Faculty of Social and Human Sciences (UNL) Conference System, 1st Non-Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference

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“Ancient Future” for feminists: New imaginations on marriage from Minangkabau matrilineal society in Sumatra, Indonesia

##manager.scheduler.building##: B Tower
##manager.scheduler.room##: T11
Date: 2015-09-26 02:30 PM – 04:00 PM
Last modified: 2015-08-08


Four million Minangkabau, one of the largest ethnic groups in Indonesia, live mostly in the highlands of West Sumatra. Their culture is characterized by the coexistence of a matrilineal social system and a nature-based philosophy called Adat. Minangkabau women seem to have already achieved what western feminists have dreamt of. The power of Minangkabau women extends to the economic and social realms in spite of the fact that most are pious Muslims.

Marriage is one of the most important customs and personal events in their matrilineal culture. Minangkabau women control land and house inheritance and husbands move into the households of their wives. During the wedding ceremony the wife collects her husband from his household and, with her female relatives, brings him back to her household to start their new marriage and family life. In the case of a divorce the husband collects his clothes and leaves the wife’s house. Though Minangkabau women enjoy a special position in the family and society, their matriarchal system is not the equivalent of female rule. Neither male nor female rule is possible because decision-making by Minangkabau custom has to be by consensus. The matrilineal landscapes of Minangkabau society challenge the conventional gender roles of the modern capitalist world and provide through living example of new ways of imagining marriage and family systems

Weddings mark the attainment of fully adult status in Minangkabau culture and the community celebrates this passage with idealized images of the marital state and union of two families at great cost for big wedding parties and various customs. Recently the young generations with different views on the wedding ceremony and marriage customs from the old ones try to make their own adaptations by challenging the conventional roles of husband and wife. Minangkabau weddings in the urban setting seems to be more commercialized and varied in style than the one still conducted at traditional establishments in the rural area.


Three cases of wedding couples in the urban settings and one couple in the traditional setting will be chosen for participant observation and in-depth interview. The research focuses the long and complex process to prepare for the wedding as well as wedding ceremony itself as a window to understand their matrilineal values on love, marriage and family. The negotiating process of two families and the relation between the commercialization of weddings and their symbolic content will be also analyzed. The rapidly-changing wedding style and marriage-related culture of Minangkabau would provide new imaginations on gender roles and contemporary intimacy as well as the insights on their matrilineal culture, family structure and community life.