Traditions of the MinangkabauAbby Dworkin-Brodsky

Each culture has traditions that are specific to the people of that culture. Americans celebrate “coming of age” (depending on the religion) with communions or bat/bar mitzvahs. A twenty-one year old celebrates their eligibility to legally drink by going out to the bar on their 21st birthday. Marriages are celebrated with ceremonies, followed by receptions. The way Americans make traditions out of certain events says a lot about what is important to them and what type of events they want to commemorate.

The Minangkabau are no different; they have their own rituals and traditions that enrich their culture and provide anthropologists with insight into what is important to them. Though the ideas behind the traditions and rituals may be the same as with Americans, the way these traditions are performed leads to the differences amongst cultures.

One of the first traditions a member of the Minangkabau society will go through is the Turun Mandi (the baby blessing ceremony). Translated into English, this means “going down to bathe.” A newborn does not leave the house until this ritual is performed, usually at about the age of three months, which is meant to introduce the child to the world outside the home. Babies will be bathed by the father of the baby’s family (bako). A few of his or her hairs are cut and they are introduced to the tastes of white rice, salt, sugar and chili, which are meant to be symbols for the world. The Turun Mandi introduces newborns to the ideas that life can be bitter, sweet, salty and spicy and that each situation he or she encounters will probably be a combination of one of more of those flavors (Sandiwara).

The baby blessing ceremony can be related to a christening in parts of American culture. Though American babies are allowed to leave their homes before this ceremony occurs, it is also a way of bringing them into a religion as well as into the world. Babies are blessed with holy water, like the bathing of the baby in the Minangkabau culture. It is a ritual that welcomes a newborn into the religion.

Because the Minangkabau culture is matrilineal, a lot of the wedding ceremony focuses on the bride and her family (Anthropology and the Human Condition). Dress for the marriage ceremony is extremely elaborate for the bride and the groom, as well as their families. The ceremony begins with a procession of the bride’s family to the grooms house where a feast is held, followed by the offering of a payment in gifts to the elder males of the groom’s family from the bride’s family. After some negotiation, the basket is accepted and the bride and groom’s hands are tied together and all members process back to the bride’s mother’s house. The family of the bride is expected to contribute money and rice and if they do not, this is seen as rude (Anthropology and the Human Condition).

This is vastly different from the wedding ceremony in the American culture. Only the bride’s parents are expected to pay for the wedding, but guests are expected to give gifts that may help cover some of the costs. Minangkabau ceremonies are less elaborate than that of Americans in that only a few people attend the actual Minangkabau wedding ceremony. Americans brides will invite hundreds of friends and family members to her wedding ceremony, as well as to the reception. The feast of the wedding ceremony is more important to the Minangkabau than the ceremony itself.

The Tabuik is a traditional festival in West Sumatra, Indonesia that is held in the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is held locally amongst the Minangkabau as a manifestation of the Remembrance of Muharram (Tabuik). This remembrance marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and a Shi Imam, was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid I. Yazid I was the third Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate (which is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader) (Umayyad Caliphate). Majalis (gatherings) are held to honor the grandson’s sacrifice and the people display their mourning by beating on their chest with their hands (sineh-zani) or by incorporating knives, chains, swords, blades or razors (zanjeer-zani, qama-zani, etc.). Another form of mourning is in the form of a theatrical re-enactment of the Battle of Karbala (Remembrance of Muharram).

The Tabuik are made from pieces of bamboo, paper and rattan and are extremely elaborate. On the 10th day of Muharram, a large crowd that includes dignitaries comes down to the beach to see the tabuiks before they are cast into the sea at noon (Tabuik).
Americans do not have such elaborate ceremonies as the Tabuik that commemorate the death of a leader. Though we have holidays that are embedded into the culture to remember some of our greatest leaders, they are not as passionately celebrated as the Minangkabau ceremony that is akin to this.

Another ceremony that the Minangkabau perform is the circumcision ceremony. When a boy is between ten or fourteen years old, he is put through the ceremonial circumcision. Just like the traditional wedding ceremony, it is not the ceremony that is the important part of the circumcision but the feast that follows. All families are expected to host at least one feast, no matter their financial status (Firth, 119). If they do not have a daughter to wed or a son to circumcise, then they must host a feast for a journey or something to that extent (Firth, 121).

American culture does not hold a ceremony or anything of the like for a circumcision or for a similar procedure for women. It is something that is decided by the parents when a male is born and a simple procedure is performed in the hospital should the family decide they want to go through with it.

The differences between American traditions and those of the Minangkabau can be seen in how similar events are celebrated and ritualized in both of the cultures. The Minangkabau, with their emphasis on a feast rather the ceremonial wedding or circumcision, find that it is much more important to announce ones wealth and stature to the community. Americans tend to focus on the event itself, ignoring money, showing their dedication to the event they are celebrating.