Today I’m returning to my series on Indonesian women. I’ve decided to call the woman I’m highlighting today—Wanda (not her real name).
Wanda is a young 21-year-old Muslim woman with a son my own son’s age. We’ve both enjoyed seeing our kids grow and develop at about the same pace. I hope they can continue to be each other’s friends as they grow up.
Wanda was arranged in a marriage to her distant cousin—a guy she never met before a few weeks before her wedding. There is a belief in her ethnic group that a woman should NOT refuse a marriage proposal because it is believed that the woman will never get another one and will end up an old maid. So, she accepted.
Before she got married, she lived on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. But now she lives on the island of Tarakan-where I live—in a house with her parents-in-law. She is young, and a bit timid, especially when it comes to her relationship with her in-laws. Her husband has a job that takes him out of the home about half of the time. Wanda rarely leaves the house and never does anything to exert her own independence or desires. To my western eyes, she looks like she’s a bit in prison there in that house—without the freedom to come and go as she pleases. But I know she’s trying to do her best to show respect where it is expected in this culture.
Recently, she changed the name of her son at the urging of her younger sister-in-law, who said the original name was not a good name for him. Again, this looked a bit odd and uncomfortable from my perspective. But I’ve learned that changing names is rather common in certain Indonesian ethnic groups. It’s important to Indonesians to have a name that completely fits—that isn’t too grand or too lowly—as it is believed to influence the fate of one’s life. If someone has a name that is too grand, that person could end up failing in life because they can never reach the potential of that name. If it’s too lowly, the name could hold them down.
So, now I just need to remember to call her son by his new name.
I look forward to spending more time with Wanda to better understand her life and her heart.