The Minangkabau are a society in West Sumatra, Indonesia, which is based on matriarchal influence and Islamic belief. In a Minangkabau village, the practices and rituals are based on "adat." Adat emphasizes the maternal in daily life where women control economic and social issues.

Historically, the Minangkabau have dealt with their share of conflict. In the 14th century, a Javanese prince invaded the area and tried to institute a male-dominated regime. The Minangkabau "successfully withstood and struggled against it." In the 19th century, there was strife between adat officials and Islamic fundamentalists, but again, they found a way to accommodate both adat and Islam.

The Minangkabau system of matrilineality is more like a "partnership," according to cultural historian Riane Eisler. Ms. Eisler said Peggy Reeves Sanday's book on her experiences, Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy, dispels the notion that society has always been and always will be male-dominated.

"The Muslim religion and culture were superimposed on their system," Ms. Eisler said, "and they now consider themselves Muslim. But if you really look at the description that Peggy has of how they look at nature, how they look at gender, how they look at some, you know, pretty basic things, what you find is much more of the remnants of their earlier belief system."

Islam and matrilineal adat are accepted as equally sacred, but there is an emphasis on female jurisdiction that Islam does not have. For example, many of the ceremonies, particularly weddings, call on the women to run the show. Women go to pick up the groom and return him to the bride's house - the opposite of the Muslim tradition. Property rights are in the hands of women, and they inherit land and can instigate divorce and child custody.

Source: VOA, 30 May 2002

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