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ETHNONYMS: Orang Madura, Tijang Madura, Wong Madura


Most of the Muslim Madurese are dispersed from their home island of Madura, located off the east coast of Java. Some live in the nearby archipelagoes of Sapudi and Kangean, but nearly 8 million of the total 10.9 million Madura population live elsewhere in Indonesia (this article refers to Madurese living on Madura). The Madurese language is Austronesian, closely related to Javanese, and has two main dialects.

History and Cultural Relations

Madurese history has often been linked to that of Java. Fourteenth-century Madurese belonged to the Javanese Majapahit Empire before gaining independence. The arrival of Islam in the sixteenth century led the Madurese to develop a state organization, before they became a part of the Javanese empire of Mataram. They rebelled against the Javanese in the seventeenth century but later came under the rule of the Dutch. Presently they are governed by Indonesia.


The vast majority of Madurese living in Madura reside in hamlets created as administrative units, rather than being organized by kinship or indigenous political units. Each hamlet may consist of between five and fifteen compounds, which are dispersed over farmland.


Unlike Java, Madura is troubled by low rainfall and poor soils. Because of the aridity, rice may be grown only once a year. For the same reason, Madurese emphasize livestock production; they raise sheep, goats, and especially cattle, some of the latter for export to Java. Further, population pressure results in small landholdings, and therefore many Madurese must work as traders and handicraft producers. Many also are fishermen, using outrigger canoes and large nets. Women work as traders and as laborers for wealthy farmers. Land is owned individually, but most villages also set aside communal land and land used to support village headmen.


Madurese reckon kinship bilaterally. Both nuclear and extended families constitute the basic units of society.

Marriage and Family

Polygyny is allowed by Islamic law, but it is a rare man (usually a village official) who can afford to practice it. Marriage with one's first or second cousin is preferred. Marriage proposals are made by the groom's parents and include gifts. If the proposal is accepted, a bride-price including cattle is given, and the groom's parents set the date of the wedding. Wedding is by Madurese custom, but includes a Muslim religious teacher (kiyai ). The ideal of postmarital residence is neolocal, but few newlywed couples can afford to live independently and so usually live with the bride's family. After a divorce, the property of the couple is divided by agreement. One of a couple's daughters lives permanently in her parents' house and takes care of them as they age; when they die, she inherits their house. Prior to their deaths, parents convey some of their property, including land and cattle, to their children. After death, children receive equal shares of the remaining property, in violation of Islamic law.

Sociopolitical Organization

The Madurese nobility has disappeared after centuries of foreign domination. Presently there are formal leaders, members of the village councils, as well as informal leaders, including Islamic clergy like the kiyai. The kiyai educates the children and advises adults. The authority of both types of leader depends on their ability to gain the respect of the people. Formal leaders tend to have less authority than the informal Islamic leaders; this was reflected in the 1971 elections, in which 67 percent of the Madura vote went to Nahdatul Ulama, the orthodox Islamic political party.

Blood revenge is a feature of Madurese life, especially when adultery, cattle theft, and public loss of face are involved. This is done through the practice of carok, in which the victim is attacked from behind with a sickle-shaped knife. The carok attack is usually fatal, and one common result of a successful attack is a blood feud between the families of the parties involved. To avoid a carok attack, one may consult a kiyai.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Most Madurese are at least nominally Sunni Muslims of the Shafi school (though a small number have converted to Christianity). They pray five times daily, pay their zakat (tithe), fast during the month of Ramadan, and celebrate the Islamic holidays of Maulud and Id al-fitr (during the latter of which they visit the graves of their dead relatives). Making the pilgrimage to Mecca brings an increase in social status. The modern reform movement, Muhammadiya, which strives for adherence to the Quran and the cessation of ancestor worship, has few, if any, supporters outside the capital cities.

Madurese religion, however, is also highly syncretistic. Communal sacred meals (kenduri ) are used when changes in life occur, for good luck. Madurese people are also known for their bullfights and bull races, during which contestants use sorcery and magic to gain an advantage over their rivals.


Touwen-Bouwsma, Elly (1984). "Madurese." In Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, edited by Richard V. Weekes, 458-462. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.


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