Procrastination time! I have a report to write that I don’t really want to start on yet, so instead I figured I would write about Indonesian weddings. We attended one with the volunteers last week, and they are setting up for another wedding on our street today, so I figure this is a timely post. The house down the street is especially interesting because they have set up some elaborate decorations made of young coconut leaves, which is a Javanese tradition signalling that a wedding will soon occur. In fact, in some parts of Indonesia unmarried women are commonly asked, “Kapan janur kuningnya?” which literally translated means “When will you raise yellow coconut leaves?” (aka, when are you getting married). Most Indonesians get married quite young, so from what I can gather anyone over the age of about 22 that is belum menikah (not married yet!) gets asked something along these lines fairly often.
I’ve been to 3 weddings here now, and I think they’re really fun. As Westerners we often get invited to weddings for people that we barely- or just flat out don’t- know; the last wedding I went to was for the niece of one of our local staff members. None of us had ever met her, but we were invited with open arms. The more people you have at your wedding the better, and it was important that we attended to show our support for our field assistant’s family. It was also an interesting cultural experience for the volunteers, because Indonesian weddings, regardless of whether they are Muslim or Christian events, are quite different from our Western weddings. Case in point: this particular wedding started at 8 am, and we were invited to the reception from 9 am-noon. Now when I say weddings are really fun, I mean they’re fun for everyone except the bride and groom. Their main responsibility for the day is to stand in one room, which has been elaborately decorated for the event, while all of the wedding guests file in to say congratulations and have their picture taken with the couple. They literally do this all day, while a) standing stiffly next to each other without much touching or smiling, because expressing affection in public is against the conservative Indonesian cultural norms, and b) wearing stifling hot clothes in the Indonesian heat. Women wear modest, sleeved wedding dresses, and if they are Muslim wear their hair entirely covered, and the men wear long dark suits.
While the bride and groom pose for pictures, the rest of the guests are invited to help themselves to food and drinks (water or juice only, of course). Guests can come and go as they please, there are no sit down meals or endless speeches to listen to, although there are usually a singer and keyboard player to entertain the crowd. They are also not expected to give big gifts; a simple envelope with a bit of money is the norm. As the only bule (white people) faces in the crowd we are also usually obliged to pose for what seem like endless photos, the majority of which are taken on people’s mobile phones instead of a proper camera. I always wonder what people do with these photos… I think they probably show them to their friends to prove that they have, indeed, seen white people! It’s fun for the first 60 photos and then the “celebrity” treatment gets a little old, but it’s also nice because people always come up and talk with us about where we’re from (Amerika? OBAMA!!! is the typical reaction I get), and our time in Indonesia. Everyone is extraordinarily well-meaning and polite, even when they are trying to coax us up on stage to sign or dance with the band. And, of course, the kids are really cute and giggly about talking with white people.
All in all, Indonesian weddings get two thumbs up. In fact, I’m thinking about walking down the street around lunchtime today to see if I can go to another one!