Main Points:
  • Agriculture is the Minangkabau's most important adaptive strategy
  • The Sumatra wetlands support a prosperous rice paddy-farming industry
  • Minangkabau culture has a history of adapting to a changing world - Islamic influences vs. adat

    The Minangkabau is a culture that depends on agriculture as their primary adaptive strategy. The agriculture industry in Minangkabau is also a necessary aspect of the society’s economic prosperity (Minangkabau). The environment and geographic location of the Minangkabau contribute to agriculture as the main means of production. The Minangkabau people live in the highlands of the Sumatra. This environmen
    Minangkabau farmers tended to the rice paddies in the wetlands of Sumatra.
    t influences the type of agriculture that the Minangkabau can support.
    The wet highlands of the Sumatra region particularly provide a good environment for rice farming, establishing rice as Minangkabau’s most common crop. The Minangkabau use the paddy-field farming technique and grow rice in the “flooded fertile land” of the Sumatra highlands (Adaptive Strategies). Water buffalo are the main type of cattle that the Minangkabau use as an agricultural resource. In addition to rice, the Minangkabau grow various vegetables, nutmeg, peanuts, and coconuts. The modern Minangkabau also produce coffee and rubber (Adaptive Strategies).

    Agriculture’s influence on the Minangkabau culture extends beyond their means for food production and survival. This adaptive strategy is ingrained into the Minangkabau’s every day life and values. One of the most important animals to Minangkabau agriculture, the water buffalo is a revered animal and appears as a recurring symbol in Minangkabau society. The importance of the buffalo in Minangkabau culture is evident in both the namesake of the culture and the types of architecture most prominently featured in their society. In the culture’s language, Minangkabau literally translates to “victorious buffalo” (Minangkabau). The etymology legend details an event where the Minangkabau proposed a buffalo battle to solve a conflict with a neighboring tribe. The Minangkabau won the conflict with their youngest buffalo with sharpened horns, as the competition did not view it’s opponent as a threat (Minangkabau). Similarly, the most notable feature of Minangkabau architecture is the curved roofs, which are supposed to imitate the shape of a buffalo’s horns” (Minangkabau).
This traditional Minangkabau style of architecture features a curved roof to imitate a buffalo's horns. This exemplifies the profound impact of buffalos on Minangkabau culture.

  • The Minangkabau are known for their ability to adapt to a changing world in a way that allows them to sustain their own cultural integrity. Specifically, this is evident in the Minangkabau’s ability to maintain their customary adat values and continue the tradition of a matriarchal society. The emergence of Islam created conflict, but the Minangkabau still managed to reconcile this new faith with their original adat values. This displays the Minangkabau’s “innate flexibility to adapt to a changing world” (Matriarchal, Islamic, and Peace-builders). Anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday commented that, “had the Minangkabau chosen to fight rather than to accommodate the numerous influences that impinged on their world over the centuries, had they chosen to assert cultural purity, no doubt their 'adat' would have long ago succumbed. The moral of the Minangkabau story is that accommodating differences can preserve a world" (Matriarchal, Islamic, and Peace-builders). The Minangkabau find strength in their cultural roots instead of succumbing to modern times and subjecting their subjects to change.


"Adaptive Strategies." Last modified 2011. Accessed November 21, 2012. Strategies.

"Minangkabau." Last modified 2008. Accessed November 20, 2012.

Penn Museum, "Matriarchal, Islam, and Peace-builders." Last modified May 1, 2002. Accessed November 30, 2012.