New Internationalist

Our Buffalo Wins

October 1982

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INDONESIA [image, unknown] Indonesian folklore

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Illustrations: Clive Offley

Minangkabau - our buffalo wins
Indonesian folklore frequently centres around the victory of the weak and oppressed over the brutal and the strong; the little people over the big; the good over the bad. The story of Minangkabau parables the conquest over the raw might of an oppressor by the guile of the oppressed.

For hundreds of years the roofs of the houses in West Sumatra have symbolised buffalo horns. 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 them why their houses are built this way, they will tell you this story:

ABOUT 600 years ago the King of Java sent a message to the people of West Sumatra. He said he was now the ruler of all the green islands and soon would be taking their land. They would be wise to surrender, he said.

Illustrations: Clive Offley
Illustrations: Clive Offley

The people were greatly alarmed and their leaders hurriedly met to consider the danger. ‘We must do all we can to avoid war,’ said one, ‘because if there is a battle, think of the death and destruction.

There were many ideas before one was accepted which all the people thought would be their best chance to defeat the enemy. They proposed to the King of Java that each side, instead of fighting, should bring a buffalo to the field of battle. The buffaloes would fight each other. If the king’s buffalo won then the people of West Sumatra would become his subjects; if the other buffalo won the Javanese king would make no further attempt to conquer them. The king agreed to their proposal.

The king sent his men to search for the finest buffalo in the land. When they found it they took it to their camp in West Sumatra. And when the people of West Sumatra saw it their hearts fell: such a buffalo as this they had never seen in their lives. It was so strong and so fine. What could they do against it?

They met again. We are lost’ they lamented. ‘Never will we be able to find a buffalo able to win over this mighty buffalo of the enemy. New ideas were suggested and discarded. Then one villager had an idea. There was a buffalo calf in the village. It was decided to take it away from its mother. The villagers fastened sharp pieces of iron on the tips of the calf's waited three days and then sent a message to the King to say they were ready for battle.

Next morning, the king’s men brought their mighty beast to the battlefield. The villagers led their little calf, midst derisive laughter from the king’s soldiers, to meet its enemy.

The West Sumatrans said nothing.They waited until every ththing was quiet and then one of their leaders said 'Ready' and the little calf was let loose. At the same tii their buffalo. For a moment nothing happened.

Then the calf began to run. Having bee n kept from its mother for three days. it was very hungry. It ran slight to the big buffalo, which looked just like its mother. into its underside in search of milk.

The sharp, pointed pieces of iron ripped into the big buffalo's belly. With a roar of agony, the great beast began to run across the battlefield. The little calf ran after it,

The big buffalo ran with ever greater difficulty, blood bouring from its wounds. Then it fell and a great si people of West Sumatra: ‘Minangkabau. buffalo wins, the buffalo is victorious!’

The king and his soldiers said not a word then they quietly left the battlefield. The villagers put a wreath of flowers around the neck of the little buffalo calf and led it to its mother.

The people of West Sumatra were still free and that is why the houses and headdresses of the people are made to look like buffalo horns and why their land is called Minangkabau.

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Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 116 This feature was published in the October 1982 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 116

New Internationalist Magazine issue 116
Issue 116

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