June 29, 2008

The Story of Minangkabau West Sumatra

The Buffalo's Victory

For hundreds of years the roofs of the houses in West Sumatra have been built in the form of buffalo horns, and the people in that part of the country call their land Minangkabau, which means "the buffalo wins" or "the buffalo's victory." If you ask the people the reason for their houses being built in this way and their country being named as it is, they will tell you this story:

About six hundred years ago, the King of Java sent a messenger to the people in West Sumatra. He wanted to let them know that he was now ruler of all the green islands of Indonesia, and that he would soon take over their land; that it would be better for them to surrender, for if they opposed the King, they would all be killed.

Of course the people became greatly alarmed when they heard the message of the powerful King of Java, and their leaders quickly met to decide how they should meet this threat.

"We must do all we can to avoid war," one said. "If there is a battle, think of the death and destruction! We are sure to lose, and then we will be the slaves of this foreign king. We must think of a way not to fight. We must outwit those who wish to conquer us."

There were many proposals, and finally one was set forth that was accepted by all the people as being the best possible way to defeat the enemy. The messenger from Java was told to submit this proposal to his King: rather than face war, with the destruction it would bring to both sides, the people of West Sumatra proposed that each side, instead of fighting themselves, should bring a buffalo to the field of battle. The buffalo would then fight each other, and the outcome of their battle would determine the future course of affairs. If the buffalo of the Javanese King won, then the people of West Sumatra would surrender and become his subjects. If the buffalo of the people of West Sumatra won, then the Javanese King would make no further attempt to conquer them and they could continue to live as free men.

And so it was agreed.

The King of Java sent his men to search all over his island kingdom for the most powerful buffalo they could find. They found one, and brought him to their camp in West Sumatra, where they took care of him until the day of battle should arrive. All the people of West Sumatra had heard about the buffalo of the King of Java and they came to see it. Such a buffalo as this they had never seen in all their lives. It was so strong and so large and so fine that the sight of it made them more dismayed and more discouraged than ever.

Again they consulted together. "We are lost," they lamented. "Never will we be able to find a buffalo able to win over this mighty buffalo of the enemy."

Again they came up with ideas and plans, and then rejected them all as useless. Finally, when they were nearly desperate, one of the villagers had an idea which made them all rejoice.

One of the men had a new buffalo calf, which he took from its mother.

Another villager fastened sharp pieces of iron on the tips of the calf’s horns. They waited three days, and then went to the messenger of the King of Java, telling him that they had found a buffalo and were ready for battle.

The next morning the King's men brought their fine strong buffalo to the battlefield, and at the same time the villagers led their little calf to meet the enemy. The air was filled with the loud rough laughter of the King's soldiers when they saw the calf of the West Sumatrans standing so helplessly on the wide open field. . .

But the people of West Sumatra paid no attention to the laughter of the soldiers. They waited until everything was quiet, and then one of their leaders said, "Ready!"

They let the little calf loose and pushed him forward, and at the same time the King's soldiers untied their mighty buffalo.

For a moment nothing happened. It was as though the great buffalo of the King and the small helpless calf of the villagers were looking each other over before each decided what to do.

Then the calf began to run. He had been kept from his mother for three whole days, and he was very very hungry. To him, the big buffalo standing across from him looked just like his mother, and he ran straight to the large animal, pressing his nose against the underside of him, searching for milk. As he nuzzled, the sharp-pointed pieces of iron on his horn pierced the belly of the buffalo, and with a roar of pain the great beast began to run across the field. The little calf ran after him, and the enthralled spectators watched the scene: the big buffalo running with ever greater difficulty, blood flowing from his wounds, the little calf determinedly catching up with him. Then the King's buffalo fell, and as the little calf drew near him, a great shout went up from the people of West Sumatra gathered to watch the battle: "Minangkabau! Minangkabau! Minangkabau!" (The buffalo wins! The buffalo is victorious!).

The King and his soldiers said not a word. Then quietly, they left the battlefield, and were never seen again.

The villagers put a wreath of flowers around the neck of the little buffalo calf and led him to his mother.

The people of West Sumatra were still free. And that is why the houses and the headdresses of the people are made to look like buffalo horns, and why their land is called "Minangkabau" or "The Buffalo's Victory."***