Visitors to Indonesia in the month following the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan might be forgiven for thinking the whole country has gone marriage crazy.
These thoughts are only half incorrect as following the fasting month, in which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and smoking, as well as emotional actions such as open signs of affection or anger between sunrise and sunset, is peak wedding time throughout the country.
Almost immediately after the Idul Fitri celebrations that mark the end of the fasting period are over young couples free of the restrictions Ramadan places on them use every available opportunity to marry their loved ones.
For tourists to Indonesia the ‚Äúwedding month‚Äù provide an excellent opportunity to gain an insight into the various traditions and culture of Indonesia and its people as the wedding ceremonies differ throughout the country depending on ethnicity of the region.
Irrespective though of ethnicity or region, all Indonesian wedding ceremonies are colourful, elaborate and full of festive goodwill.
Tourists should therefore not be surprised if they are invited to join in the wedding celebrations and even asked to have their photographs taken with the bride, groom, family members or other guests.
In Lombok with its mix of Sasak (Lombok‚Äôs indigenous inhabitants) and Hindu populations and cultures, it‚Äôs not unusual to come across half a dozen or more wedding parties on the same day.
This is especially the case if the Hindu calendar denotes a specific day as being particularly lucky for marriages.
While Indonesia is home to the world‚Äôs largest Muslim community, its population blends the Islamic wedding ceremony with the rituals, traditions and cultures of each regions indigenous population.
In Lombok the initial Islamic wedding ceremony is usually held within three days of the bride being ‚Äúabducted‚Äù from the home of her parents.
The ‚Äútheft‚Äù of the bride is a modern adaptation of an ancient ritual forming part of the Sasak wedding ceremony.
In pest era‚Äôs when arranged family marriages were common, woman were literally stolen from their village if a suitor from another village wanted to marry a woman and the woman‚Äôs family did not agree.
Nowadays the ‚Äútheft‚Äù of the bride by the groom and his friends is supposed to signify that the woman is so valuable that she has to be ‚Äústolen‚Äù away from her parents.
Once the bride is ‚Äúcaptured‚Äù she is usually kept at the home of the potential grooms‚Äô family and the head of the grooms village notified. He in turn notifies the head of the brides village who in turn notifies the family of the bride.
While most times the family of the bride is well aware of the plans by their daughter to marry ahead of her ‚Äúabduction‚Äù, elopements are not unusual.
In rare occasions where the family of the bride disagree with the potential groom problems and fights between villages can occur if the friends and the family of the bride try to steal her back.
However in most cases the brides family agrees and a delegation from the family of the brides family meet with the grooms family to make the arrangements and discuss the dowry to be paid to the bride, though has usually been agreed in advance.
Barring any problems the Muslim wedding ceremony, called Akat Nikah, is held at the local mosque and this is followed by the traditional Sasak Nyongkoi ceremony.
For visitors it is the Nyongkoi which provides the opportunity for colourful photographs as the bride and groom, along with their families, extended families, friends and the obligatory gamelan music troupe, all attired in traditional Sasak dress, make a procession through the streets to the home of the bride‚Äôs family.
To the sound of drums, cymbals and electric keyboards and singers, amplified over a portable loudspeaker, the procession winds its way through the streets to the home of the bride.
The female family and friends of the bride and groom, as well as the bride, lead the procession, followed by the male family and friends of the groom and the groom, with the music troupe bringing up the rear.
Both the bride and groom walk beneath tall, colourful Balinese umbrella‚Äôs ‚Äì a legacy of when the Balinese monarchy ruled Lombok.
The Balinese legacy is also reflected in the headdress of the bride and groom, along with the design of much of the traditional Sasak clothing.
While Sasak wedding receptions can end rather quickly and often take place in the afternoon, wedding receptions in Java tend to be in the evening and can run until quite late at night.
For tourists who may be invited to attend an Indonesian wedding reception, it is best to take the lead from other guests and keep a close eye on what is happening as one minute you can be amongst a group of hundreds, and ten minutes later only a few dozen people remain.
While tourists might feel somewhat uncomfortable being invited to a strangers wedding, the hosts will generally do as much as they can to make visitors feel at home.
While language might be a difficult barrier in some areas, people will practice what English they know in an attempt to put visitors at ease.
And don‚Äôt feel embarrassed at not having brought a gift. Throughout Indonesia it is not usual for those attending a wedding reception to purchase gifts to present to the bride and groom. As in other parts of Asia the appropriate gift is an envelope with money.
For tourists who are unexpectedly invited to a wedding not having an envelope on hand will not be viewed with disappointment.
A request to any of your hosts will usually result in an envelope being found if you want to make a contribution to the future of the bride and groom, with anything between Rp20,000 and Rp50,000 (US$2 to $5.00) per person being appropriate.
The hospitality of Indonesian people is greatly underestimated by many who only visit the tourist areas and it is during festive periods such as weddings that the true culture of Indonesia comes to the surface.
Tourists lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time should not be reluctant to accept offers to participate when invited to do so.
¬© John Le Fevre, 2006
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Indonesia, Lombok, Tourism/travel, Mataram, Indonesia tourism, Indonesian travel, Indonesian wedding ceremony, Idul Fitri, Sasak ceremony, Muslim wedding ceremony, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Akat Nikah ceremony
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