Working Paper 64

Struggles over Communal Property Rights and Law in Minangkabau, West Sumatra

Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann

Project Group Legal Pluralism

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 64

The Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia, are well known for their two forms of communal property, the inherited property complexes of matrilineages (harato pusako) and the village commons (ulayat). The paper shows how these have undergone very different developments in colonial and postcolonial economic, political and legal environments. We first discuss the complex of pusako property and inheritance and show how categorical and concretised relationships to pusako have been influenced by the struggle over inheritance law between adat and Islamic law, and its incorporation into the state administration and social and economic changes. We then turn to the village commons for a similar analysis. The history of these two Minangkabau property forms shows interesting but different continuities and discontinuities in both categorical and concretised property rights. This illustrates that a remarkable continuity in categorical property relations and of the basic principles of matri-lineal organisation can coexist with quite different constellations of concretised property relationships, in which conjugal and patrifiliative relationships play a considerable role. This helps to understand why the disappearance or breakdown of matriliny in Minangkabau, predicted for the past hundred years, has not occurred. Our discussion will also help to clarify current legal and political debates over the place of communal property in Minangkabau.

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