Negeri Sembilan - Malaysia


Before the arrival of the Minangkabau peoples from Sumatra, Negri Sembilan was a large piece of virgin rainforest with only few areas inhabited by tribes although many of the areas were already in the possession of Malay chiefs. The original people of Negri Sembilan were made up of three indigenous tribes, that is; the Biduanda, the Bersisi and the Jakun.

History of Negri Sembilan can be traced back to the 15th and 16th centuries when Minangkabau settlers from Sumatra migrated to the region during the era of the Melaka Sultanate. These settlers initially settled in the regions of Naning, Sungei Ujong and Rembau, which at the time were parts of the Johor-Riau Empire. In the early centuries, Malaysia was dissected into little kingdoms ruled by Sultans who often fought amongst themselves for power and position. The Johor-Riau Empire at one time ruled lands from the Riau islands to districts in Negri Sembilan.

The Empire eventually went into decline and this together with the rise of the Bugis Sultanate in Melaka caused insurrections in the districts of Rembau, Sungei Ujong, Johol and Ulu Muar in 1770. Following these insurrections, the people of those regions invited a ruler from the royal house of Pagar Ruyong in their Sumatra homeland to rule them. Raja Melewar was proclaimed the first Yang Dipertuan Besar in Negri Sembilan in 1773. This dynasty prevailed and sits on the throne to this day.

Trade with the Straits Settlement flourished when tin was found. This however, led to fighting and unrest in Sungei Ujong, Rembau and Jelebu paving the way for British intervention and ultimately a British presence in the State in the form of the first British Resident, Martin Lister. With the use of treaties, the British brought the separate states closer to a federation and in 1889, Yam Tuan Seri Menanti was installed as the ruler of all Negri Sembilan. In 1896 Negri Sembilan became one of the Federated Malay States and in 1948 became part of the Federation of Malaya which finally achieved independence in 1957.

Negri Sembilan literally means "Nine States" reflecting the historical confederation of nine states, which were finally unified under the Yam Tuan in 1889. Today, only seven out of the nine districts remain; comprising Jelebu, Jempol, Kuala Pilah, Port Dickson, Rembau, Seremban and Tampin. Seremban is the capital of modern Negri Sembilan while its royal capital is Seri Menanti.


An impressive Rumah Gadang in Bukit Tinggi, Sumatra, Indonesia - the homeland of the minangkabau people

The Minangkabau settlers brought with them the "Adat Perpatih", a cultural and social system, which permeated their daily life, economy and mode of government. One of the main characteristics of the 'adat' or way of life, was that of the matrilineal society. By this, land was owned by wives and passed to their daughters. A man dealt with land subject strictly to his duty to his wife and her kin. Therefore, in this system, heritage, titles and family name are handed down to the following generations through the females in the family. The traditions and customs still runs deep in the veins of the community. The Minangkabau society in Sumatra has continued to retain the custom where the man takes upon his wife's family name on the consummation of their marriage.

In the Minangkabau community, men are responsible for the welfare and heirlooms in the family but women have full rights to the family possessions. However, this does not in any way signify inequality in gender rights. The Adat Perpatih teaches a democratic system of conduct and thoughts. Both men and women are consulted during occasions to overcome obstacles and to provide solutions. The difference is that women are the heiresses of the family and they have rights to live in the family house or Rumah Gadang. The men, on the other hand are strongly urged to leave their mother's house at an early age as it is not proper to stay on. It is long thought that one reason for 'merantau' or the early migration of Minangkabau men was attributed to this custom. Young men would leave their village to far off lands seeking fame and fortune but still maintain a strong attachment to their village through monetary contributions.

Minangkabau influence in the architecture of houses found along the way to Kuala Pilah from Seremban

This economic shift has displaced farming as the main source of livelihood in some villages. It is also believed that traditional migration of young Minangkabau men was very much influenced by the need to gain status in 'an egalitarian society', a society where everyone is equal. However, as the matrilineal system is strongly rooted in an agrarian society, there is a great possibility that soon the customs and traditions of the Minangkabau will disappear as more and more men and women opt for employment in the cities and towns nearby. Many of the padi fields have been left abandoned and their importance in the matrilineal system of inheritance has become only of mere symbolic reasons. As men find work elsewhere, they are no longer dependent on their wives; and in their own homes, they can assert more authority than before. Some Muslims have preferred to relinquish their practice of certain aspects of Adat Perpatih which contradict with the Islamic law. Change is inevitable, but let's hope that even if change is for the better, there should always be space for the customs and traditions of the community to thrive and retain for their generations to come.

The Adat Perpatih is rich in culture and tradition, which is reflected in its music, dance and games such as Cak Limpong, Tumbuk Kalang and Dikir Rebana. These have survived the generations and are at the core of the peoples' lifestyles especially those in villages and agricultural regions.

The Legend of Minang Kerbau - the victorious buffalo

Another tangible influence of the Minangkabau settlers is the unique architectural style used in the structure of buildings. Minangkabau architecture is distinguished by their horn-shaped roofs. Before we delve any further into the Minangkabau architecture, perhaps it would make a little more sense to impart a little on the meaning of 'Minangkabau'.

It all began with the tales of a long and enduring war between the people of Sumatra and the Javanese, in Indonesia. The invaders struck hard but only to be fended off by local warriors over and over again. Finally the two warring factions decided on participating in a duel to end the war. The victorious would have full autonomy of the land. It was then agreed that the duel would not be between warriors as so would have been most sensible, but instead buffaloes were used to determine the destiny of Sumatra! On the day of the fight, the Javanese presented a most remarkable specimen of a bull. Its chest measured the width of four people, its haunches stood almost as high as two men and a set of long, pointed horns - gleaming in the sunlight. A formidable beast that no other can rival -or so it seemed. The defenders, however, brought with them a sorry sight; a tiny, scrawny suckling calf. As he was led into the rink, the trembling little calf let out a pathetic wail which induced a roar of laughter from the Javanese soldiers present to witness the easy victory over the defenders.

The Sumatrans apologised for not presenting a prized fighting bull that could rival the invaders', for the war had been hard on them and there were none left to be found anywhere on their homeland. Instead, they requested the Javanese to allow them to tie knives to the calf's head; just to even up the odds. The invaders agreed and so the fight commenced. The little calf was let free of its leash. As soon as it caught sight of the bull at the other end of the rink, the calf broke into a canter. Little did the Javanese know that the calf had been deprived of nourishment for a full seven days. On seeing the bull, the poor little delirious creature mistook the larger animal for its mother. As it rushed towards the bull, it ducked under the massive creature's belly and nuzzled for its teats. In so doing, the knives tied to the calf's head, plunged deep into the bull's chest, killing it instantly.

Men helped in spinning yarns and weaving and women helped till the land. Equality worked in the Minangkabau society.

The victorious Sumatrans won the fight and the rights to their land and the invaders instead returned to Java, head hung low, and in disbelief that they had lost their bet and their war. According to the legend, Sumatra remained a free land and the Majapahits from Java were defeated in the dramatic turn of events. In reality, the Javanese did invade and conquer Sumatra but the legend of 'Minang Kerbau' - the clash of the buffaloes stands true to the spirit of the Sumatrans…

The horn-shaped roof signifies the essence of the Minangkabau spirit and proud that they are of their heritage, the peoples have woven their legends and customs into all that becomes of them - their duty towards their ancestors, the environment, their descendants and themselves. This is their philosophy of life. Dotted around the countryside of Negri Sembilan, one can still find fine examples of the Minangkabau architecture especially along route 51 from Seremban to Kuala Pilah. Istana Ampang Tinggi is a good representation of Minangkabau architecture in Negri Sembilan.

Cities in Negeri Sembilan

Beaches in Negeri Sembilan

Rainforests in Negeri Sembilan

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Historical Sites in Negeri Sembilan