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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

Being guests at a wedding

My Ibu works as a traditional Javanese hair and makeup artist for weddings. Every weekend she wakes up at 4am and transforms a different bride into an ornate sparkling queen. Romina and I got to tag along last Sunday, we were welcomed and made part of the wedding!

We were greeted very enthusiastically and offered sweet tea, cake and peanut chips. We sat on bamboo mats in the communal room of the home and the women took turns getting their hair and makeup done. For the next few hours people were walking in and out of the room and bustling around. There was lots of chatter and jokes being made. We were asked our weight and other questions. We sat nibbling chips watching the women, trying to join in conversation with the little Indonesian we knew.

The brides hair was pulled back into a slick bun, wrapped in chains of jasmine flowers, and a crown with five sparkly bobbles (one for each pillar of Islam) was pinned to her head. My Ibu used black paint to draw spikes extending from her hairline to her forehead (photos below). Her skin was painted white and dramatic eye makeup applied. She wore a simple batik skirt and a red corset with a white sequined cape pinned on. The corset was so tight that her breathes were shallow. The ornament decoration on top of her head probably weighted around 2kg, and her high hills where two sizes too small. She seemed very uncomfortable, however her excitement and nervousness where palpable. She looked like the Javanese version of Wonder Women.

When the costume process was finally done she got up to leave and we all carried on chatting. Then my Ibu casually informed me that they were taking their vows if we wanted to go watch. We sprang up, grabbed our cameras, and went out to find the whole neighborhood gathered along the little streets in between houses, watching the ceremony. The aunt took us by the wrists and marched us passed all the neighbors, into the tent, down the aisle and to the front where the close family relatives sat. All this while the Imam (muslin priest) was reciting prayers. (We later learned that as he saw us come in he change from Javanese to Indonesian for our benefit, not that understood any of it!)

The ceremony was short. The father of the bride sat between the couple. Their passports were signed, the groom voice his concent, (the bride only nodded) and they found were married! The Imam thanked the guests for coming including the buleh (us, white foreigners), everyone laughed and looked our way.
We followed the other guests up to the stage to congratulate (soft handshake with all four hands, then a touch to the heart and a nod of the head) the newlyweds and parents. We were told to stay right there, and not to walk away because they wanted pictures. The photos were taken in various poses directed by the photographer and we said our goodbyes.

Romina and I were not even proper guests, only there with my Ibu the makeup artist, yet we were treated like the guests of honor. No on asked us if we knew the family or why we were here, they simply greeted us with kindness and enthusiasm.

I have seen this type of openness in so many was with the people we have met. When Peter and I were searching for walls on which to spray our street art neighbors happily agreed to let us use their homes and didn’t even inquire what the design would be. It is so different how people view private space and property here. Giving and sharing is a part of life.

We left the wedding at noon just as the gamelan music was turned on and the bounty of food brought out. The bride and groom were smiling and looked much calmer now. We walked out passed piles of gifts (fruit baskets, soaps, and a few roosters) and again shook the hands of the family members goodbye.