Let The World Be Your Teacher: Indonesia

Wedding Costume Play

Today’s guest post is by Danial of Dan On The Road.

Town of BukittinggiOne group of people that really captivated me in history class was the mysterious Minangkabau of Indonesia.

The Minangs inhabit the volcanic highlands of Western Sumatera and practice a unique set of traditions believed to be a mixture of Buddhism, Islam and pagan beliefs. They were famous travelers and a good number of them migrated to Malaysia in the 15th century.

After leaving school, I never thought much about delving deeper into the ways of the Minang until about two years ago. I had this burning desire of exploring Indonesia and when I found out AirAsia was offering cheap airfares to Padang, gateway to the Sumateran highlands, I just had to go.

By the first week of January 2015 I was on my way up to the Minang heartland in some sort of reverse pilgrimage to learn more about this celebrated people and their culture.

* * *

Wedding Costume Play“Wait, so you’re telling me you didn’t inherit a single thing from your family heirloom?”

“I did receive some money but my sister got sole ownership of our family home and few pieces of land,” said Aldi, my driver-cum-tour guide.

“How are you coping then without having any form of tangible assets?”

“We Minang men have to fend for ourselves because well, we’re men,” he shrugged followed by a contented smile, knowing well his people’s customs are for the greater good.

“My tour agency has been doing well and I’m planning to add more vans and drivers this year,” he added.

I’ve always thought the Minangkabau tradition of matrilineal inheritance had become extinct.

My Malaysian friends with Minang roots had told me this tradition went as far as their grandmothers’ generation before it was superseded with the more patrilineal Islamic inheritance law of faraid.

Aldi explained that there is less institutional interference in Indonesia so the Minangs in Sumatera were free to continue their practice till today. This unorthodox type of inheritance dictates that any familial properties are to be passed down only through the female lineage and guarded by the respective clansmen.

It made sense for the womenfolk to be bequeathed with family properties – asset ownership works as a social safety net, shielding them from destitution. Meanwhile, Minang men were expected to earn a living and provide for his family either at home or through their travels, in another interesting custom called merantau.

Merantau is to wander; to leave the comforts of your home and seek knowledge, experience and wealth abroad.

The idea of wandering seems commonplace in this age but it has been an important rite of passage for the Minang. They are encouraged to be voyagers and pioneers and many even took a leap of faith to settle down in new places, never to return to their homeland. It is no surprise then to find a large Minang diaspora scattered across maritime Southeast Asia.

Today, they can claim to be one of the most prominent ethnic groups of Indonesia when it comes to producing personalities in the region. People like Raja Bagindo, founder of Sulu Sultanate in southern Philippines; Tuanku Abdul Rahman, first Head of State of independent Malaysia; Mohammad Hatta, first Vice President of Indonesia and Yusof Ishak, first President of Singapore, are all of Minang stock.

I really admire the merantau tradition because migration is taught to be a journey of self-discovery and the world is just waiting to be discovered. The home merely acts as an incubator of good character and values before one “finishes” his education abroad.

* * *

Rumah Gadang“Alam takambang manjadi guru.

Let the world be your teacher, states a Minang proverb. It was really satisfying for me to finally fulfill a four-paragraph history textbook dream by spending three days in Western Sumatera learning a lot about Minang culture and that includes the outrageously pointy houses and the 101 dishes of Nasi Padang.

I wouldn’t have a deeper understanding and greater appreciation on this remarkable set of customs steadfastly followed till today if I hadn’t made the simple decision to travel there.

I did what the Minangkabau were taught to do – travel, merantau, to broaden my horizon and enrich my soul.

For a more detailed look into the sights of the Minang highland, you can read more here and for a crash course of their sumptuous cuisine, click here.

AUTHOR BIO: When he’s not busy putting his newborn son to sleep, Danial dreams of hitting the road and exploring anything he hasn’t seen or tasted yet. From hiking lush national parks to indulging in endless street food, this Malaysian is up for all kinds of adventures. Read about his travel and food musings at Dan On The Road or connect with him via Twitter and Instagram.

3 thoughts on “Let The World Be Your Teacher: Indonesia

Let us know what you think