Saturday, April 18, 2009

Victorious water buffalo

West Sumatra is the home of the Minangkabau people. Their traditional houses have distinctive, peaked roofs that draw up the heat and pull in fresh air.

The pointy roofs also mimic water-buffalo horns, and that is no accident. The word Minangkabau comes from an old legend having to do with water buffalo.

Centuries ago, the story goes, a Javanese army attacked Sumatra. Somehow the local people convinced them to gamble the outcome of the battle on a buffalo fight. The Javanese brought in the biggest, meanest water buffalo they could find.

But the Sumatrans chose a baby water buffalo. They kept it from its mother for a few days until it was quite hungry, and then sharpened its horns so they were like razors. When the two animals met on the field of battle, the hungry juvenile ran under the adult and tried to suckle, stabbing the larger animal to death.

(Oh cute, clever little Sumatra! Oh big, stupid, bullying Java! is undoubtedly the subtext of the story, reflecting the age-old resentment many smaller tribes feel toward Indonesia's most populous and powerful ethnicity.)

The area became known as Alam Minangkabau, or World of the Victorious Water Buffalo. And so it remains today.

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