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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

A Javanese Wedding

My homestay brother got MARRIED during my last week in Yogyakarta! Actually, it was over my last two weeks, as that’s how long the wedding took—two full weekends of Javanese courting procedures, Islamic ceremonies, festivals, Dangdut (highly repetitive yet even more highly popular Indonesian dance music), water boxes (like juice boxes, typical for a country without potable tap water), costumes, and makeup. (Just to be clear, I did NOT wear any makeup.) My brother is named Fatur; he is 25 and works at a local post office. His bride (now wife) is named Rachma. The marriage was semi-arranged, as Fatur and Rachma knew each other before the proposal, but their families ultimately sealed the deal. The official wedding ceremony took place in Rachma’s home village, far outside the city, where she was born and grew up, even though she lives in Jogja now. The night before the wedding, my homestay family and I with about 12 of Fatur’s best friends, along with extended family, took the five-hour trip into the countryside. Our car was completely full of gifts for the bride—I held on my lap two boxes, one of which held some shampoo and perfume, and the other of which turned out to contain the wedding ring (why they gave it to me I’m still not sure…) On cue, we showed up to Rachma’s house at 8 P.M. and entered single-file, strategic order, all carrying gifts, which we laid at the feet of her family. In turn, Rachma’s family had prepared a fine array of food which they offered to us for dinner; this included a large plate of beef (very expensive in Indonesia). Yet we couldn’t eat yet—the negotiation and proposal were on! My homestay brother and his uncle sat in the front of a bunch of chairs facing Rachma’s family. The uncle then launched into a speech in high (formal) Javanese, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to bring the families together and Fatur’s intention to marry Rachma. (My homestay father was unable to make this speech/proposal as his formal Javanese is poor, and this kind of language must be used in a ceremony as important as this). Everyone already knew much of what was going to be said, and that Fatur and Rachma had planned to marry for nearly a year; it was mostly a formality. However, one big question hung in the air: Would Rachma say yes? Although Fatur had unofficially asked for her hand in marriage a year before with the families present, this was the real deal. After the formal proposal was made, Rachma’s uncle (pictured below) hurried into a side room and quickly reemerged with a grin: “She said ‘Yes’!” Everyone on my side of the room (and probably on the other side too) let out a big sigh of relief. In Javanese-Islamic marriage ceremonies, the woman retains the full option of rejecting the official proposal that always occurs on the day before the marriage. No shame or embarrassment for the woman accompanies such a rejection, either—if Rachma had said no, we simply would have picked up our gifts and gone back home. Luckily, she accepted.

My homestay brother on the left and his uncle on the right, with Rachma’s family across the room. The primary negotiations took place between the uncle representing my homestay brother and Rachma’s uncle. Notice the gifts in the middle.

The next day the wedding ceremony took place in a mosque. This time, the primary “negotiations” were between Rachma’s father and my homestay brother. Although Javanese (the language of culture) was used on the night prior, this time Arabic (the language of religion) was used heavily. My homestay brother sat at a table next to Rachma’s dad, with an imam (Muslim religious leader) across the table. A number of paper contracts lay between them. Rachma came in as the ceremony was beginning and sat silently behind Fatur, who never looked at her until the ceremony was completed. In Islam under sharia law, a father has the ability to sell off his daughter to be married to a man without the daughter’s consent. Although this kind of marriage rarely (if at all) happens in Java today, the formal practice of a negotiation between the man and the woman’s father is retained in the wedding ceremony.

The wedding took place in a mosque, with the two families fanned out in a circle behind the negotiation table.

Following the wedding was a large party with an emcee and Dangdut singer outside of the bride’s house—Javanese wedding parties usually take place outside the house of one of the families. After it finished, my homestay family and I returned home minus one member: my homestay brother, who stayed behind to spend the with his new wife. Although we didn’t expect to see him until the following weekend for my homestay family’s own wedding celebration, Fatur showed up the next night to sleep at our house! I told him to go back home to his new wife, but he said he wanted to hang out with me and Syafiq, my other homestay brother. Pretty soon we were sitting on the blue sleeping pads of our living room and laughing at Indonesian late-night comedy, just like old times, as if nothing had happened.

The next weekend was my homestay family’s side of the party. On Saturday, there was a continuous celebration at our home from 9 A.M. until 11 at night. People came and went to eat and chat; funnily enough, few people seemed to talk to my homestay brother or even my homestay parents outside of a formal greeting, but mainly just talked among themselves or with other friends at the party. The next morning, Sunday, was the official party, which took place in a large room resembling a gym at the local private Muslim high school. This was the last weekend in Jogja for us Princeton students and akin to my Bridge Year group’s “prom,” as all of my Bridge Year friends and instructors attended, and we all got dressed up in formal Javanese wedding gear. (If it doesn’t look comfortable, it’s because it isn’t.) But we all had a fantastic time. My homestay family was so excited to have 7 bules (a sometimes endearing, sometimes negative Indonesian word for a Western foreigner) attending that they assigned us as official wedding greeters to shake the hands of the 500 guests who filed in to Indonesian covers of recent American pop songs (Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”, anybody?) played by a live band. Something interesting about Indonesian weddings—almost the entire village attends; it is much more a neighborhood/community affair than my experiences with weddings in the United States. My homestay family and I (with my brother’s wife!) are pictured below in full regalia and makeup.

And yes, I had a Javanese dagger strapped to my back the whole time.