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Muslims and Matriarchs

Cultural Resilience in Indonesia through Jihad and Colonialism

Jeffrey Hadler

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-6


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

In 1985, I signed up for the American Field Service high school student exchange program and was placed with a mixed Minangkabau-Mandailing family in Jakarta. I have been returning to Indonesia and living as part of this extended family ever since. I did a stretch of long-term fieldwork in West Sumatra in 1994 – 1996 and in Jakarta in 1998 – 2001. ...

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Introduction: Culture of Paradox

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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. ...

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1. Contention Unending

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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; ...

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2. Shapes of the House

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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. ...

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3. Interiors and Shapes of the Family

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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. ...

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4. Educating Children

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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. ...

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5. Intimate Contention

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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, ...

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6. Earthquake

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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, ...

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7. Families in Motion

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pp. 156-176

In his study of Sutan Sjahrir, Rudolf Mrázek discusses the excitement of fin-de-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. ...

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Conclusion: Victorious Buffalo, Resilient Matriarchate

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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. ...


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pp. 181-198


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pp. 199-200


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pp. 201-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780801461606
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801446979

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1