Muslims and Matriarchs

Muslims and Matriarchs: Cultural Resilience in Indonesia through Jihad and Colonialism

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
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    Muslims and Matriarchs
    Book Description:

    Muslims and Matriarchs is a history of an unusual, probably heretical, and ultimately resilient cultural system. The Minangkabau culture of West Sumatra, Indonesia, is well known as the world's largest matrilineal culture; Minangkabau people are also Muslim and famous for their piety. In this book, Jeffrey Hadler examines the changing ideas of home and family in Minangkabau from the late eighteenth century to the 1930s.

    Minangkabau has experienced a sustained and sometimes violent debate between Muslim reformists and preservers of indigenous culture. During a protracted and bloody civil war of the early nineteenth century, neo-Wahhabi reformists sought to replace the matriarchate with a society modeled on that of the Prophet Muhammad. In capitulating, the reformists formulated an uneasy truce that sought to find a balance between Islamic law and local custom. With the incorporation of highland West Sumatra into the Dutch empire in the aftermath of this war, the colonial state entered an ongoing conversation. These existing tensions between colonial ideas of progress, Islamic reformism, and local custom ultimately strengthened the matriarchate.

    The ferment generated by the trinity of oppositions created social conditions that account for the disproportionately large number of Minangkabau leaders in Indonesian politics across the twentieth century. The endurance of the matriarchate is testimony to the fortitude of local tradition, the unexpected flexibility of reformist Islam, and the ultimate weakness of colonialism. Muslims and Matriarchs is particularly timely in that it describes a society that experienced a neo-Wahhabi jihad and an extended period of Western occupation but remained intellectually and theologically flexible and diverse.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6160-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-16)

    A student of Indonesia could be forgiven for thinking that the two great cultures of the archipelago are the Javanese and the Minangkabau. When we count the names in the history books or tally the individuals who shaped the national culture, these two ethnic groups stand out. Dutch colonial scholars posited the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra—supposedly dynamic, outward-looking, and pious—as a counterweight to the feudal, involuted, and religiously syncretic Javanese.

    During the revolution (1945–1949), Indonesians coined the term Dwitunggal to refer to the two-in-one leadership of the Javanese president Sukarno and the Minangkabau vice president Mohammad...

  2. (pp. 17-33)

    In 2001, the Indonesian National Bank issued a note featuring a portrait of a stern man with a long beard, wearing a turban and a white robe thrown back over his left shoulder (figure 1.1). Tuanku Imam Bondjol was the formal title given to this man, whose name was Muhamad Sahab and who as a young adult had been called Peto Syarif; he was born in the Minangkabau region of West Sumatra about 1772 and died outside of the city of Manado in North Sulawesi in 1854. Tuanku was a title given to high-ranking ulama in West Sumatra. Imam, religious...

  3. (pp. 34-57)

    The reformist Padri War did not end because of a Dutch military triumph; Tuanku Imam Bondjol ceased his attack on the matriarchate from a position of strength. An ideological shift in Mecca, the temporary defeat of Wahhabism, and the Tuanku’s ultimate conscientiousness brought an end to the civil war. Following the Tuanku’s exile, the Dutch colonial government wasted no time in incorporating western Sumatra into its empire. The Dutch state had taken over the territory of the bankrupt Netherlands East India Company at the end of the eighteenth century. So the colonialism of the nineteenth century was beholden to more...

  4. (pp. 58-86)

    The stereotypical Minangkabau longhouse developed alongside a new tradition of authority. The concept of the family was changing as well, and the ideal form that a household should take became the subject of heated debate. Dutch policy was shifting authority away from nagari councils and the senior women representing matrilocal longhouses. The colonial state encouraged the transformation of the now emblematic longhouse from a limited and particular form into a symbol of status and collaboration. The cultivation system created a patrilineal corps of local bureaucrats. But the customs of the matriarchate did not collapse. Minangkabau critics continued to uphold matrilineal...

  5. (pp. 87-111)

    In the nineteenth century, villagers in West Sumatra grew up with divergent ideas of a house and a family. Parenthood was debated and negotiated by mothers and aunts, fathers and uncles. Both reformist Islam and the colonial state favored patriarchy but mistrusted one another. The matriarchate navigated between these two ideological forces. Whereas reformism and colonialism situated their authority in the universal and absolute truths of the Quran and Hadith and of post-Enlightenment ideals, the matriarchate saw itself as essentially local and fluid. Beyond the house and family, the three-way dialectic continued. Children attended schools that almost always deployed conflicting...

  6. (pp. 112-137)

    The revolution is the great eclipse of Indonesian history. Time is marked relative to its passing, all other moments are swallowed up in its shadow. It is awesome, beautiful, and, if stared at directly, blinding. The unexpectedness of the revolution, precipitated by the Japanese occupation, eclipsed the myriad visions of the future that had grown, clandestine and subversive, in the oppression of the Netherlands East Indies. Once the revolution had happened, the incantation mau kemana (where to go?) that had sounded throughout the popular literature of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, was answered.¹ Immediately, movements were reoriented and historicized to...

  7. (pp. 138-155)

    In the 1920s, colonial West Sumatra was turned upside down. For Minangkabau, it was not unreasonable to believe that the day of reckoning, foretold in the Quran, was imminent. In smaller villages, the conflict between reformist and traditionalist religious leaders had proved divisive; in separate mosques and prayerhouses, doomsayers awaited Judgment Day and final arbitration.¹ This religious factionalism was particularly significant for the nagari—the Minangkabau autonomous village republics whose ideal composition included a single prayerhouse.² Two decades of social and bureaucratic intervention had transformed the nagari, and in 1914 the Nagari Ordinance formally reorganized local authority. Dutch-sanctioned headmen, panghulu,...

  8. (pp. 156-176)

    In his study of Sutan Sjahrir, Rudolf Mrázek discusses the excitement of finde-siècle West Sumatra: “History seemed to accelerate in Minangkabau towards the beginning of the twentieth century.”¹ In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Movement politics infused daily life in West Sumatra. The role of women in political life was hotly debated as the period following the 1908 Tax Rebellion saw women claiming a discursive space in the political and public spheres (through women’s newspapers and political parties). And this age in motion is apparent in the archive—sources grow cacophonous and exuberant, building up momentum and...

  9. (pp. 177-180)

    The Minangkabau matriarchate is hard to kill. Since the 1820s, the people of West Sumatra have been involved in an intensive three-way contest among reformist Islam, the traditions of the matriarchate, and what would become European progressivism. This dialectic focused on the concept of the ideal house and family. Reformist Islam had concerned itself with the definition of everyday life and home among villagers since the middle of the eighteenth century. Colonialism, with an eye toward an expanding tax base and corvée labor, had a stake in the control of families and populations. Colonial states, in particular, have been extraordinarily...