Travels with V

Indonesia & Singapore

From mother to daughter only


V has heard about an ancient culture with some sort of matriarchy, not far from where we are. In the Sumatran town of Bukittinggi, surrounded by volcanoes. The city itself is rather dull and noisy and almost devoid of restaurants, but with an unbelievable amount of mosques. At praying hours a deafening cacophony rises as every caller tries to drown out and outshine the others. Birds are excited and join in the racket:

The special thing about Bukittinggi is the so called Minangkabao culture, and that’s what we’re here to find out more about. Its most eye catching characteristic is the pointy roofs of most houses, mainly the older ones. The sharp roof ends are symbolizing the horns of the cow, we are told.


But the most odd part of Minangkabao is the fact that it’s matrilinear, meaning that family property is owned by the family mother, and only inherited by their daughters. We meet Yefri who explains how this works. The sons inherit nothing when the mother dies. Unmarried sons are forced to move out, and the oldest daughter’s family takes over the house and the farm. On the wall inside one house we see a map of a big family tree. But all the names on it are female, men don’t count in this map.

-Though when it comes to the real power in society, Yefri says, it’s still the men who decide. Though women may be present in assemblies and whisper their meaning, she adds with a smile.

When we enter Yefri’s village it’s time for Idul Fitri, the feast that marks the end of Ramadan. Many relatives have gathered to eat and share gossip. In Yefri’s narrow kitchen food is prepared for 42 persons, and served on the floor on banana leaves.

If you can read Swedish text, V:s piece about the Minangkabao women is found here!

Next we head on into the jungle, where we hope to see some of Indonesia’s last living orangutans.

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