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Published: November 16th 2019
View from my hotel in Bukittingi
As I sat on my veranda at Lake Maninjau, watching two iguana’s play in the waters, I contemplated Minang culture and the influence of Islam on it. Minang culture is matrilineal, meaning the women are in charge. But Minang culture is also Islamic. The matrilineal aspect dates from pre-Islamic times, and the introduction of Islam didn’t change that. In a sense it is a strange mix, since Islam, like nearly all religions, is patriarchal. How can those two opposites be reconciled I wondered. How did it work?
Just by looking at the people, one would not guess the matrilineal nature of the Minang. It is not as if the men are slaving away in the fields, while the woman sit smoking a cigarette in the shade, chatting to friends. No quite the opposite, as elsewhere in Indonesia, it’s mostly the men sitting in the shade smoking and chatting, while the women are slaving away. And yet… everything belongs to the women!
Elsewhere I visited a huge palace. The palace of a king of one of the tribes. Not a queen, but a king! Nearby sat the queen’s palace, a much smaller affair. It was clear that the King was
the one in charge. But if Minang is matrilineal, how was this possible? It was all rather confusing. My guide couldn’t quite explain it either. My guess would be that Minang is matrilineal in certain aspects, as in inheritance of property and such, but through the influence of Islam has become patriarchal in matters of state. The men hold the reins of power it would seem, but the women hold the land and thus the money!
From Islamic influence on Minang culture my mind drifted to the Dutch influence on Indonesia. Dutch heritage doesn’t lie so much in bricks and mortar, but in the language. As I have travelled around this country, I keep being amazed about the many Dutch loan words that pop up everywhere. They have changed somewhat in spelling and style, and some are words that are not really used anymore in my own country, but it remains fascinating.
Car parts for instance are almost exclusively Dutch in origin, like velg for rim, knalpot (not used anymore in Holland) for exhaust pipe, versnellingbak for gearbox and more, but you also have kantor for office (in Dutch it is kantoor), and apothek for pharmacy (apotheek in
Dutch), belasting for tax, exactly the same in Dutch, bioskop for cinema, (bioscoop in Dutch), meubel for furniture, the same in Dutch, kamar for room (in Dutch kamer), piker for think (from the Dutch pieker, but it’s a bit old fashioned and out of use), pintar for bright (pienter in Dutch, again an old word not really used these days), opa, oma, oom and tante are all Dutch (grandfather, grandmother, uncle and aunt), and like that I keep discovering new words.
Some regions have more loan words and other loan words which aren’t used elsewhere. In northern Sulawesi people used vakanti for holiday, a Dutch word, but I didn’t encounter that anywhere else, and they said meneer, Dutch for mister, instead of the usual Indonesian pak.
Of course the biggest heritage that the Dutch left behind is the country itself. Indonesia as it exists today wouldn’t have existed in its current form if not for the Dutch. It would have consisted of many small kingdoms, not one country. Sumatra itself would probably have housed three or four different states. Opinions differ on the merits of this particular Dutch legacy, depending on who you speak to.
course, Dutch colonialism was exploitative and terrible. The archipelago was simply used as a cash cow and what happened to the local population wasn’t interesting, except if they rebelled, in which case they were killed. A string of forts testify to that part of our shared history. Travelling around the country as a Dutch person, I am acutely aware of this, and it comes up in conversations a lot. For most Indonesians it is a thing of the past, and happily it doesn’t reflect on their opinion of me… ‘What happened, happened… ‘ they say, and that I suppose sums it up quite neatly.
What remains are those funny Dutch words I see wherever I travel, which invariably put a smile on my face.
Another month has passed, and I feel it went rather fast. A quick visa run to Singapore has ensured I have another thirty days ‘stempel’ (Indonesian and Dutch for stamp) in my passport so I can go explore a bit more. The rainy season is in full swing here in Bintan, so a ‘handuk’ (handdoek in Dutch, spelled differently pronounced the same) or towel will come in handy me thinks!
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