Life Among the Minangkabau of Indonesia
Peggy Reeves Sanday



Few Americans can revel in the return to their natal homes. We are alienated from our ancestral roots, wanderers searching for fame and fortune. The Minangkabau also wander far from home in search of a living. However, ancestral values remain at the apex of their culture drawing them home several times a year. Their arrangement of grounding mothering in the land gives a transgenerational solidity to memories of the past and ensures the cultural importance of all things attached to the cycle of life flowing from one generation to the next, particularly birth, marriage, and bearing children.

The Minangkabau have a saying which expresses deep attachment to their ancestral village.

Even if it rains gold in other lands
And it rains stone in mine
I will always return to my beloved village.
Every year when my plane hovers over the main airport in West Sumatra and I see the upswing of the buffalo-horned shaped roof tops of the matrilineal households I understand how the Minangkabau feel when they return to their mother’s village.

I am proud that my name is a part of Eggi’s matrilineal line. I hope that I have been a positive influence in her village. Perhaps my sheer pleasure in their customs will help her generation preserve the richness of Minangkabau culture despite the onslaught of Western culture. Some day I hope that Eggi herself will visit me here, bringing with her knowledge of Minangkabau customs. Perhaps this will happen when I am too old to go back to her village and she is old enough to visit mine. One thing I know for sure. Eggi and her family will always have a home with me just as I and my descendants will always find a home in their village.

The story of my involvement with Eggi’s family–a story that links up two lines of women and their descendants–is not uncommon in Minangkabau social life. Women can take up residence in a village and after undergoing the proper ceremonies and payments become formally incorporated into one of the matrilineal clans embracing the rights, duties, and responsibilities of clan membership. In a sense this happened to me when Eggi was named after me and I built an addition on to one of the houses associated with Eggi’s matrilineal clan. However, I never underwent the formal ceremony associated with being adopted into a clan.