Minangkabau Cultural Tour

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
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Hotel Asia

Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    We decided to do a tour of the surrounding area one day and were very glad of it.  Many locations of interest, such as the king's palace and an old Minangkabau village, are impossible to find on your own.  Normally we shy away from tours because we don't like being herded into a group and visiting places on their inflexible timetable, not to mention the fact that they usually spend half the time at shopping spots where prices are jacked way up because everyone involved in the organization of the tour has to get a cut.  But this one was a very pleasant exception.  Tourism has dropped substantially in Indonesia over the last few years.  We’ve only seen about a dozen tourists in Bukittinggi, so we were the only participants on the tour.  We had a driver and an English-speaking guide all to ourselves.  It was a full-day tour for only $15 per person.

     We started out with a visit to a home-industry farm where we saw coffee, cinnamon, cacao, tapioca, cloves, bananas, and avocados being grown and were taught about their planting and processing.  Then we toured a small factory where coffee, tea, and banana snacks are produced and were able to sample their products for free (on a beautiful verandah overlooking gardens and rice paddies) and buy bags of tea for about $1.

     Next we wandered the countryside a bit, following irrigation canals through rice paddies and studying the rice in various stages of growth.

     Then we stopped for lunch, Indonesian style.  The typical way of dining in Indonesia is to be provided with a smorgasbord of dishes and then eat what you desire.  You are only charged for what you eat.  It’s kind of gross because that means whatever you don’t eat gets reserved to someone else later, but I just tried to convince myself that our food was fresh and we were the first ones to arrive.  The food was really great, and I got to try to some local fish that I probably wouldn’t have ordered ordinarily.  And, no, we didn’t get sick afterward.

     After lunch, we began the Minangkabau part of the tour.  The Minangkabau are a cultural group residing in the highlands of Western Sumatra.  They trace their roots back to the Mongols of China, settling in Sumatra around 500 A.D.  They were engaged in constant warfare with other local tribes over land, causing unfavorable bloodshed, when two tribal leaders decided on an alternative.  They would have a water buffalo from each tribe fight each other in lieu of their armies.  The winner would take the disputed land.  The Minangkabau’s buffalo was triumphant, and thusly they gained their name, which translates to "victorious water buffalo."  Their houses are said to be built with sweeping rooflines because they resemble the arch of the water buffalo’s horns.

     We visited the king’s palace, built in the Minangkabau style, but currently under reconstruction as the original burned down a few years ago.  The queen’s palace had been opened to the public for a nice viewing alternative, but it suffered a fire as well just a few weeks before.  Apparently, they have some fire safety issues.

     Lastly, we went to a traditional Minangkabau village that possesses some of the oldest remaining Minangkabau houses, one of which is 350 years old.  Most of the residents have built newer houses next door and only use the older traditional homes for ceremonies or as stables for their animals.
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