Andrew's Paper

Andrew Pennington
Professor Hill
Introduction to Anthropology
29 April 2013
The Relationship Between Adat and Islam in the Minangkabau People

Religious beliefs can heavily influence the social structure of any culture. Historically this can be seen through the invasion of

multiple areas by major world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. For example, the Crusades brought Christian

traditions to Middle Eastern areas where Islam had previously been the primary influence on the culture. During the 1800’s the Padri

Movement reformed religious beliefs and basic social structures of Indonesian ethnic groups. One of the cultures that show the

effects of this movement are the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra. As a result, their culture reflects a combination of Islamic

beliefs and local practices.

The Padang Highlands of West Sumatra in Indonesia became inhabited by Austronesian-speaking explorers of Taiwan

around 500 B.C.E. (Minangkabau 2008). These ancient people most likely stayed in the mountainous regions of West Sumatra due

to its abundance of fresh water, rich soil, and cool climates (Minangkabau 2008). This region is referred to by the locals as “Alam

Minangkabau,” meaning “The World of the Minangkabau” (Minangkabau Highlands 2013). Today, over 8 million Minangkabau

comprise this matrilineal society that ranks as the fourth largest ethnic group of the region (Religion – Then and Now 2012). Despite

being founded nearly 2500 years ago and having experienced heavy foreign influence, the modern Minangkabau hold many of their

original beliefs and practices which are denoted by the term adat.

Adat is ambiguously defined as the “local custom which regulates the interaction of the members of a society” (Blackwood

2001). This term encapsulates all ethical, legal, and social judgments and expectations that comprise the life of a native person

(Blackwood 2001). Abdullah (1966) helps to narrow the meaning of adat by explaining it as the “non-Islamic social system

elements.” According to Abdullah (1966), there are four classes of adat: “adaik nan sabana adaik (adat which is truly adat),

adaik istiadaik (adat of ceremony’s), adaik nan taadaik (adat which has become adat), and adaik nan diadaikkan

(adat which is made adat).” The first class is considered both eternal and identical to the laws of nature while the later three

refer to supernatural laws (Abdullah 1966). What comprises natural and supernatural laws, however, is not well known outside of the

Minangkabau culture. Blackwood (2001) suggests that one of the most striking features of the Minangkabau’s social system is their

matrilineal society. This structure provides women with the sole power to pass down possessions to children, particularly daughters.

Such feministic views are rarely observed in most ancient, modern, and ‘uncivilized’ cultures. Aside from adat, Minangkabau religion

is also founded upon the belief in animism.

The first Minangkabau are believed to have held animistic views toward the universe, a notion that all tangible items,

including plants and animals, contain a spiritual character (Animism 2013). This assumes that a separation between the physical

and the spiritual is non-existent, making it possible for the spiritual realm to influence the material world (Animism 2013). Because of

this, modern Minangkabau frequently attribute illness and death to the capturing of an individual’s soul by an evil spirit (Marianelli,

Huy, Mullen, Ahsler 2012). According to Marianelli, Huy, Mullen, and Ashler (2012) animism acted as the foundation for adat. These

animistic beliefs remained untouched until the introduction of Islam in the 13th Century (Islam in Indonesia 2013).

Modern West Sumatra is one of the most Islamized areas of Indonesia (Abdullah 1966). The Minangkabau practicing Islam

in this region are of the Sunni sect (eHRAF Malay). It took roughly two to three hundred years after its initial contact with Indonesia

for Islam to spread to the Minangkabau of West Sumatra (Islam in Indonesia 2013). Except for the opening of a religious center

which later became the only authoritative power in religious matters, Abdullah (1966) argues that the early Islamization of the

Minangkabau was largely unrecorded. It is assumed that the basic beliefs of Islam were seldom followed by the Minangkabau, and

that the introduction of Islam scarcely threatened most of the previous beliefs associated with adat (Marianelli, Huy, Mullen, Ahsler

2012; Abdullah 1966). However, Abdullah (1966) describes the years leading up to the 19th Century as a “period of transition with

many symptoms of social disintegration…in the form of social demoralization and deterioration.” In other words, the social aspects of

the Minangkabau culture were at odds with their religious practices. Esposito (2012) argues that this imbalance caused many

Minangkabau to search for “social renovation,” an aspect of their lives discovered through Islam. This search for and finding of Islam

was characteristic of the Minangkabau Padri Movement.

Abdullah (1966) emphasized the distinction between adat as an individual’s attitude toward his or her fellow community

members, and religion as an individual’s relation to transcendental beings. It was that precise separation between cultural and

religious attitudes that led to the Padri Movement (Schrieke 1920). The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (2012) defines the Padri

Movement as a Sumatran revivalist movement against the Dutch in 1803 and ending in 1837. Led by three scholars returning to

Indonesia from their pilgrimage to Mecca, the Padri Movement attempted to “reform local religious practices, [and] Islamize Muslim

villages” (Esposito 2012). Although the Dutch ultimately won victory against the three leaders and their followers, the Padri

Movement gave Islam a strong foothold with which to integrate itself into the Minangkabau culture.

The Padri Movement impacted the Minangkabau in multiple ways. As Abdullah (1966) suggests, the most notable influence

was the “greater assimilation of religious doctrine within Minangkabau adat as the ideal pattern of behavior.” Rather than having two

separate attitudes dependent upon whether an individual was interacting with a fellow citizen or a transcendental being, the

Minangkabau adopted one basic standard of behavior defined by their newly strengthened spiritual practices (Abdullah 1966). This

allowed for the rejuvenation of prior social disintegration and led to a more structured society as a whole. It is of utmost importance,

however, to note that religious beliefs did not replace adat. Rather, the Minangkabau felt that adat regulations should be exemplary

of religious designs (Abdullah 1966). The best phrase to summarize this belief is “‘agam mangato, adat mamakai,’ [meaning]

‘religion designs, adat applies’” (Abdullah 1966). Because adat was not overshadowed by Islam, the Minangkabau retained many

aspects of their previous social system, particularly the matrilineal society. This allowed women to continue their authority over

property and ownership rights, while providing men with opportunities to become religious leaders (MacGregor 2012). Further

evidence of the symbiotic relationship between adat and Islam can be observed through the architectural style of Minangkabau

mosques, as well as the spreading of religious schools throughout Indonesia (Religion and Expressive Culture - Minangkabau2012).

Additionally, the strict adherence to the five pillars of Islam (confession of faith, five daily prayers, fasting during the month of

Ramadan, giving alms, and pilgrimage to Mecca) and celebration of Islamic holidays clearly represents the smooth transition the

Minangkabau made into a more religious-focused culture (Religion of the Minangkabau 2011).

It is inspiring to observe a culture that has so naturally accepted religious beliefs into their culture without a great deal of

turmoil or resentment towards those who brought them that religion. I find this uplifting because of the countless examples of

bloodshed and violence that has historically followed the introduction of religion to a society. The re-structuralization of the

Minangkabau social system currently allows for a harmonic balance between traditional customs and religious beliefs. The

Minangkabau have found a unique way to live in accordance with their religion while adhering to the cultural practices that define

them. Keeping in mind the current conflicts between Israel and Palestine, and North Korea and South Korea, our world may be able

to benefit from the example of tolerance, acceptance, and balance from the Minangkabau. In doing so, we may find that our world is

a little more peaceful.


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Beyer, L. 2001. “The Women of Islam.” Time Magazine, November 25

Blackwood, Evelyn. 2001. "Representing Women: The Politics of Minangkabau Adat Writings." The Journal of Asian Studies (JSTOR Arts & Sciences) 1 (125).

Britannica, "Animism." Accessed April 21, 2013.

Esposito, J. 2012. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press.

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

Marianelli, M., Huy, R., Mullen, K., Ahsler, G. 2012. Minangkabau Religion - Then and Now. Accessed April, 2013.

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"Minangkabau Society." Accessed April 15, 2013. Society.

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Schrieke, B. 1920. "Contribution to the bibliography of the current religious movement in the west coast of Sumatra." T.B.G. 254-256.

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

Wilkinson, R. 1867-1941. “Law: introductory sketch.” Ethnography of the Malays of Southeast Asia.

Abby's Paper

Libby's Paper

Erin's Paper

Erin Brennan
Professor Hill
Introduction to Anthropology
29 April 2013

Environmental Issues among the Minankabau

Minangkabau are a people who value landholding as one of the crucial functions of their lineage system. The kin group from the mother’s side of the family is responsible for the distribution of land that is inherited (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Minankabau:1) The geological resources on these lands have been and continue to be exploited (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia- Minankabau:1).

There is an abundant shoreline in Indonesia, and most people make their livelihood from fishing. Starting in 1970’s however, Indonesia saw a decline in fish stock due to contamination coastal waters (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Environmental Concerns:1). The use of agricultural pesticides is not monitored and off-shore oil drilling is a common practice. Effluents from fertilizers and supertanker accidents have polluted the waters of the fragile Sumatran strait (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Environmental Concerns:1). Overfishing has also become a problem. Although “floating factory” fishing boats were restricted in Indonesia in 1982, the increasingly improved technology has aided fishermen in their fishing attempts, which threatens not only the fish in Indonesian waters, but the total fish supply as well (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Environmental Concerns:1).

Agriculture is the main way of life for the Minangkabau people. Unfortunately, the combination of heavy foresting and the slash-and-burn agricultural techniques that are commonly used by the Minankabau depletes the land of its fertility. Because of the focus on agriculture, soil erosion, river-bed siltation, and water pollution are common problems. Soil erosion caused by deforestation intensifies the problem of siltation (Causes and Effects of Deforestation: 1). Siltation is a process by which water becomes polluted by sediment, silt or other fine mineral particles suspended in the water (Your Dictionary: 1). Silt deposits from water sources such as ponds and streams are carried from the inland waters downstream into the sea. In the sea they cover and kill coral reefs, create mangrove thickets, and make harbor access difficult for ships (Causes and Effects of Deforestation: 1). Dredging operations are needed to make the harbors accessible. These operations are expensive and elaborate (Causes and Effects of Deforestation:1).

Deforestation is also a major concern in the Minangkabau culture. In 2000 and 2005, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimate that 1,87million hectors of forest are lost every year in Indonesia (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). This is equal to 9,36 million hectare in a five year period, which would cover an area the size of Portugal(Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). This not only impacts the livelihoods of the forest people who are unable to use their timber resources, but it also means habitat loss for endangered species such as the Sumatran rhinoceros and orangutans (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). There is also the impact of a loss of revenue for local and central governments. The reason that there is so much deforestation is that the global demand for wood pulp and palm oil is high which results in tree clearing for plantations (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). More than 3.5 million people work in the sub-sector in Indonesia and it is a major source of income (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). Some plantations are constructed in areas of high conservation value forests where there is a complete loss of forest ecological function and local people suffer from loss of socioecological benefits. There is also a high global demand for timber (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). And about 80% of this timber produced from Indonesia is thought to stem from illegal logging (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1).

Not only are the habitats of the animals of Indonesia being exploited but the animals themselves are also at risk (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). Between 1985 and 1990 about 1,000 orangutans may have been imported to Taiwan for pet trade (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). Additionally the endangered humphead wrasse has been illegally exported to high end restaurants as it is considered a delicacy in Indonesian cuisine. Other species of animals are traded for natural medicines or for decorative objects (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1).

National and local governments seem to be aware of these environmental issues, yet with the growing economy and increase in demand for food there is a lack of balance between industry and environmental protection (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Environmental Concerns:1). It seems that many sacrifices are made to meet the imminent needs of people without concern for the effects of these sacrifices or their effect on the future. When resources are depleted or when animals go extinct there is nothing we can do to render those problems. Preventative precautions and being aware of our impact is the only way to ensure the health of the environment. One of my favorite quotes is a Native American saying that goes,

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”

Hopefully these environmental issues can be rendered soon to protect the valuable resources among the Minankabau people of Indonesia so that both themselves and their environment can be preserved and continue to thrive.

Works Cited

Mongabay Environmental News, “Indonesia-Environmental Concerns”, accessed April 29th, 2013,

Mongabay Environmental News, “Indonesia-Minankabau”, accessed April 29th, 2013,

“Environmental Issues in Indonesia”, accessed April 29th, 2013,

“Causes and Effects of Deforestation”, accessed April 29th, 2013,

Your Dictionary, “Siltation”, accessed April 29th , 2013,