The History of Minangkabau

Picture : Boekittinggi Tempoe Doeloe

Maharaja Diraja and his followers landed on top of Mount Merapi (in the district of Tanah Datar) which was still surrounded by water. The face of the earth expanded, the number of inhabitants increased, and finally the early settlements were established in the district of Tanah Datar. And the nagari, the basic Minangkabau political organization, were founded. That was how the history of Alam Minangkabau begins, at least according to the tambo, the Minangkabau traditional historiography.

The earliest archeological evidence, can be found in the district (luhak) Limapuluh Kota, one of the district, besides Agam and Tanah Datar – traditionally regarded as the heartland of the Minangkabau world. Archeological remains, scattered in several hundred sites and dating from 3000 to 2000 BC, consist of menhirs, sometimes decorated with ornaments depicting birds, crocodiles, and buffalo heads. They must have been used as meeting ground were ceremonial gatherings took place.

Once the heartland was secured, it ceased to expand, but the Minangkabau people continued their geographical explorations and established new nagari. The new territories, called rantau, grew in accordance with the expansion of the Minangkabau people.

Picture : the menhir

If the heartland was ruled by the pangulu – matrilineal inherited representatives of the people, the rantau territories were ruled by the aristocratic raja. It was most probably also in the rantau that the supranagari political organization was firstly established.

Buddhist stupa, still standing near the confluence of two branches of the Kampar River in the eastern part of Minangkabau ( now lying in Riau Province ), may attest to early Indian influences in the cultural and political sphere. Muara Takus was a Buddhist centre of learning, frequented by many monks from China and India. The area was perhaps also visited by traders since it produced gold and aromatic woods. Similarities in architectural features with Buddhist remains found in Thailand ( Haripunjana or Lampun etc. ) are strong indications that the area in those times was part of a greater world extending over mainland Southeast Asia.

One of the kingdoms in the eastern part of Minangkabau was Dharmasraya which may have flourished in the 11th and 12th centuries. Its remain are found in Rembahan, at the banks of the Batanghari River in the present Kabupaten Sawahlunto Sijunjung.

Picture : The Mara Takus temple

In the competition with the maritime kingdom of Sriwijaya for the supremacy of sealanes in the Straits of Malaka, King Kartanegara of Singasari (East java) sent a military expedition to Sumatra in 1275, known in history as the Pamalayu.

The name Malayu, according to Prof JG de Casparis, most probably was used to refer to the whole river system of Batanghari, whereas Melayupura, its capital, at time shifted upstream and downstream according to (political? ) Circumstances. Until the 13th century the capital was located at Muara Jambi, but later it was moved westward to the Langsat River to the place of Dharmasraya ( Padang Rocok ) where a statue of Amonghapasa ( a gift of Kartanegara to the Malay King ) was erected in 1286.

Perhaps the capital was moved again at the time of Adityawarman who established his capital at Surawasa ( Suroaso ) near present Pagaruyung. Heirlooms of the kings of Pagaruyung are still preserved today. Nowadays Pagaruyung is a nagari in the neighbourhood of Bukit Gombak and Suroaso, called the region of Tigo Balai, in the regency Tanah Datar, about five kilometers from Batusangkar. The three Balai are Balai Janggo, Kampung Tengah, and Gudam. It is an area which has yielded many inscriptions from the time of Adityawarman (14th century).

Picture: Pagaruyung Kingdom remains

As the story goes, Adityawarman was welcomed by Datuk Indomo, the symbolic representative of the Koto Piliang, who gave him a piece of land. Then Adityawarman established a fortified settlement and proclaimed himself as King of Pagaruyung. However, Adityawarman never ruled Minangkabau, which consisted of numerous independent nagger under their respective pangulu . The king was only the symbol of unity of the Minangkabau world. Remains of this kingdom are still found in Pagaruyung and have also found their way to many museums abroad. The statue of Adityawarman which was found in Sijunjung is now housed in the National Museum in Jakarta.

Batu Batikam (Pierced Stone) found in Limo Kaum, Batusangkar, is – according to the tambo – linked with the emergence of two phratries in Minangkabau tradition: Koto Piliang and Bodi Caniago, established by two legendary adat givers, two half brothers with a common mother and a different father. Datuk Ketemanggungan, the son of an aristocratic father, got into a heated dispute with his brother, Datuk Perpatih nan Sabatang, the son of a commoner, over the proper system of governance. In their rage both stabbed the same stone with their keris. The hole is still to ne seen, and so their descendants can reflect on the duality of the Minangkabau unified adat system.

Bodi Caniago and Koto Piliang in Minangkabau philosophy are regarded as two complementary phratries. The adat counsil of Koto Piliang which recognizes the hierarchy of panguluship is characterized by its tiered floors, whereas the balai adat of Bodi Caniago has a level floor which reflects its refusal to recognize any hierarchy in the pangulu system. Both systems, however, are based on mufakat (deliberation and consensus) in every decision of social importance.

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