Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Mentawaians live on the Mentawai archipelago that forms part of a chain of non-volcanic islands that are in Sumatra, Indonesia. There are four large islands in the group: Siberut, Sipora, and North and South Pagai. Until recently the islands were covered with dense, tropical rainforest.The landscape is hilly and interrupted by wide valleys. The Mentawai language is in the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian family. Mentawaian households are self-sufficient, cultivating sago, taro, yams, other vegetables, and fruit. They also raise chickens and pigs. The highest political group is the local patrilineage.


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Asia --Southeast Asia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Mentawaians file consists of 14 documents, 13 in English and one in German.These works deal with the ethnography of the inhabitants of the North and South Pagai Islands (probably the Poggy or Nassau Islands mentioned by Crisp)-- the Sakalagan or "people of the village", as well as the Sakalelegan or Sakoban of Sipora, and the Sakkudei (Sakuddei) people of Siberut. Loeb, Nooy-Palm, Wallace, and Crisp all focus their ethnographic works on the Pagai Islands and Sipora, while Schefold concentrates his studies on Siberut Island and the Sakkudei (Sakuddei) people. Although there is no single comprehensive work to cover all of the Mentawei Islands in this file, the documents by Crisp (1799, no. 1), Nooy-Palm (1968 reprint, no. 3), and Loeb (1929, 1928, nos. 2 and 5), do provide some general ethnographic coverage for the Pagai Islands and Sipora, comparably matched by Schefold's studies on Siberut Island (Schefold, 1982, 1988, 1980, 1986, nos. 6, 10, 14, and 15). Various aspects of Mentawaian religion forms a predominant theme in many of the works in this file, and are given particular attention in Loeb (1929, 1929, nos. 4 and 9), and Schefold (1982, 1988, 1976, 1980, nos. 6, 10, 12, and 13). Schefold's major work (Schefold, 1988, no. 10), in German, presents a highly detailed account of the PULIAIJAT ceremony of the Sakkkudei people. This document, although not translated into English, has been indexed for the appropriate OCM Identifiers according to subject matter. The study by Crisp is also of particular interest since it is one of the earliest records of contact between European and traditional Mentawaian cultures observed at the end of the eighteenth century.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

The Mentawaian culture summary was written by Reimar Schefold in September 1999. Reimar Schefold also provided many of the bibliographic suggestions used in compiling this file. The synopsis and indexing notes were written by John Beierle in May 2000.

Overview by

John Beierle

ABAK -- a dugout canoe -- category 501

BADJOU -- a type of radiation emitted by everything that has a soul -- category 774

BAGUNANS -- boasting stakes -- category 211

KERE -- supernatural power -- category 778

KETSAT (SANITU) -- souls of the dead -- category 775

KINA -- spirits of animate and inanimate objects (e.g., sacred objects) -- category 774

KUDDUAT PUNEN -- sacred knowledge -- category 778

LAGGAI (LANGGAI) -- the village -- category 621

LALEP -- family house -- category 342

LIA -- a family festival of short duration ending with a chicken sacrifice -- categories 782, 796, sometimes 852

MAGIRI -- the act of washing one's hair before a PUNEN ceremony -- category 783, 302

MUNTOGAT -- 25 exogamous patrilineal clans, divided into smaller units or households forming part of the UMA -- category 614

PANANAE -- a sorcerer -- category 754

PITTO -- a spirit that arises from the body of the dead -- category 775

PULIAIJAT -- the major religious ritual on Siberut -- category 796

PUMANDIAT -- a preliminary or trial form of marriage -- category 583

PUNEN -- a major religious festival in the Pagai Islands -- category 796

PUNEN PUENEGETAT -- the initiation of a new member of the UMA -- categories 621, 796, 592

RIMATA -- the priest of the UMA -- category 793

RUSUK -- a house used by single men and women -- category 342

SABULUNGAN -- the personal guardian spirits of shamans -- category 776

SAMUNTOGAT -- principal clans -- category 614

SIBAKKAT LAGGAI -- descendants of the founders of the village; also landholders -- categories 614, 621

SIKAUTE LULAK -- a substitute for a RIMATA in a ceremony -- category 793

SIKEREI -- the shaman -- category 756

SILIMEN -- a sacral meal made of cooked liver and taro -- categories 264, 778

SIMAGERE -- souls of the living -- category 774

SIPANANAE -- a witch -- category 754

TADROAT -- fetish sticks or omens -- category 787

TAITOI (sing. SITOI) -- newcomers to a village -- category 621

TEETEE -- tattooing -- category 304

UKUI -- the house father or head of the household -- category 592

UMA -- as a physical structure, categories 342, 345, 346; as a social unit, categories 621, 614, 596

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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