Sumatra) one of the powerhouses in the Indonesian struggle for independence" (Minangkabau). Additionally, because they were strongly Islamic, and spoke a language similar to Bahasa Indonesia, which had much less hierarchical connotations than Javanese, the Minangkabau people "were prominent among the intellectual figures in the independence movement of Indonesia" (Indonesia-Minangkabau). The Minangkabau developed a cosmopolitan bourgeoisie that embraced and promoted the ideals of a developing nation state, due in part to their merantau tradition (ibid). They have played a key role in the modernization of Indonesia (The Minangkabau Today).

While they have evolved past some of their traditional practices, the Minangkabau still retain their unique cultural identity and hold onto their core values and beliefs. The Minangkabau continue to uphold matriarchal values; however, the male merantau process is somewhat of a conflicting force in traditional Minangkabau society in that the sharia traditions by which men can acquire property and education through the merantau experience are at odds with the rules of female-oriented adat which force men to "wait passively for a marriage proposal from some young woman's family" (Indonesia-Minangkabau). Through the merantau experience, "a young man can attempt to influence his own destiny in positive ways" (ibid). In marriages where the husband has experienced merantau, the role of the woman becomes less significant. Furthermore, when married couples choose to live in urban areas or outside the Minangkabau area, the woman's high status is lowered as she loses some of her social and economic property rights, her social and economic postion becomes less favorable, and the divorce rate increases (ibid).Conversely, Minangkabau men who find work in the cities gain greater economic prestige, and social and political rights (The Minangkabau Today).

Tourism has become very popular in Indonesia, particularly tourism of West Sumatra and the Minangkabau culture, as people visiting that region are intrigued by the matrilineal structure of Minangkabau culture, and wish to learn more about these unique people. Over 6.45 million people visit Indonesia every day (The Minangkabau Today). Both natural and cultural tourism have become prime economic activities in West Sumatra, contributing to their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) (Indonesia-Minangkabau). An example of the impact of tourism on the Indonesia's economy, particularly tourism of the Minangkabau culture, is the Cultural Information Center in Minangkabau Village (The Minangkabau Today).

The Adityawarman Museum in West Sumatra serves as a cultural information center to educate tourists on the Minangkabau culture.