Life in Indonesia's Minangkabau Community (Photos)

Photographer Susan Schulman captures everyday life in the world’s largest matrilineal society.

In an obscure, devoutly Muslim ethnic group in Indonesia called the Minangkabau, women are revered—and own key land and property. Photographer Susan Schulman spent time in the community in July 2011, capturing everyday life in the world’s largest matrilineal society. Plus, Danielle Shapiro reports.

Susan Schulman

Lianna, 7, at her aqika, a traditional Minangkabau ceremony celebrating birth. The red and gold in her headdress are meant to symbolize the Minangnese people’s spirit and bravery. (Payakumbah, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

Lianna and her brother Muhammed, 4, at their aqika. Muhammed’s hat symbolizes wisdom. (Payakumbah, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

The Minangkabau view Islam and their unique matrilineal culture as inseparable. Here, a mosque that incorporates buffalo horns, common in Minangkabau architecture, with the classic domes of Islam reflects this connection. (Bukittingi, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

Puti Reno Raudha Thaib is a professor of agriculture at Andalas University in Padang, and the female head of her clan, known as the bundo kanduang. A descendant of the Minangkabau royal family, here, she discusses her family tree. (Padang, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

Mursa Dahrizal is the katik mangkuto, or deputy chief, of his coastal village, Sungai Sariak in Pariaman. At ceremonies, Dahrizal performs in a unique Minangkabau theatrical performance called randai, which blends dance, martial arts, song and acting. Originally, only men performed randai, but since the 1960s, women have, too. (Padang, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

A local massage healer claims her skill arrived in a supernatural way—striking her, then leaving her in a daze for days. Upon waking, she says was able to use massage to heal. (Ampek Ankek, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

Hendrilis, 47, weaves songket at the looms in her home in Baruah.  The ornate fabric, unique to the Minangkabau, shimmers with synthetic silver and gold threads. It is worn during important Minangkabau ceremonies, including the aqika. (Pandai Sikek, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

Hendrilis sits with her two daughters, Widya Indah Lestari, 16 (left), and Riga Wulandari, 19 (middle). The girls also weave songket, which requires impressive skill. (Pandai Sikek, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

Benny is a volunteer at Nurani Perempuan, or “Protecting Women and Children,” a center that cares for women who have suffered abuse or violence. Such violence is rare in the Minangkabau community. (Padang, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

A traditional Minangkabau home, or rumah gadang. This particular building houses three generations of women and their families. (Sangai Tarab, Batusankar district)

Susan Schulman

Rismal, 61, works in the garden of his 58-year-old wife Zamiarni’s family's ancestral rumah gadang. The traditional house is made of local Surian wood, and it has slatted floors, walls woven of bamboo, and an arched, buffalo-horn shaped roof. (Ampek Ankek, West Sumatra)

Susan Schulman

Zamiarni sits in her family's rumah gadang. Zamiarni and her husband, Rismal, respect the traditions of the Mingangkabau, with Zamiarni in charge of domestic matters and her husband, public ones. Rismal is quick to assert that their roles are equal. (Ampek Ankek, West Sumatra)