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Minang In Brief > Histories


Indonesia In Brief.

1.Indonesia In Brief.

The largest archipelago in the world, Indonesia consists of five main Islands, Jawa, Sumatera, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Irian Jaya and about 30 small archipelagoes, a total of 13,677 islands. Stretching 3,200 miles (5,120 km) from east to west, it straddles the Equator between the Australian and Asian continents.

With the fift largest population in the world, Indonesian number 250 million and are basically to Malay and Polynesian stock comprising of 300 ethnic groups and sub-groups having their own traditions. Early immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, China, the Arab peninsula and Persia have left their mark on culture and religion followed by influences of Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch traders and invaders. The Indonesia constitution allows freedom of religion is a predominantly Moslem country and the state’s Unity in Diversity motto is a symbol of coexistence of the many cultures unified in one nation.

These diverse cultures have given Indonesian a rich, heritage of traditions and art resulting in festivities throughout the year in different parts on the country which are also closely related to religion, particularly in the island of Bali.   

A destination of diverse interest, scenic beauty, a wide variety of wildlife, nature and highly sophisticated music and dances and folk arts, Indonesia has something for everyone. A small part of this West Sumatera, one of the 33 provinces of the Republic of Indonesia which is gaining in prominence as one of the popular destinations developed for tourism by the Government.

2.Sumatra Island.

The second largest island of Indonesia, Sumatra is 1,760 kms (1,100 miles) in length and 448 kms (280 miles) at its widest and has an area of 288,000 s.q kms (180.380 sq. miles). Indonesia’s most westernmost island, Sumatra is divided into almost two equal  parts by the Equator and along the length of the island crosses Bukit Barisan (Parade to Mountains) which peaks in to numerous volcanoes. Two mountain ranges run almost parallel and the valley in between is sprinkled with a number of highland lakes, some of which  are believed to be ancient volcano craters.

3.West Sumatra Area ( Minangkabau ).

West Sumatra, one of the eight provinces of Sumatra, is mainly mountainous with a thin coastal strip and the islands of Mentawai situated several kms, off the western coast in the Indian Ocean. Mt. Kerinci, 3805 metres (12,484 ft), is one of the highest mountain is in Indonesia and is situated in the southern part of the province. Mt. Merapi, 2891 metres (9,485 ft), is the heartland of the Minangkabau people who inhabit this province. In between the mountains are several lakes, among them Maninjau and Singkarak which are holiday resorts and lakes Danau Diatas and Danau Dibawah which are presently being developed for recreational purposes.

An agricultural land, west Sumatra has some spectacural gorges, waterfalls, virgin forests and beautiful mountain and sea views. Its economy is based on cultivacation of paddy, coconut, coffe, mining of coal and new in dustries are being developed. The capital of the province, Padang is a busy trading port.

4.The Matriarchal Minangkabau System.

The people of the highlands of West Sumatra are known as Minangkabau, whose cuostom and traditions set them apart from the other peoples of Indonesia. One of the last matrilineal societies in the world, it gives the women all hereditary rights and all land, rice fields and houses are owned by the matrilineal family.

The unique system has been followed for generations as has been other tradition which govern community life. The Adat (Coutoms) Minangkabau teaches a democratic system of thinking so that all differences of opinion are resolved by discussion-musyawarah- until an agreement-mufakaiak- is reached. Passed down through generations, adat affairs still apply in the original form at village councils and among family elders-the niniak mamak-. Because of the matrilineal system a family consist of members who are direct descendants of the mother while the father belongs to his mother’s or sister’s family. The responsibility of the children fall on the uncles-brothers of the mother and therefore there is a stronger bond between uncles and nephews. This does, however, not mean that a man is completely free of responsibility towards his wife and children. His guidance and wisdom must be directed toward the upbringing of his children as well as his nephews and nieces a tradition which finds its expression in the proverb: “Take your children on your lap and your nephews (and nieches) by the hand”.

Men cultivates the land, advise and control the use of the harvest but the women hold the keys. Since the woman stays in the family house, her husband does not need to provide her with one. Family possession are secure and there is no private ownership of land in Minangkabau.

In spite of being a matrilineal society, man is still the leader of the family and is chosen to represent the family in village councils. Called Datuk or Penghulu he advises on family matters and acts as an arbiter when there are differences of opinion which have to be agreed on unanimously.

The traditional adat house in Minangkabau reflects the same pattern of life. With its roof shaped like the horns of the buffalo, the traditional house usually has four to six points and is flanked by two barns.Built of wood, its front hall is used for family gatherings and along one side are living quarters for the daughters and their families. The horn-shapped rooft of the adat house have special meaning and is based on the legend which gave the land and people the name ‘Minangkabau”.

According to this legend, Minangkabau is derived from minangkabau meaning “triumphat buffalo.”. Its source is a flight which sharp knives were tied to the head of a starved calf which was then let loose, stabbing to death its opponent, Javanese bull, which it took to be its  mother thereby winning for the Sumatrans their freedom from Javanese overlordship. In tribute to the buffalo, roofs and women’s sheadress are shapped like horns.

The Minangkabaus are predominantly Moslem and religion plays a very important role in the life of the people. This is  evident from the position of the mousque in the centre of small villages, together with the council house. The Minangkabau men are noted for their success in trade and business, also for their  penchant for traveling or merantau. Believed to be a result of the matrilineal system, men leave home to seek their fortune elsewhere. It is a  place where the male stays before the reaches adulthood and return after he has achieved success, so the popular saying goes. But it is expected that a Minangkabau man marries someone from this own village.

The Merantau Minangkabau has taken his culture to other, parts of the country as is evident from the number of “Padang” restaurant which can be found in many towns nationwide. The Minangkabau dialect is similar to the Indonesian language and the people are adepth in the use of prose “pantun” which is the accepted form of speech at ceremonies. The people of the outlying island of Mentawai do not belong to the same ethnic group and have their own customs and language.    

5.The First Word  of Minangkabau

Along time ago, the Minang people of West Sumatera were threatened by an attack from a huge army from neigh bouring  Java, Greatly outnumbered, the Minang elders convened a meeting and came up with a plan : the proposed a contest between two buffaloes to substitute armed combats of their armies. The Javanese agreed and produced an enormous buffalo from Java.

To the surprise of the attackers, the Minang brought out nothing more than a tiny calf. But what they did not know was that the baby calf was half starving, and to its little snout was tied a razor sharp dagger. As the calf nuzzled the belly of the large buffalo, mistaking it for its mother, it gored and killed the giant beast. The Javanese withdrew, defeated, since that time, the Minang people have taken name “Minangkabau”, meaning “Victorious Buffalo”.   []





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