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. Following a month of fasting and controlling emotional actions such as open signs of affection or anger between sunrise and sunset Indonesians are in the mood to get on with life with marriage top of the agenda.
For tourists to Indonesia the “wedding month” provides an opportunity to gain an insight into the various traditions and culture of Indonesia and its people, with Indonesian wedding ceremonies differing throughout the country, depending on ethnicity.
Irrespective, all Indonesian wedding ceremonies are colourful and elaborate affairs, full of festive goodwill, while the absence of alcohol ensure all guests stay on their best behavior.
Unwitting wedding guests
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’s indigenous inhabitants) and Hindu populations and cultures it is 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’s 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 “abducted” from the home of her parents, a modern adaptation of an ancient ritual forming part of the Sasak wedding ceremony.
In past era’s 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 her family did not agree.
Nowadays the ‘theft” of the bride by the groom and his friends is supposed to signify that the woman is so valuable that she has to be “stolen” away from her parents.
Once the bride is “captured” she is usually kept at the home of the potential groom’s‚ family while the head of the village is notified. He in turn notifies the head of the brides village who in turn notifies the family of the future bride.
While most times the family of the bride is well aware of the plans by their daughter to marry ahead of her abduction, elopements are also not unusual.
In rare occasions where the family of the bride disagree with the potential groom problems and fights between villages can occur, particularly if the friends and the family of the bride try to steal her back.
Sasak Nyongkoi ceremony
In most cases the bride’s family agrees and a delegation from the two families meet to make the arrangements and to discuss the dowry to be paid to the bride, though this is usually negotiated and agreed in advance.
Barring any problems the Muslim wedding ceremony, called Akat Nikah, is held at the local mosque, followed by the traditional Sasak Nyongkoi ceremony.
For visitors it is the Nyongkoi which provides the opportunity for colourful photographs.
The soon to be bride and groom, along with their family, friends, casual acquaintances and even occasional total stranger, trailed by the obligatory gamelan music troupe, all attired in traditional Sasak dress, perambulate through the streets to the home of the bride’s family to the sound of drums, cymbals, electric keyboards, and singers amplified over a portable loudspeaker.
Both the bride and groom walk beneath tall, colourful Balinese umbrella’s, a legacy of when the Balinese monarchy ruled Lombok, with the women leading the way.
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.
Wedding etiquette for tourists
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 barrier in some areas, people will practice what English they know in an attempt to put visitors at ease.
And don’t feel embarrassed at not having brought a gift. Throughout Indonesia it is not usual for those attending a wedding reception to purchase items for the bride and groom, the appropriate gift the same as in other parts of Asia, 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 (about 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.
Feature video Charlesawk
Feature photo Mikaku ~ Michael Doliveck
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He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me
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