A Traditional Wedding in Minangkabau; A Muslim and Matricentric Civilization

There is this civilization of 4.5 million people around west coast of Indonesia, West Sumatra Island; in where in a manner of speaking women are in charge of everything.

The custom are so women dominated; the villages are run by women, men take their wife’s surname, only daughters take share from family inheritance. We are talking about the biggest living matricetric civilization of the world, moreover, they are Muslim. They live in buffalo horn resembling houses; men look quite exasperated and uninvolved. Most of them live outside of their villages. Formerly, when boys get 7 years old they used to abolished from their houses to live in a mosque-home place called ‘sarau’. Despite today these traditions are threatened by modernism, most of them are cherished and revived in weddings.

What Does Minangkabau Mean?

Minangkabau means buffalo horn in word-by-word translation. According to the old myth, Java Kingdom intended to invade soil of Minangkabau people. But smart people of Minangkabau offered to organize a buffalo race and give lands to winner. King of Java, counts upon his power, agrees. At the day of race, Minangkabau people come the area with a buffalo cup which has a hidden knife in his horn, neither king nor his men was aware of. As a result Minangs win and lived in the same land since.  Horn of the buffalo is still very big deal for the people, from house roofs to accessories you can run across everywhere.

Asking Wedding Permission from Boy’s Family!

In Minangkabau community there is a little ceremony between families before marriage, resembling to Middle Eastern “asking girl’s families permission for marriage” tradition but there is a minor difference. Bride’s side visit groom’s house, leaded by big gun of the wedding:  the mother. They bring fruit baskets or fruit cakes. They discuss terms of the wedding, mostly more than one time. The final decision depends on groom’s genes and family history.

Hazelnut as Bridal gift

After the wedding is settled, grooms side brings hazelnuts in plates out of giant pepper tree leafs to announce big event.  Family elders also attend this part of the ceremony.  Families exchange various gifts in the memory of mutual wedding promises.

Dowry is in the Basket

Bride side visits groom’s house few days before the wedding carrying a basket full of valuable goods and money. Content of the basket depends on groom’s social status and family history. They ceremonially negotiate on the content, basket passes from hand to hand; they take out some or add more. When they finally agree, women of both sides make bride and groom hold hands. And everyone continues the ceremony in bride’s house.

And Finally, Wedding …

Weddings are usually performed in the houses. The mother of the bride pays all the expanses for the wedding, groom’s side has to bring spicy food, deserts, fruits and flowers and of course the groom himself. Basic color of all these gifts is yellow, for example a yellow umbrella is essential. Just before entering the house his foot is washed and he jumps over a white sheet with clean foot. They pray meanwhile. After annunciation as wife and husband, his degree is pleaded as well. Degree is defined by multiple criterions like financial situation, bloodline, and gene quality and such…


Wedding ceremony continues with bride and groom sits together. There is a sheet between them. An elder woman mildly opens this sheet to let new couple’s head touch each other.

Let the Games Begin

Bride and groom eat yellow rice with one spoon, trying to find the hidden chicken… After, they pay a traditional Minangkabau game like chess. The game represents leaving egos behind while building a romantic closeness between bride and groom.

Is Groom Leaving?

Through the end of the ceremony groom’s side ask permission to leave but they have to negotiate for that too. It is not possible to leave first time they ask, young men are first to go. Even if they want to take groom with them, it is not allowed. As his relatives leave the house one by one groom stays in bride’s house, where he is going to spend rest of his life.

Islam and matricentric social construction lives side by side in Minangkabau community. Groom used to be allowed to see the bride in her mother’s house once a week, but today this tradition is abandoned. Men are quite respected even though they live under women rule in wedding and social life. Head of the cities are always men even they are chosen only by women.  Of course in such a family custom men are expected to live in the home, they usually work outside of the cities. They are literally exotic community, if you ever happen to pass Indonesia you should visit this women kingdom and turn world upside down for a while.

Merve A. Tokyay


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