Minangkabau Traditional and Contemporary Politics

The Minangkabau political system is not based entirely on gender, but seen from a person’s ability and experience to provide protection and supervision of the cultural group they represent. Based on matrilineal logic, it is likely that women and men are equally important in

Traditional_minang_costumes.jpgsocial and political structure of Minangkabau. Because some of the authority is given to women, the basis for women to have a role and influence in the political structure of the Minangkabau is larger than most Islamic groups. From the facts found, women have a position and role in the political structure of the Minangkabau. Minangkabau women’s political participation is vital.

The active role of women in political formations in Minangkabau is integral to every decision and policymaking process. While Minangkabau women’s roles may seem conventional, their sense of equality with men and their shared power is not. When couples


marry, husbands move into their wives’ homes, nearly all decisions require consensus between men and women, and, significantly, girls are treasured. Women rule the domestic roost while men hold all positions of political and religious leadership.

Yet both genders say that they value those roles, and each other, equally. Their traditions are based on the holy Koran. The Koran says men will be the leaders. But women are not under the pressure of men. Even though men lead women, it doesn’t mean that women are less important. What seems key between Minangkabau men and women is that power and authority it shared, just not in ways that are immediately obvious. Yes, men have public power. But think of them as front men, representing the community to the state or to the mosque.

Within each clan the power belongs to a senior man and he is not more significant that that of senior women. In this matrilineal society this chief is always a man, named the panghulu. The chief is the formal authority within the lineage and all members are kemenakan, nieces or nephews of the panghulu. When the current chief dies, the title is passed onto his first nephew or one of his brothers. The panghulu is just a symbol of the lineage and serves as a mediator of petty disputes within the lineage when necessary. Generally, decisions are made democratically based on what a majority of people in the clan want. Though the chief leads the discussion—which usually involves disputes over property, or major ceremonies—with other men, and women are seated behind them during conversation, women can and do participate.


Women and men are essentially two sides of the same coin. This partnership may be most obvious in the Minangkabau’s formal decision-making process, which can take place in the village hall or someone’s home. The chief has wide ranging powers and responsibilities that cover every aspect of life. This chief also has three advisors, one for dispute resolution, another for security, and another for religious/Islamic law. Importantly, men can’t take action without consensus from their female peers. In informal discussion—over day-to-day decisions involving household management, budgeting, and children’s education—women can lead.


Representing Women: The Politics of Minangkabau Adat Writings. Evelyn Blackwood. The Journal of Asian Studies , Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 2001), pp. 125-149.
Property, Politics, and Conflict: Ambon and Minangkabau Compared. Franz von Benda-Beckmann and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann. Law & Society Review , Vol. 28, No. 3, Law and Society in Southeast Asia (1994), pp. 589-608.