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Wedding Rituals

Across the archipelago of Indonesia wedding rituals vary from island to island and dependant on the religion of the future wedded couple. In western society, man meets woman, they go out and do the usual (work it out for yourself!), become engaged and finally marry. In the case of my wife and I tying the knot it was rather frustrating from a westerners point of view. Take into consideration that this was during the period of the Soeharto regime when Bhuddism was not a recognised religion in Indonesia. Yes, you guessed it, my wife was a Bhuddist and, to complicate things even further, she was Indonesian born of Chinese descent. Not only that, my wife was from a very old Chinese lineage and therefore strict adherence to marital rituals had to be observed. As a westerner and a fairly laid-back guy, I respected this ‘process’. For our first year of courting we were chaperoned and I can still recall quite clearly sitting I the parlor at my wife’s parents place and having to have a member of the family present.

This went on for a year or two more and then we decided to become engaged. The cost of the family get-together [and it was a large family] was the responsibility family itself even though I offered to foot the bill. The elaborate party consisted off virtually being vetted by every member unbeknown to me. Fortunately I passed with flying colours. When the situation of a marriage date was discussed some three years later, this too was taken out of my hands and placed into those of a Bhuddist monk. He wanted to know the ins-and-outs of my life, what I liked and so on. All the preparations for the wedding were not our responsibility but that of a go-between – a man who organised everything. Here is where I came into play and then it was only for paying out what was needed to be done so the marriage could go ahead.

As a Christian-westerner I naturally converted to the Bhuddist religion so that we could be married in a Bhuddist Vihara and this I agreed to out of respect for my wife and her family [and yes, I am still a Bhuddist]. The simple ceremony took less than half an hour with the usual blessings. That night a large party was held in an expensive restaurant and the 50 or so guests we invited turned into 350. Yes, I footed the bill!.

As I mentioned before, our marriage took place during the Soeharto regime and subsequently our marriage was not recognised by the government. We were married but not married!. So, a further few months past with the go-between who eventually organised a simple Javanese ceremony with a Catatan Sipil at some added cost to me. It’s not many people who can say they have been married twice to the same girl in the same year, and, we have two marriage certificates.

I was reading this article in the Jakarta Post today and as you will see, there are some unusual wedding rituals:

Taking a peep at traditional wedding rituals

With various ethnic groups in the Indonesian archipelago, there are manifold cultural differences, including in wedding ceremonies. They have their own uniqueness, respectively revealing the philosophy of marriage as an important part of human life.

In a traditional Sundanese wedding ritual, one day prior to the wedding, the groom’s family visits the bride’s family to become fully acquainted with the prospective daughter-in-law. This event is called ngeuyeuk seureuh.

Beforehand, the bride-to-be has a siraman (bridal shower). Her parents and relatives shower her with petal-filled water. The number of flowers used is usually seven. Then, someone removes the hairs from her face and nape.

In ngeuyeuk seureuh, various things are used as symbols to welcome guests. One example is a container filled with betel leaves. The groom and bride-to-be are asked to chew the leaf mixed with gambier, lime and areca nut.

On the day before the marriage vows are exchanged, the groom wears Sundanese traditional wedding attire and his family are greeted with a pencak silat dance performed by young women dancers.

Having officially become husband and wife, they then perform nincak endog. In this ceremony the husband steps on an egg, which the wife then wipes from his foot as a symbol of her loyalty to her husband.

The wedding ritual found in Tanah Datar-Lintau in West Sumatra is also interesting. After taking his vows at a mosque, the groom, called marapulai, accompanied by his parents and relatives, goes to the bride’s house. Along the way, Talempong music -music resembling Javanese gamelanis played.

Arriving at the bride’s house, the marapulai is greeted by dancers, and then the two families recite pantun, traditional poetry having two couplets in each verse. The main message is the bride’s family welcomes the groom and accepts him as a new member of the family.

In the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, the first thing done is to give the bride’s family a complete set of groom’s clothes, dowry, money (ang pau) and two candles wrapped in red paper. The two families then choose an auspicious day and month for the wedding. The Chinese believe that every event has an auspicious day and month. If the hour, day and month are not appropriate, then the marriage will not go smoothly.

Three to seven days before the marriage, there is an event called memajang (showing off). The groom’s family visits the bride’s house to decorate the bedroom for bride and groom. The dowry must be laid out on the bed. A party is held after that, but the groom may not see the bride until the wedding day.

Hamzah Puadi Ilyas