A few weeks ago, Amy and I returned to our previous village in Batu to attend a circumcision party. You are probably imagining an event for a newborn, but you would be mistaken. You probably aren’t imagining the party being held for a 12 year old.
In Indonesia, a boy’s circumcision marks his becoming a man. In some places, the procedure isn’t done with the greatest care to health; but for Zidane (Amy’s prior host brother), the family went into the nearest city that morning and it was clean, safe and done with something described as “almost like a laser.” We can attest to this as well, as we were shown many graphic photos of the procedure by the family.
Given that Zidane’s father is the head of the village, the invite list for the party included 5,000 people—events like this and weddings are HUGE here. When we tell people we had 250 at our wedding, they say, “oh, that’s so small. You must have a small family or no friends.”
In order to host 5,000 people over 12 hours at your house, it requires some preparation. The whole house was converted into a kitchen, with different foods and snacks being cooked and assembled in every available space. Every inch of the property outside of the house was utilized as the holding/entertaining/eating space for the party, so tents covered everything. To give an example of what an ordeal this was, the family’s small outdoor kitchen was MOVED 20 feet, barn and all, to make room for more tents and cooking space.
Amy and I arrived the night before the party and were able to help prepare some of the desserts. We also got to spend a little time with our families in the “calm before the storm.” The kids are as cute as ever and our families really appreciated us returning for the event. I asked Zidane if he was siap for the next day’s events and he nervously responded, “yes.”
The next day the party got started around 10am. Amy and I were considered part of the family, so I was outfitted in a matching fuchsia batik shirt and we were part of the greeting line throughout the day.
The way these things work (circumcision parties and wedding receptions) is that you show up and shake hands with all of the family/family representatives. You are then shown to a table in the large holding area where you can talk with other people, maybe the host, and snack on various cakes, cookies, and treats.
During this waiting period, if you aren’t talking with your neighbors, you can enjoy or participate in the entertainment. This is often a band consisting of one keyboardist who supplies all instrumentation and one or two singers. The singers cover a number of traditional Indonesian songs, more modern Dangdut music, and super cheesy American songs. Being the bules that we are, we are often asked to join the singer on a song. I always am happy to comply; however, I don’t think they are always happy that they asked, as you can see here:
After 5-15 minutes of chatting and musical entertainment, your table is chosen and you make your way to the eating area.
On the way you pass the table where you present your gift. Usually you give the equivalent of $2, unless its a close friend or family when you might consider giving $10. You drop the envelope off at this table, where they open it and note your name and the amount of your gift. This book is then consulted throughout the rest of the host’s life as they are invited to various weddings and other events—now they know what they need to give you in return.
Apparently how this is done varies from region to region. In Batu, they open your envelope in front of you. In our current area of Jombang, they wait until the guests have left to record the gifts. However, in some areas in East Java, they open your envelope and announce over a microphone how much you gave. I’ll let you guess which area gets the bigger gifts.
After the money table, you enter the much smaller eating area. Once you’ve filled your plate, the race is on to finish as quickly as possible so that you can leave and they can replace you with the next table from the holding area. I made a mistake in my first wedding by attempting to talk to the people sitting near me. This caused us all to be late finishing our food (which means it took more than 3 minutes) with families waiting on us, anxious to leave.
Once you are finished eating, you make your way to the exit, shaking the hands of the receiving line again on your way out. Upon exiting, you are handed a gift—usually a glass and/or some type of snack box. One time I received a wash cloth shaped like a duck.
Start to finish, this can take as little as ten minutes.
Okay, after that short interlude, back to Zidane. As I said, the procedure sounded like it went as well as these things can go and that morning he looked happy and proud. He was wearing a sarong, they are considered traditional formal wear here, for a few hours, until a very old man observing (what we will assume) very old traditions wanted to take a peak under the hood at the operation. Once the old man gave his approval of the surgery (while some of Zidane’s friends from school looked on and laughed), Zidane’s mother took him inside and changed him into blue jeans. Probably not ideal for comfort, but ideal for warding off old men and old traditions.
Zidane hung tough for about three hours until he passed out in the ‘throne’ chair they had him seated in, where he continued to nap on and off throughout the day. I had been told by some of my fellow teachers that it is okay to joke around with the man of honor and pretend to punch him in the crotch. Not that I was planning on doing this, but seeing him once the day started setting in made me just feel bad for him. He was in no joking mood.
Not to draw comparisons, but it was pretty taxing on Amy and I, too. We spent the day answering the same questions over and over, and being told to eat over and over. I think we ended up eating six times in those twelve hours.
In addition to being able to celebrate this occasion with Amy’s family, what was really great about this trip was that we got to see so many of the people we had met and interacted with during our ten weeks of training. Former neighbors, other volunteers’ host families, village officials, cell phone minute sellers, kids, and many others all recognized us and wanted to know if we missed Bulukerto and which one we liked better, our new home or old. Of course we answered with our old home, which made everyone swell with pride and boast to their friends about how much the Americans loved their village.
While this wasn’t our first circumcision party, and won’t be our last—it was probably the only one we will get to attend all day long—until our 11 year old host cousin has his big day next year anyway…
Enjoy the rest of these photos: