Life Cycle

Life Among the Minangkabau of Indonesia
Peggy Reeves Sanday


wEggisVillagebl (1)Eggi’s Life Cycle

By returning repeatedly to one village and living with one family almost every year from 1981 to 1997, I developed a relationship of unusual intimacy with four generations of women from the same matrilineage in Eggi’s village. One of these women, Ibu Idar, was my hostess, in whose house I lived and who cooked my meals. Ibu Idar was the first to introduce me to the rich lore of ancestors, ghosts, and village spirits. With her agreement, I renovated parts of her house and built two rooms for my living quarters.

Ibu Idar’s niece, Wik, came to live in the house in 1987. Pregnant with her second child, the flimsy hut where she lived with her husband near the family’s rice fields had just burned down. Ibu Idar brought her to the house for several reasons. Ibu Idar was getting older and needed the help of the younger woman. It is quite common for a younger woman to look after an older woman of her matrilineal clan. Usually the daughter performs this task, but Ibu Idar’s daughter lived far away in eastern Sumatra. Wik also needed the stability that living with Ibu Idar could provide.

Eggi was born soon after on my birthday. Although born while I was in the village, the child was not named until after I left to return to Philadelphia. The family chose to name her after me as a way of keeping me there, Wik explained the following summer.

“We are always sad when you leave,” she said. “This way, even after you leave someone will always answer when we call your name.”

At first the family told me that they named her Eggi, not Peggi, in case I might be offended by the use of my name. I wasn’t at all offended. How many anthropologists can claim to have left their name behind? I thought. By incorporating my name into their matrilineal line, the family made me one of them. For me this was the highest honor they could have bestowed.

When Eggi entered school at age six, she was given my full name for report cards and writing on her papers. When I saw how she spelled her name– Peggi Sandi–I realized that her family had never seen my name in writing.