Minangkabau of Malaysia

In the 1500s, Minangkabau males engaged in voluntary migration, called merantau, across the Straits of Malacca.They landed in today’s Negeri Sembilan state and founded settlements all over the region. These settlers intermarried with the local population and brought with them the culture of the Minangkabau, or Adat Perpatih, which governs laws, political organisation, traditions and social systems.

One of the most known features of this adat is the matrilineal society, in which women are the owners of land and property. Family possessions are passed down from mother to daughter. Men, on the other hand are encouraged to leave their village to far off lands seeking fame and fortune, which might explain the migration across the straits. However, they are still tied closely to their homeland, many return home experienced and contribute to the running of the family or negeri (hometown) where they sit on the council of leaders.

Those that decided to stay on in Negeri Sembilan also formed their own villages and clans with similar councils of leaders, known as the datuk-datuk penghulu luak. They were still tied to their homeland, evident in the 1760s when a group of these datuk-datuk penghulus travelled to the seat of the Minangkabau king in West Sumatra to request for a ruler. The king sent his son, a young prince by the name of Raja Melewar who became the first king of Negeri Sembilan.

His title was the Yamtuan Besar (equivalent to King) Raja Melewar. He set his royal capital at Seri Menanti, 14km away from modern day Seremban, where it is still used as the seat of the Yamtuan Besar today. He was succeeded by members of the same royal line, a monarchy that still exists to this day.

The unique feature of Negeri Sembilan is that it is an elective monarchy, according to the Adat Perpatih of the Minangkabau. Unlike the other nine Malay States with a king (known as a Sultan) whose selection is hereditary, the Yamtuan Besar is elected by the datuk-datuk penghulus from a pool of potential princes in the royal line. Yes, the same Minangkabau chieftains of the tribes who went to search for the first ruler choose the king. This council today is made up of four undangs (district lords) in the modern day luaks (districts) of Sungai Ujong, Rembau, Jelebu and Johol. These undangs are descended from noble Minangkabau families matrilineally, and have historically been the rulers of their clans.

Then I realised how Negeri Sembilan (literal translation is “9 lands”) got its name. What I thought referred to the 9th out of 13 Malaysian states actually refers to the 9 original luaks of Negeri Sembilan. Today the state comprises 7 administrative districts, though the council of 4 undangs of the luaks still exist, performing ceremonial duties and the important task of selecting the next Yamtuan Besar.

I visited Negeri Sembilan over a weekend, and the Minangkabau influence is proudly showcased everywhere. In the main city of Seremban, overhead bridges had the distincitve curved roof structure that mimicked the shape of a bull’s horns. Even the local KFC fast food restaurant was in a standalone building designed like a traditional Minang house. In the nearby villages out in the countryside, homes still bear traditional Minangkabau roofs.

The grandest Minangkabau building is the Old Palace at the royal capital Seri Menanti. It is an impressive four storey building built in 1903 constructed without any nails. The palace is today used as a museum featuring the history and regalia of the royal family. Within Seri Menanti town, there is also the royal mausoleum, a mosque and the new Royal Palace, where the current Yamtuan Besar resides.

If you are ever in Negeri Sembilan and wish to learn more about the fascinating Minangkabau of Malaysia, you should also visit the State Museum Complex. Located in Seremban, the museum offers a look into the culture and history of the Minangkabau. The main building, a grand recreation of a Minangkabau royal home, houses everything from weapons to royal ornament. There is even a section on prehistoric Negeri Sembilan.

Istana Lama Seri Menanti : The four-storeyed old royal palace

A view of the State Museum’s Minangkabau roofs, looking out of a window of a traditional home.

A modern interpretation of a Minangkabau home


Gastronomy: Penang

PA020616, originally uploaded by morphred.

Penang, Malaysia – 01-03 Oct 2010
The Straits Settlements series – Part 2 (Penang)

So here are brief snippets of the highlights of Penang

– The journey there was on the overnight snoozer Konsortium bus (55 SGD), which picks up at Golden Mile tower. It was a 10 hour night ride, ending at the Sungei Nibong long distance bus station on Penang island. By snoozer, it means that the seats recline to about 30 degrees, with plenty of leg space, and your own entertainment unit. I had How to Train Your Dragon on mine. The air conditioning was way too cold.

– Lodging for the day was on the New Banana Guesthouse, clean and at the back of the New Banana travel agency (70 RM for d/room), located at the junction of Lebuh Chulia and Penang Rd. The backpacker places around Chulia charge anything around 30 to 50 RM for a room. New Banana has aircon, tv and free Wifi. =)

– The Penang Hill fiasco. Penang Hill is closed till 2011. The train transport to the top of the hill is under renovation. We took the bus up to Penang hill, and ended up taking the next bus back.

– The public bus service (Rapid) is excellent, with destinations clearly displayed and easy to use. Traveling by bus is cheap and convenient.

– Gurney drive hawker centre has a great vibe, with its open air by the beach concept. Gurney Plaza next door is exactly like an Sg mall, down to its layout (cinema on top floor, supermarket on basement) and its tenants. No surprise, seeing as its under Capitaland’s retail arm.

– Food. Had everything from Nonya chicken curry, Mee goreng sotong, assam laksa, parsembur and retro egg toast in the many quaint coffeeshops littered throughout Georgetown. KW in addition had Char Kway Teow and Hokkien Mee. The initial reason for going to Penang is to have authentic Nasi Kandar, but that was never going to happen. I was waiting to have enough of an empty stomach before ordering Nasi Kandar, but the way I was snacking and eating everything else, that was never going to happen.

– The highlight would have to be the parsembur hawker, who stands beside his stall and to the beat of techno (I’m a Barbie girl, anyone?) sings an infectious “rojak, rojak, rojak…” ad nauseum, with his chopper on the chopping board. He drums up business that way, im sure. =)

– Penang Times Square is still halfway under construction, with the main shopping complex completed and only half-filled by tenants. It’s the next big thing though; shiny, located in the central town area, just beside current big time shopping draws, Prangin Mall and Komtar. Watch for it.


– Georgetown itself is a mixture of Chinese temples, Indian temples, mosques, and colonial buildings, depending on which part you go to. Fort Cornwallis isn’t much to look at, but it does give an insight to Penang’s history. I can understand why Penang and its smorgarsbord of sights, smells and sounds would fascinate the western traveler.

– Flight back home. Penang to Senai airport in JB. Senai airport’s been renovated since I was last here, and it’s pretty convenient to get to the Kotaraya terminal and then to Singapore from the airport.

To summarise, went there, ate, walked, ate, sat down, ate, slept, ate, ate, walked, ate, went home. Did not get to savour my Nasi Kandar. Meaning I’ll just have to return here another time! =)


Papa Loves Mambo at Jonker 88

Papa Loves Mambo at Jonker 88, originally uploaded by morphred.
21-22Aug, Malacca, Malaysia
The Straits Settlements Series – Part I

Despite not wanting to go anywhere over the weekend, I ended up joining KW, WQ, YQ and Al in driving up to Malacca. On a Sat night, while fasting. For less than 24hrs.

Driving with a GPS is a no-brainer. Just follow instructions blindly. And Malacca looks the same. A World Heritage site, plenty of peranakan-ness. Basically, i wilted in the heat, and watched everyone eat lovely chendol ice kachang in gula melaka. The company’s great though, and the 500km drive was worth it. 🙂

Visit: Jonker Street, Formosa, Mahkota Parade
Sleep: Kings Hotel Apartments
Eat: Nasi Kandar / McDonalds

A blink and you miss moment in Shah Alam

21 July 2010, Shah Alam, Selangor

Well, well… what do we have here? Visiting up north for a short jaunt. Staying in a nice business hotel for a change? And not traveling budget? What else if not for work. =( Still, it’s a case of not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Nice dinner, nice buffet breakfast, nice lunch. And any brief jaunt out of Sg, even those that are rushed, is welcomed. (actually this post is just cos i love the shoes on carpet shot…)

A brief excursion to Pulau Dayang

9 – 11th July 2010

The briefest of brief getaways, but the first of many more this year hopefully. I was off to Pulau Dayang for a spot of diving. After gallavanting off for months, and then sitting put, finally getting out of town is a welcomed excursion.

The dives themselves were good yet not fantastic (and this is relative, considering my last dive was in the Red Sea!) but I had a good time nevertheless. It must have been the company. =) The dive outfit was professional and the dive group was a fun bunch. Normally these dive trips out of Sg will come with one or two weirdos in tow. This time round however everyone somehow clicked nicely. That’s about it. Hahahahah.

Now, if you are reading this and you have any ideas for places to travel to (or need a travel buddy!) drop me a holler! I’m always keen =)