Adat as activism, activism as adat

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)32_Refereed conference paper (without host publication)peer-review

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  • Vivienne WEE
  • Phoebe Yuen Man SO

Related Research Unit(s)


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2008


Title10th Annual Meeting of the Hong Kong Sociological Association
CityHong Kong
Period6 December 2008


The paper is based on fieldwork with Muslim women in West Sumatra, Indonesia, who are striving to protect and revive women-centred matrilineal traditions to assert their customary land rights, in the face of disempowering forces utilising state laws and policies, as well as culture and religion to claim control over land. Over time, women-centred matrilineal traditions in Minangkabau have faced challenges posed by patriarchal administrations and influential Islamic scholars, who have downplayed the women’s role in matters of inheritance and in the local political system, while privileging men as the trustees and supervisors of lineage land, as well as the political lineage leaders. For example, in the 1920s, there was an Islamic movement that advocated inheritance according to Islamic law – i.e. with the female heir getting only half of the share of the male heir. This was in stark contrast to Minangkabau adat (customary law), whereby women own and inherit all land belonging to the matrilineage.The influence of the Islamic movement of the 1920s is discernible up to today in the inheritance of pusako rendah (self-acquired land), as some people choose to bequeath such land according to Islamic rules of inheritance. However, people generally enjoy great freedom in deciding how to bequeath self-acquired property to the next generation. There are no set rules of inheritance with regards to self-acquired land, as distinct from land belonging to the matrilineage. In contrast, people generally follow matrilineal principles of inheritance for passing the ownership of pusako tinggi (ancestral land) to the next generation. However, economic hardship, migration and the preference for conjugal households have weakened social bonds among female members of the matrilineage, motivating many leading male members of the matrilineage to appropriate the ancestral land for their own economic interests, even though these men are supposed to take on the role of ‘protectors’ of the matrilineal land, according to ideal principles of adat. Some of these men also utilize certain interpretations of Islamic texts to justify their rejection of women’s leadership in the community.Against this background, the research seeks to document and analyse how women as social agents respond to these challenges to negotiate for their rights on inheritance.

Citation Format(s)

Adat as activism, activism as adat. / WEE, Vivienne; SO, Phoebe Yuen Man.
2008. Paper presented at 10th Annual Meeting of the Hong Kong Sociological Association, Hong Kong, China.

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)32_Refereed conference paper (without host publication)peer-review