Minangkabau - Orientation

Identification. The Minangkabau are similar to their neighbors, the Malays, from whom they differ most notably in reckoning descent through females. It is this feature that has attracted the greatest interest of scholars. There are references to the relationships between the two cultures in Minangkabau folklore. For example, the first two Minangkabau persons were Parapatiah (Malay perpatih ) and Katamangguangan (Malay temenggong ), corresponding to the terms for systems of customary law governing descent through females (Minangkabau adaik parapatiah ) and descent through males (Malay adat temenggong ). The most common folk etymology of "Minangkabau" depends on its resemblance to the words manang (victory) and karbau (water buffalo). In this explanation, the ethnic name refers to a "buffalo victory" won by clever villagers who selected as their champion an unweaned female calf, armed with a knife on its nose harness, which in its frantic search for nourishment castrated and thereby defeated a champion Javanese bull.

Location. The traditional Minangkabau homeland, West Sumatra Province in Indonesia, is centered on the Padang Highlands (Darek, "land above water"), which are part of a chain of mountains near and parallel to the western coast of Sumatra. Several peaks are more than 3,000 meters in elevation and some are active volcanos. The highlands, in few places more than 60 kilometers from the Indian Ocean, are divided into three territories ( luhat ), each of which is associated with a rantau (peripheral area). Additionally the pasisia (coastal area) is part of the traditional homeland. Rainfall is adequate for most crops throughout the area. Mountain lakes provide irrigation for wet-rice fields in flat parts of the highlands.

Demography. There are approximately eight million Minangkabau in Indonesia, about half of them in West Sumatra; 300,000 or more live in Malaysia. Minangkabau have been migrating ( marantau ) to other areas in Indonesia and Malaysia for many centuries. Most large cities thus have sizable Minangkabau communities. Populations in rural areas of the traditional homeland tend to be unbalanced in favor of females and the elderly. Those in urban and rantau areas tend to be unbalanced in favor of males and the young.

Linguistic Affiliation. Closely related to Malay, Minangkabau belongs to the Western Group of Austronesian languages.

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