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The Minangkabau tribe is indigenous to the highlands of West Sumatra, in Indonesia. Their culture is matrilineal, with property and land passing down from mother to daughter, while business, religious, and political affairs are the province of men (although some women also play important roles in these areas). Today 4 million Minangs live in their tribal lands, while about 3 million more scattered throughout many Indonesian cities and towns.

The Minangkabau are strongly Islamic and also follow their tribal traditions, or adat. Their tribal lands were the location of the Padri War from 1821 to 1837.

The name Minangkabau has various interpretations. One is that the name comes from the phrase "winning water buffalo" ("menang kerbau" in Bahasa Indonesia). The story is that in ancient times, there was a war between the people of West Sumatra and a Javanesenese kingdom. To resolve the conflict, the West Sumatrans proposed a contest: each side would provide a water buffalo, the two water buffalo would fight to the death, and whichever side's water buffalo won the fight would be considered the winner of the war.

The Javanese accepted the proposal and on the appointed day, they produced the largest, meanest, most aggressive water buffalo anyone had ever seen. The West Sumatran champion was a hungry baby buffalo with sharp knives attached to the nubs of his horns that were just starting to grow. Seeing the adult buffalo across the field, the baby ran forward, hoping for a meal. The big Javanese buffalo saw no threat in the little baby buffalo and paid no attention to it, looking around for a worthy opponent. But when the baby thrust his head under the big bull's belly, looking for an udder, of course, the knives stabbed the bull and killed him, and the West Sumatrans won the contest and the war.

The roofline of traditional houses in West Sumatra curve upward from the middle and end in points, in imitation of the water buffalo's upward-curving horns.


The Minangs are the world's largest matrilineal society, in which properties such as land and houses are inherited through female lineage. Some scholars argue that this might have caused the diaspora (Minang "merantau") of Minangkabau males throughout the Malay archipelago to seek fortune as merchants. This tradition has created Minang communities in many Indonesian cities and towns, which nevertheless are still tied closely to their homeland.

In addition of being renowned as merchants, the Minangs have also produced some of Indonesia's most influential poets, writers, statesmen, and religious scholars. Being fervent Muslims, many of them embraced the idea of incorporating Islamic ideals into modern society. Furthermore, the presence of these intellectuals made the Minangkabau homeland (the province of West Sumatra) one of the powerhouses in the Indonesian struggle for independence.

The Minang people belong to the Malay stock. Despite widespread use of Bahasa Indonesia, they have their own mother tongue. The Minangkabau language shares many similar words with Malay, yet a distinctive pronunciation and some grammatical differences render it unintelligible to Malay speakers.

Today both natural and cultural tourism have been considerable economic activities in West Sumatra. Most notable of Minang culture is its culinary tradition. Minang-style restaurants serving unique spicy foods are present throughout Indonesia and some neighboring countries.