World’s Largest Matrilineal Society – In the highlands of West Sumatra, a man is considered a guest in his wife’s home.

BBC Travel

Written by and credits: Rathina Sankari

Ruled by women

Indigenous to the highlands of West Sumatra, Indonesia, the Minangkabau ethnic group is the world’s largest matrilineal society.

Legend has it that in the mid-12th Century, King Maharajo Dirajo, who established the Koto Batu kingdom, died, leaving behind three infant sons from his three wives. The first wife, Puti Indo Jalito, took charge of the children and the kingdom, thus sowing the seeds of a matrilineal society.

Women take it all
In this unique and complex social structure, ancestral property, such as rice paddies and houses, is inherited by the daughters. Children take their mother’s name, and a man is considered a guest in his wife’s home. (Credit: Rathina Sankari)

A religious mix
Minangs were traditionally animist, worshipping elements of nature, until Hinduism and later Buddhism arrived from India. Their culture is still based on adat (local customs, beliefs and laws, derived from the animist and Hindu belief systems), while pawang (spirit specialists) are consulted to cure illness, predict the future or communicate with the spirit world. Despite following a matricentred culture, however, the Minangs have also embraced patrilineal Islam.

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