Javanese Wedding
on Solo Diaries (Indonesia), 25/Jun/2009 12:03, 34 days ago
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I had the sincere pleasure this past weekend of being part of a Javanese wedding. One of the expats here in Solo, Michael Micklem, was kind enough to invite me to his son’s wedding and even invited me to dress in traditional Javanese attire and be part of the procession; he knew it would be a very unique experience for a Canadian volunteer all alone in Solo. I felt like a bit of an intruder but Michael was insistent that weddings are very much open affairs in Java, and that I was completely welcome.Early in the morning I went to the hotel where his family was staying and was assisted by a local woman in dressing in the traditional attire. This involved donning a sarong, and then having it held in place by several layers of wrapping, extending from just below my armpits to my hips. I think I have an idea of how Victorian women felt, as this wrapping became tighter and tighter with each layer. It was like a corset, and I placated myself by thinking of the benefits to my abs. On top of this corset was placed a belt– which seemed superfluous to me until I realized it was to hold the Keris (pronounced ‘criss’), a traditional Javanese sword, in the back. Over that a jacket that buttons across the front and has a raised back (to show the Keris), a hat, the name of which escapes me, and leather slipper-likesandals. Finally dressed, I managed to catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror before heading out – very strange indeed!We then had the distinct pleasure of being transported to the ceremony in a horse and buggy procession. Michael had paid the drivers extra to take main streets rather than shortcuts– seeing white people in horse and buggy, dressed in traditional Javanese attire no less, was quite a treat for the locals. Everyone we passed was smiling and waving, calling out the standard ‘Hello Mister!’ We would wave back and say ‘hello!’ as they seem to get more of a kick out of it when we respond in English rather than Bahasa. Many of them would giggle, blush or hide their faces if we managed to make eye contact with them, as if we were celebrities of some sort.In standard operating procedure, the drivers (is that what you call someone in control of a horse& buggy?) did not know where we were going and we were quickly lost. Most taxi drivers, bus drivers, indeed anyone whose job it is to provide transport, gets lost at least once on the way to any destination. Stopping to ask for directions is commonplace, and because in Javanese culture you must not lose face (saying‘I don’t know’ is apparently the equivalent of saying ‘I’m a stupid moron and not worth the air I breathe’), people would helpfully give us directions whether they actually knew or not. I am completely acclimatized to this now, and it doesn’t phase me a bit. I know we’ll get there eventually, and nothing starts on time anyway.The ceremony itself was typically Javanese, with long, drawn-out speeches, procedures and process. The room (in a banquet hall, not a temple or mosque) was set up in such a way that the families were on opposing sides, facing each other, with the bride& groom in the middle with a number of officials. While sitting, each guest is given a snack in a little box and of course the standard ridiculously sweet tea. There were two microphones set up facing one another in the centre and both families were invited to their own microphones to make speeches, emotionless as always, as if they were reciting the world’s longest grocery list. The bride and groom signed documents in a flourish and presented their marriage certificates (which I actually thought were passports) for photos. Then the families lined up to present the couple with gifts. The gifts were arranged on the table in front of the couple for more photos – I imagine it’s impossible to ‘re-gift’ here as all the gifts at each wedding are thoroughly photo-documented.Afterwards, the bride and groom were led out– incidentally the bride’s sarong, though elaborate and beautiful, was so tight she could only move her feet a few inches at a time, and coupled with her elaborate high-heeled shoes, she needed assistance with each step, provided by her mother rather than her new husband – apparently the ceremony was not yet complete and they were not officially married.The guests mingled, and the crowd got larger and larger. The invitation specifically said ceremony at nine, reception to follow at ten. Around 10:30 is when most of the people began showing up. By 11:30, I was restless and bored, but the locals were again demonstrating to me their unique ability to just‘sit.’Finally the couple re-appeared, having changed into even more elaborate costume, and the bride with beautiful hair and makeup– tiny ornaments, bells, and flowers placed through her hair, and her forehead painted in such a way as to imply her hair was styled over it. They went through another ceremony, involving removing their shoes, stepping on offerings of flowers and bathing their feet in flower-petal infused water. This was no easy feat for the bride who practically needed to be lifted as she could not raise her foot high enough to plunge it into the water because of the constriction of her sarong. Finally it seemed to be over and the bride and groom took their place at the front of the room for photos.At this point the guests were fed, for some reason cake and sweets first, then soup, then a main meal. In Indonesia, the rice on any plate is usually shaped into a dome– it’s never just piled on the plate – its status always recognized. In this case, the rice was bright orange and shaped into a tallcone, the first time I had seen this particular style. This was all followed by durian-flavoured ice cream (most unfortunate as I would have really enjoyed ice cream). While we ate, group after group of people went up front to have their photos taken with the happy couple. I believe I have mentioned that the Javanese typically do not smile in pictures– everyone looks very stoic and serious, perhaps to give weight to the seriousness of the ceremony? Finally it was over – all told it was six hours – and we were back in the horse and buggy, bound for the hotel.By now the sun had passed its apex; the day was stiflingly hot– I estimate it was probably 33 or 34 degrees Celsius, and I could not wait to unwrap. School had let out for the day (yes six days a week in Indonesia) and the average age of the people on the street had dropped to about 16. I noticed immediately that the younger generation was not nearly as happy to see the white people dressed up in horse and buggy. We were much less enthusiastically welcomed, instead met with stares of at best indifference, and at worst, hostility.Finally we reached the hotel. I was graciously invited to change in one of the wedding guests’ rooms and was soon on my way back home, unfortunately drenched in sweat from the elaborate wrapping. I had planned to visit the gym, but instead crashed on my bed, asleep in seconds, exhausted as always after an Indonesian ceremony, all of which have a truly unique ability to suck the life out of you. I am so very grateful for this opportunity to experience an important part of Javanese culture, but I will never again complain about a Christian wedding ceremony.