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Minangkabau of Negeri Sembilan

The people of west Sumatra who resettled here brought with them customs that favour the women and unique architectural and cuisine styles.

The sweeping, peaked-roofed “buffalo horn” architecture is the most distinguishing feature of the Minangkabau or People of the Victorious Buffalo of Negeri Sembilan, Melaka’s northern neighbour. It appears everywhere; in the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur, at luxury hotels fringed by swaying palms, even at a highway petrol station. The roofs have come to signify not just Minangkabau, but Malaysia.

It is a proud tribute to the heritage of a group of settlers from west Sumatra who made their new home in the fertile valleys and hills behind Melaka, attracted by the port’s success. They brought their style of architecture and, protected by the Malay sultans, continued adhering to the unique adat pepatih customs that follow a matrilineal system, which governs laws, political organisation, traditions and social systems. 

The small principalities founded by the original settlers formed the nine luak or states that became the federation of Negeri Sembilan. Today, although the modern state is divided into districts, the luak remain. Violent clashes over tin that resulted in British intervention in the 1800s have reduced the number of luak to five.

State Museum Complex

Minangkabau culture and history is housed at the State Museum (Teratak Perpatih) within the grounds of the State Museum Complex on Jalan Sungai Ujung in Seremban at the Seremban/Labu exit off the Kuala Lumpur–Seremban Highway. The museum showcases a fine display of ceremonial keris (daggers), Bugis and Minangkabau swords, and royal ornaments. The museum’s main building however, is the 19th-century Ampang Tinggi Palace from Kuala Pilah town that has been carefully reconstructed here. Next door is the Negeri Sembilan House, another fine piece of Minangkabau architecture and built without a single nail. Unlike the palace’s attap roof, the house has a cover of wooden shingles. 

Green hills and landscaped gardens provide the setting for the beautiful Diraja Sri Menanti Museum (tel: 06-762 1149/763 5388; daily 9am–5pm; free) in the royal town of Sri Menanti. A former palace, it was built in 1903 without a single nail. Pieced together with hardwood dowels and rivets, the four-storey timber structure sits on 99 pillars, representing the warriors of the various luak. It ceased to be a royal residence in 1931, when a new palace was completed in the shape of the blue-tiled Istana Besar nearby. The museum showcases the regalia of the Negeri Sembilan royal family as well as ceremonial weaponry and costumes. 

Read more about Malaysia

Read more about the cultural features of Malaysia in Insight Guides: Malaysia

Insight Guides: Malaysia

Insight Guide Malaysia is a comprehensive full-colour guide to the culture, history and people of this varied and fascinating country. It is illustrated throughout with hundreds of new, specially co...

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