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Ref ID: 22587
Ref Type: Book Section
Authors: Davis, Carol
Title: Food, fertility and kinship in Minangkabau
Date: 2007
Source: Kinship and food in South East Asia
Place of Publication: Copenhagen, Denmark
Publisher: NIAS
Notes: Introduction: As I walked past the rice fields during my fieldwork in a West Sumatran Minangkabau village, I was often greeted by those engaged in harvesting the rice with the call to 'Come and eat with us. It's nice to eat in the rice field.' this appeared to be part of the code of Minangkabau etiquette associate with the public consumption of food. A polite refusal, together with a brief conversation, was all that was expected to acknowledge this courtesy. On other occasions during harvesting, my adoptive mother and I were invited by a close family member to share a meal in the rice field at a pre-arranged time. This seemed more significant, an acknowledgement of kinship ties also expressed through the collective lineage ownership of ancestral land on which the rice was grown. For even though the usufruct rights to that land are usually held by one or two people, it is not theirs to sell or pawn, but it is held in trust by the corporate group for future generations. Rice and coconut milk are always important ingredients in this meal. The rice is either boiled and eaten together with fish or vegetables in a coconut-based sauce, or cooked in coconut milk and served as a sweet dish. Many of these dishes (especially the sweet variety) are also used in the feasts and gift exchanges at life cycle rituals and some are rarely consumed outside these two situations. Rice has three forms: (1) growing in ancestral land
(2) harvested, whether unhulled or hulled
(3) cooked, either on its own or combined with other ingredients, especially coconut milk. From my observations and discussions with informants, it became apparent that the relationship between those involved in the exchange and the nature of the exchange itself would determine the form of rice given. This is discussed later within a context that suggests rice has a symbolic association with fertility, matrilineal kinship and a sense of collective lineage identity. I begin with a brief discussion about the Minangkabau kinship and inheritance system. This is necessary for two reasons. Firstly, discussions with informants indicated that ownership of ancestral land is important for the economic and physical survival of the matrilineage. Rice serves as a symbol of this property. Secondly, significant kinship relations (especially between women) can be identified and the importance of women in the descent group can be discerned. Women, who connect one generation to another both culturally and structurally within the matrilineal system, are the primary mediators between kin groups through their responsibility for the preparation and exchange of food as well as through sharing in its consumption at ritual feasts. Elsewhere (Davis 1995a) I have suggested that in the course of the life cycle rituals, men and women have complementary yet different roles: men exchange ritual speeches, women exchange ritual food. These roles are guided by <i>adat</i> (the rules and principles which form the basis of the Minangkabau social system as well as the values, morals and patterns of appropriate behaviour). Although men are responsible for producing one food dish within the series of marriage rituals - and I shall refer to this later on - women are most closely associated with the cooking and exchange of food. Consequently, my concern in this chapter is females as my intention is to investigate specifically their role in the relationship between food, fertility, and matrilineal kinship. I argue, then, that the exchange and shared consumption of food (rice and coconuts in particular) both on a day-to-day basis and at life cycle rituals draw attention to and reinforce ties of kinship.
Date Created: 4/9/2015
Editors: Janowski, Monica
Kerlogue, Fiona
Volume: 38
Page Start: 71
Page End: 92
Series Title: NIAS Studies in Asian Topics