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.