In Minangkabau the relationship between the individual and society is like “bamboo on the step river bank”. They are two entities that cannot be separated. This inseparable link is determined by the cycles of authority and obligation in which the object and the ultimate source of autorithy reside in the same locus. The kemenakan (nephew), symbolizing the individual, must acknowledge the authorithy of his mamak (uncle). In turn the latter depends on the pengulu who should base his judgement on mufakat (consensus) which is the expression of the society’s wishes and wisdom.
An Individual in this hierarchical order of authority is, therefore, under the full control of his society. The pepatah adat (adat aphorisms), however, emphasizes that the kemenakan is not only the object but also the ultimate source of authority. A penghulu may outwardly be the king, but essentially he is the subject of his kemenakan. His power is not based on his personal charisma but on the legitimacy invested in the panguluship by his kemenakan. A penghulu “is great because he is made great by his kemenakan”. His authority is based on sakato alam, the consensus of his small world, his people.
The right and obligation of the individual are determined by the particular level of social organization in which he is involved. As a member of the family he is expected to stand by this lowest level of social organization. In inter-clan relationships he must be a champion of his nagari. The higher the level of the social organization, the fewer his rights and the heavier his responsibility.
But again, the rights and obligations of the individual in this hierarchical social organization should also be seen in the context of the dependency of the higher levels on the lower. The existence of a nagari which is a small world within the context of the Minangkabau World is dependent on its suku, which in turn is formed by a conglomeration of matrilineal families. The cycle is completed with the essential obligation of the family towards its members. With this circular concept of authority and reciprocal world in which all components, though different, are of equal importance.
This concept not only affirms the wisdom of the “harmony of contradictions” but also underlines the prevailing individualism in the Minangkabau social system. The installation of a pangulu is usually conducted in an open space or in the adat hall (balai adat). The adat requirement prescribes the slaughtering of one or more buffaloes. Like in the other adat ceremonies, the occasion of a pangulu installation (batagak pangulu) is also accompanied by an exchange of adat speeches a pangulu by common agreement (sakato alam).
A rare adat occasion, pangulu installation are always accompanied by festivies and communal meals. After the installation one should always address the new pangulu with his gelar (adat title) as it is forbidden, according to adat, to address him with his name. As a pangulu, the new datuk has to abide by so many rules of conduct. In traditional agricultural Minangkabau society he is not allowed, for example, to climb a tree, to carry a load on his head, and to move in haste. He is always expected to walk like a gentleman, step by step, in a regular rhythm.
The costume of a pangulu has a symbolic meaning showing his leading position in the adat community. Deta (headdress), made of a long piece of un sewn cloth and fashioned in pleats, symbolizes his wide views and deep understanding about various problems. Baju (blouse), collarless and without buttons, represents the pangulu’s function as a protector of his children, nephews and nieces, with an open mind, wise and prestigious, tolerant, and a leader of many followers.
Sarawa (trousers) with a wide waist demonstrates the pangulu’s freedom of movement according to the proper way of the adat, fairness in his treatment of his children, his nephews and nieces, and showing his greatheartedness. Si Sampiang, a cloth embroidered with gold threads to cover the waist, symbolizes the richness of the pangulu’s soul. He is expected to expedite all kinds of good works.
Ikat Pinggang, a cloth with a length of five cubits and a width of one cubit decorated with golden threads and fastened around the waist with one corner left dangling. This is the symbol of the pangulu’s ability to lead and unite his children, his nephews, and nieces. Sandang,a small quadrangular piece of cloth which is worn over the shoulders. At its end a key and other tools are hanging on a chain, showing that the pangulu is fully equipped to carry out the adat.
Karih (a dagger) with a corrugated blade symbolizes the pangulu as a leader skilled in strategy and tactics. Tungkek – (a walking stick) made of hard wood. Its end is made of horn and the handle is made of silver, indicating the pangulu as somebody who is regarded as an ‘older’ man. Terompa (sandals) made of cow skin. Its peculiar form and function as a base on which he stands symbolizes the clear base of his actions.
Although generally adhering to the same pattern, the pangulu’s dresses show local variations, especially in the way headdresses are pleated. They also wear a special dress for certain civil ceremonies.