Despite a large number of both historical and anthropological works on the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia, a number of questions remain concerning this matrilineal and Islamic society. In a recent study, historian Ken Young articulated a growing consensus that the received models of Minangkabau social life are suspect, including the “idealised categories of nagari [village], adat [customs], matrilineal kinship, lineage property rights, and the autonomy of village communities governed by panghulu [titled men, Minangkabau spelling]” (Young 1994, 12). Anthropologists have been equally perturbed by what they consider to be inconsistencies in Minangkabau life, such as the contradiction between Islamic law and matrilineal adat (customary laws, beliefs, and practices concerning matrilineal kinship and inheritance). The inconsistency that I address in this essay lies in the contradictory representations of elite men's and elite women's power in Minangkabau literature.

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