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Sunday, June 29, 2014

N. SEMBILAN, A FAILED MINANGKABAU STATE


An original Minangkabau house in Sumatra with curved roof resembling buffalo horns. The small hut on the right is for storing threshed padi grains, kapok in Bahasa Malaysia and kuie amongst the Minangs of Gomoncheh.


Istana Sri Menanti, Kuala Pilah, multi-tiered but lack the traditional roof style.


Balai Adat in the past, Sumatra.


The region in West Sumatra was where the Minangkabaus migrated mainly to N. Sembilan. In Melaka they are found in Pulau Sebang, Selangor in Beranang. 

The Minangkaus in W. Sumatra either live in the coastal area (pesisir) or hinterland (rantau).  Those who came to N. Sembilan broadly belonged to the three groups (Luak Nan Tigo) in the areas marked in the map below: 1. Luak Tanah Datar (rantau), 2. Luak Agam (pesisir) , and 3. Luak Lima Puluah Koto (rantau).



When they opened up land and settled in N. Sembilan, a number provinces (luaks) were demarcated  to facilitate governance in keeping with the Adat. Luak Sungei Ujung is the most powerful  in terms of Adat because it is where the Yam Tuan reside. 


Used to be that buffalo fighting is a favourite sport amongst the Minangkabaus where the winning (menang) buffalo (kerbau) and owner  (hence Menang kerbau shortened to Minangkabau) are  greatly esteemed. 


It becomes a cultural identity when man-buffalo association in everyday life happenings and work are closely linked. There bound to be some sort of co-evolution in cultural inputs when both man and animal become dependent on each other for livelihood and survival.



Pleasant scenery of vast paid fields was common in the kampongs 30 years ago. But now, practically all the padi fields (sawahs) are gone. After years of abandon the sawahs are filled with belukar, or planted with oil palm and some other crops, or animal husbandry.


What when wrong? There answer is not enough water going to the padi fields: 
1)  improper or inefficient water management by the authorities especially the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) and Department of Agriculture in the construction of canals to the padi fields.  
2) reservoirs built upriver have reduced water flow.
3) deforestration and other developments resulted in siltation of rivers and they are reduced to canals. This river in the picture below used to be deep and much broader where even crocodiles were found. When I was little I would see DID workers paddle a canoe  to remove logs and overhanging branches on the both sides of the river. On the left side of the river were padi fields now converted into dusun.
4) with the agricultural rice base diminished rural-urban migration of youth increased leaving the older folks to tend the padi fields. 


After a decade or more of neglected or abandoned padi fields, the young generation in the kampongs simply do not know how to grow padi. Along with it is the lost of culture associated with padi growing.  

One of the cultural activities is 'mengoca', a communal fishing drive when water in the dam is released into the river (instead of being diverted into the irrigation canals) done when the padi plants are mature but not ripe. Apparently this type of activity is common within the Malay Archipelago and Austronesia eg. Fiji.


Without padi cultivation and its attendent culture/adat NS is a failed Minangkabau enclave. Can NS revive padi cultivation? It would be possible to transform certain areas but require brave and innovative irrigation technologies and government commitment to run them in a commercial way such as being successfully done by FELCRA Seberang Perak.

In the Minangkabau homeland, Sumatra hand weaving provides part of material culture. Apparently this skill was not much a practice in NS when the Minangs migrated there.



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