The Minangkabau Response to Dutch Colonial Rule Nineteenth Century

By Elizabeth E. Graves | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
THE MINANGKABAU WORLD AND ITS
TRADITIONAL VILLAGE SOCIETY

The island of Sumatra, neatly bisected by the equator, lies with its northernmost tip pointing the way to India and the trading world of the Mediterranean Sea, a world with which Sumatra has been tied in commerce for long centuries. The great mercantile empires of Indonesia— Srivijaya, Melayu, Aceh to name but a few—were based on Sumatra. Movement and competition were the hallmarks of life in these states, and the people of the island as a whole displayed a high degree of personal mobility, travelling far in search of trade or, in times of uncertainty, plunder. Many sailed as far as the eastern coastline of Africa, joining in the Malay settlement of Madagascar.

Sumatra has thus historically been the scene of dynamic and commercially oriented peoples, at home in the arena of international power politics or individual achievement. The Minangkabau of West Sumatra are worthy spiritual heirs of this long tradition. Their homeland, midway along the north/south axis of Sumatra, consists of a series of fertile upland rice plains stretching eastward from the foothills of the Bukit Barisan, the mountainous western spine of the island, to the beginnings of the lowlands which mark the Riau coastal district on the Straits of Malacca. The area is small, comprising some 18,000 square miles which represent only 11 percent of the island’s total expanse and less than 3 percent of presentday Indonesia. With the exception of a thin coastal strip, most of the Minangkabau region is over 1,500 feet above sea level.

West Sumatra is the most densely settled residency of Sumatra and, along with the three residencies of Java and that of South Sulawesi, one of the five major population zones of Indonesia. Within the Minangkabau area, the demographic patterns follow the topographical characteristics;

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