Minangkabau Traditional Life



Filed under : Minangkabau

There is a saying in the Minangkabau adat (customs and traditions) that “the beauty of the nagari is because of its pangulu (adat chief), and the beauty of the bathing place is because of its youth”.  In traditional Minangkabau a bathing place is actually a meeting ground for young people where they can exchange information and gossips.  The meaning of this saying is that life would not only be tolerable, but also enjoyable, if everyone plays his or her social role properly.

The Minangkabau people have always been fascinated by adat ideals as expressed in traditional sayings, illustrated in tambo and other forms of literature and which are repeated on every adat occasion.  Their lives are dominated by the elaborate adat social networks and the complex adat regulations.

Therefore, it is understandable that from early children hood the Minangkabau have been exposed to sometimes conflicting social demands.  They are taught, for example, that there are four types of words (kato nan ampek), namely, ascending words to address older people, descending words when facing those who are younger, leveling words when talking to the same age-group, and indirect words when conversing with in-laws.

In this closely knitted communal system, the Minangkabau youth are also traditionally also taught the art of using figurative speech, because a direct mode of speaking might be constructed as an affront to another person honour.  Above all, they should learn the rithym of nature which endlessly is a revelation to those who want to see not only its secrets, but also the supreme greatness of Allah.  The question is, how this traditional wisdom could come to terms with the modern world?

To the Minangkabau marriage is not only the most important traditional rite of passage, but also a fulfillment of a religious obligation.  So important is marriage that it is even stipulated in adat law that the inalienable land might be pledged if the daughter of the house is still unmarried.

Marriage in Minangkabau is exogamous and matrilocal- the husband is the honourable guest of his wife’s house.  According to adat, it is the bride’s family who takes the initiave for the wedding proceedings.  In realty, however, more often than not it is the groom’s family who unofficially makes the first move.  Though a go-between the two families may discuss – again unofficially – matters such as the date of the wedding, expenses, guests to be invited, etc.

The wedding ceremony begins when the bride’s family invites the groom to come to the bridal home.  There the groom would be treated as the honourable guest of the house.  However, it is during this welcoming ceremony when a “battle of honour” between the two families might take place.  The battle is conducted by an exchange of salutary words between the two parties.  The rhetoric character of Minangkabau culture is clearly demonstrated by this battle of words.

The husband stays in his wife’s house.  He is a guest of the house which in Minangkabau is called sumando.  As a sumando he is expected not only to love his wife, but also to respect the other members of the rumah gadang (the Minangkabau matrilineal in house).  The worst sumando one can expect is he who forgets the code of behaviour.  The Kaba Rancak di Labuah (one of the most famous literary works that was produced at the turn of the century when the people of Minangkabau began to taste modern life) mentions six anecdotal types of sumando.

The first type is a sumando who is only a child producer, one who does not show responsibility to his wife and children.  The second is a green fly, a dandy with a bad character, a lady killer.  The third kind is an itchy nut which is said of somebody who enjoys creating discord among the wife’s family.  Fourth, an ugly mat, meaning a lazy, jobless and good for-nothing husband.  Fifth, a kitchen cat, said of somebody who likes to do domestic work.  And sixth, sumondo niniak mamak, a sumando who is also the host of the house.  The later is the ideal sumando in Minangkabau tradition.  He is a guest who has already made himself a devoted member of his wife’s rumah gadang.

One of the most popular folk dances in traditional wedding ceremonies is the tari piring (Saucer Dance).  Quite often it is performed by old male dancers who are themselves experts in the art of self defense.  Not rarely this dance has an element of magic since the dancers might perform on shreds of broken glass.  A definitely magic dance can be found in the regency of Pesisir Selatan where Tari Lukah Gilo (Dance of the Mad Fish Trap) is performed.  A Magician would cast a spell on a decorated empty fish trap that makes it move wildly around as of possessed by an evil spirit.  Two or three men would try to restrain it and so dance movements were created.

The last two decades showed the flourishing of contemporary Minangkabau performing arts.  The pioneer choreographer was the late Hoeriah Adam (1936-1971) whose new creations of Tari Payung (Umbrella Dance), Tari Piring, and the operette of Malin Kundang were widely applauded.  Although her efforts were cut short by her untimely death in a plane crash, her footsteps were followed by other promising choreographers such as Gusmiati Suid, Deddy Lutan, Sofyani, Boy Sakti, and Tom Ibnur.  They have now performed in many theatres in Indonesia as well as abroad.

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