Beyond the Second Sex: New Directions in the Anthropology of Gender

By Peggy Reeves Sanday; Ruth Gallagher Goodenough | Go to book overview

Peggy Reeves Sanday


6 Androcentric and Matrifocal Gender Representations in Minangkabau Ideology

I was first attracted to studying the matrilineal Minangkabau of Indonesia by Nancy Tanner's ( 1974) description of Minangkabau matrifocality, a term she defines as the cultural and structural centrality of women. Tanner describes Minangkabau women's economic power and their extensive participation in decision making. Tanner also notes that the structurally central position of the Minangkabau mother is evident in a wide range of cultural beliefs, at the center of which is the figure of Bundo Kanduang, a mythical (some say real) queen, whose name is used as a contemporary label of respect for senior women of the matrilineage. More recently, Tanner and others have described the association between Minangkabau matriliny and significant female power and authority (see especially Prindiville 1985; Tanner and Thomas 1985; F. and K. von Benda-Beckmann 1985; F. von Benda- Beckmann 1979).

My research goal when I arrived in West Sumatra in 1981 was to study the relationship between the practices of matrifocality and worldview, particularly Minangkabau concepts of nature, of self, and of society.1 Almost immediately this project ran into difficulties, because where I expected to find a single, consistent worldview I found paradox and contradiction.

The contradiction first emerged in the following form. In the mountain villages and cities, the homeland of Minangkabau tradition, I observed men and women engaging in activities and rhetoric that I interpreted as reproducing matrifocality both as an ideology and as a lived reality. In the coastal capital, on the other hand, I encountered male rhetoric that articulated a "matriarchal" ideology for a national and international audience. From a Western perspective this rhetoric was interesting because it contrasted so sharply with analogous Western ideology. Whereas the strong male is the dominant gender metaphor in the West, the authoritative

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