By Amy and Will
As we mentioned several months ago when we first arrived at our permanent site, we joined our family at a “host cousin’s” engagement party (and we thought we were wearing funny costumes then!) at his fiancee’s parents’ house. That was followed a month later with another engagement party at his parents’ house. Since then, we had been hearing about the mysterious, ever moving wedding date.
In Javanese culture, numerology is very important. The Javanese calendar has only five days, and only certain months are considered to be good for weddings and circumcision parties. What this leads to is a calculus of figuring out what day is best for a wedding by combining the important numbers on the Javanese calendar (lunar’ish calendar) with the modern Gregorian calendar during the good months, adding in your birthdays, and avoiding certain days that would be bad omens (such as a number combination similar to a date of a death in your family). This process has been explained to us a few times, but we still don’t understand it. We have been told however that our numbers do not add up to any deal-breaking, marriage-ending combinations. Phew.
Every few months when one of these calendar sweet spots occurs, there are an obscene number of events to attend, often several in one day, which require schools to be closed and other plans to be rearranged. Oh yeah, you also have only a week’s notice or less (the invitation is served attached to a box of food, usually fried chicken and rice. That part we can get down with).
Given that we recently finished one of the good months (apparently the next three are bad) we had a number of local weddings to attend, but also three straight weekends of events tied to our host cousin’s wedding. Yes, three. We now know that there was never a floating wedding date—there were three.
Event one was the legal and Muslim ceremony in the living room of the bride’s house. The ceremony seemed to be mostly just for family with very few friends. The bride’s stylist was there however because even though the guests were casual, she was all decked out. They got their marriage licenses at this event. The ceremony mainly involved only the groom and the bride’s father. There was a part toward the end where they agreed on a certain amount of money. It was very small, so I assume this was a symbolic dowry/bride price type custom. After the amount of money was announced, the groom and the brides’ father shook hands and then the bride entered the room for the closing five minutes of the ceremony.
Event number two was the Javanese ceremony and wedding party in the bride’s hometown. We borded a bus at six in the morning in our village with the majority of our extended host family and traveled nearly three hours to the wedding which was held at a rented community building. The highlights were the tasty Chinese food and homemade, hand-scooped, chocolate coconut ice cream. Will had five servings (maybe six).
And finally, event number three was the one we had been waiting for. Will and I were asked to participate in the “terima tamu” for the groom’s family. This basically means that you get all dressed up in a traditional Javanese costume (and make-up for Amy) and greet guests as they come into the wedding. Other members of the greeting committee collected wedding gifts and money.
For this we went to Malang for two nights and three days and stayed in our host uncle’s rather large home in a gated neighborhood. We actually had a pretty nice time on this trip, with two trips to the mall, playing Uno with host cousins and being interviewed by a family member reporter on live radio about our Peace Corps service for the major radio station in Surabaya (in bahasa Indonesia, no less)!
The day of the wedding party, the ladies left to go get ready about five hours before the party (sound familiar?) and the men came along much later. Amy waited her turn with the make-up artists. Knowing from another volunteer’s experience that she should specify that she wanted to keep her eyebrows, she was ready with that important request. Javanese make-up is kind of like stage make-up in that in person you look like a cross between drag queen and an opera singer, but in photos and far away (like the bride sitting on stage at the party) it looks pretty good. What was Will’s reaction when he first saw Amy in her make-up? A frightened “Whu…OHH!” But lucky readers, you will only see photographic evidence.
All the ladies wore fancy jilbabs instead of Javanese hair and wigs because this was a Muslim family. I wasn’t the only member of the terima tamu that usually went without a head covering, but we all complied. The stylists twisted and sculpted fabrics into elaborate jilbab “styles” much like a hair stylists. It looked pretty impressive, but the straight pins were murder pressing into the ears!
We greeted the guests like champs and didn’t even put up a fight when the MC asked us to come to the stage to sing a song. With the length of one song to look through the song book and identify something we knew, we ended up butchering “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” We didn’t get asked to sing another. And not a single person acknowledged that we had been on stage. It was like they were trying their hardest to erase the memory of what they had just seen (and we don’t blame them).
The bride and groom spent the evening sitting on stage, greeting guest after guest. It was hard not to reflect on our wedding and the mobility we had. We ran around and talked to people. We ate, we drank, we danced. Were the bride and groom having fun at their wedding? Or was that not the point? There were certainly big smiles when the groom’s friends all showed up at the same time with buttons on their shirts congratulating the couple. But there was also a lot of sitting and looking bored. Who knows?
Mercifully the party, with all that prep, lasted about only three hours. At the end we walked back to the big room where we got ready and gave our costumes back to the company from which they were rented. We went home and Amy spent the next 36 hours washing make-up off her face.
Usually our experiences with Javanese weddings last about 20 or 30 minutes, so it was great to get such an in depth and inside look at all the various ceremonies and traditions that go along with weddings in this part of the country. And it was fun to get all dressed up too!