In the Minangkabau Indonesian ethnic group, the woman is the one who “buys” the man in the marriage process. So how many buffaloes would I get to marry a local?

Travelling through the west-central part of Sumatra showed me an interesting aspect of the local traditions of the region, that meaning about Minangkabau, home of the world’s largest matriarchal society.

Although strongly Islamic, this group follows their ethnic traditions which have animist and Hindu-Buddhist origins. In this culture, the woman is the head of the family as the men is encouraged to leave his home and family in search of wealth and success. The house, the buffaloes or the rice paddies have passed from mother to daughter for generations. The woman has the right to make big decisions regarding the needs of her family as well as the education of her children.  Also, when getting married, the man is the one who moves into the wife’s home, as she is the one who owns the property.

Traditional house in Minangkabau. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Traditional house in Minangkabau. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

As mentioned in the beginning, in this Indonesian ethnic group the woman is the one who “buys” the man in the marriage process. It was also the case for Nana and her husband Surya, a young married local couple whom I’ve met while visiting around the Sianok canyon.

The couple and their daughter. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The couple and their daughter. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

The interaction with them came naturally when Ghaza, their small adorable girl, seemed to be curious about my photo camera. As most of the Indonesian children, grown-ups and old people, she also loved to be photographed. She was just too sweet and jealous when I was taking pictures of others but not of her.

Ghaza. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Ghaza. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Later on, I was invited at their place to meet the whole family, their friends and neighbours. Their house was part of the traditional Minangkabau ”Rumah  Gadang” houses. Made of local Surian wood, it has a curving buffalo-horn shaped roof and this represents the iconic thing of the region, an original architecture typical of the Minangkabau area.

Traditional house in Minangkabau. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Traditional house in Minangkabau. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Their hospitality was genuine. I could see their high respect for the elderly, their patience with the noisy kids and lot of warmness towards each other (I think it was just something normal in their passing through life). Nana’s father approached me with a good English and presented the large rooms of the house to me. On the walls there were a lot of pictures with his wife and her lovely daughters.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

He showed me more old pictures with his girls. And my God, they looked so beautiful in those colorful typical Indonesian wedding clothes.

He asked me, showing great interest, about the European wedding traditions as well as why at 34 I was still not married. Well, I am sure he would be happy if I moved there and married his 26 years old daughter called Lola. There didn’t seem to be any religious or any cultural interdiction for doing this, maybe just accepting to move there and accept to be ‘bought’ by Lola. Okay, but how many buffaloes could I get for this, and was there any chance to ship some of them back home in case the marriage wouldn’t work out?” I felt a little strange, then I’d realized and calm down it was just a thought.

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