We set for Indonesia and met up with my brother in Jogjakarta (Jogja) for lunch at Ayam Goreng Suharti, one of the best fried chicken places in Jogja. Indonesians love fried food, especially chicken and this place is pretty famous for it. We ended up waiting at the restaurant for a while since Mike’s plane was delayed. While we were there, my brother gave each of us a gift of a book that had something to do with Indonesia – mine was Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Once we picked up Mike, who is a very old friend of my brother’s, we set off for Kebumen, Yulia’s hometown, in a very nice air-conditioned bus. By the time we were on the road, it was dark and most of us just spent the drive quietly looking out the window. There were even a few snores from the back of the bus. Later into the evening, we stopped at a buffet for our first real taste of Indonesian food, which is often spicy and includes small chilies. There were lots of options with egg, tofu, and tempe, and, of course, tons of rice. Indonesians, we learned, love sweet things and put sugar in almost everything including fruit juice and soy sauce. We were able to experience this first-hand at dinner and throughout our stay in Java. When we arrived late in the evening at our hotel, we were all relieved to find that it included air conditioning. Indonesia is hot and humid (but being near the equator has lots of lush flora to be relished – pictures to come in the next installment).
After a good night’s sleep, we all were excited to finally meet Yulia in person. She was a doll! Sweet, funny, and a perfect complement to my brother. After the ladies got fitted for the kebaya, we all got ready to head over to Yulia’s parents’ house to meet her family and take part in a couple of Javanese wedding rituals.
The first ritual is that of the Sungkeman, where the couple asks permission each from their own parents by kneeling in front of them. The parents give their blessing to their children for marriage.
After this ritual, Yulia and Jamie each took their turn for Siraman, the bathing ceremony, where the family members of each poured a rose-petal bath over their heads to purify and ready the couple for marriage.
After the Sungkeman and Siraman, there was the ritual of gift-giving. Seserahan is when the bride and groom give each other gifts. There are certain expectations of the groom for the bride, mostly. He is to give the bride clothing, shoes, cosmetics, food and other things that show he can provide for her. My brother gave Yuli a lovely dress as her first gift and she thought it was very beautiful. Once she held it up for everyone to see, he pointed into the basket again. Yuli grinned and put on a pair of Groucho Marx glasses. “I’ve never been more beautiful!” she exclaimed. Everyone laughed. Then, Jamie pulled out another pair of glasses, with springy eyes, and put them on. The goofy pair of them made all her relatives laugh. And afterwards many of her relatives took turns trying on the glasses and taking pictures.
On the day of the wedding, we all dressed in traditional Javanese clothing and made our way to the ceremony. In addition to traditional legal and Muslim pieces of the ceremony itself, there were also more Javanese traditions, including the Upacara Balangan Gantal, or throwing of betel leaves. At a distance of about 10 feet, the bride and groom stand in the middle of their parents and throw betel leaves to each other. The philosophy of the ritual tells that this is a special moment that will never happen again. The betel leaves are rolled tightly and this shows that the bride and groom are bounded and will face happiness and bitterness together. In Javanese culture, betel leaves are believed to have power to cast out bad spirits.
Then there was the Sindur Binayang ceremony. The mother of the bride covered the bride and groom with fabric. Then, the bride’s father led them to the bride and groom’s chairs. The bride’s mother walked behind the bride and groom. This ritual shows that the parents of the bride give their blessing to the bride and groom. In Javanese culture, a husband is expected to be a role model for his wife. This ceremony demonstrates how the father of the bride is a role model and how the groom should also be a role model. And the bride’s mother walks the bride and groom showing that she gives support to both the bride and groom.
One of my favorite rituals was the Bobot timbang/Pangkon, or sitting on the bride’s father’s lap. The bride and groom sit on the lap of the father of the bride. The bride’s mother will ask to the bride’s father “who is heavier?” Then the father will say “they are just the same weight”. This ceremony shows that both of the daughter and son in law are equally accepted in the family. Then, the father will lead the bride and groom to sit in their arranged chairs.
Before the reception line of about 300 people, there was also a repetition of the Sungkeman. There were many photos taken and a lot of music played. There were smiles on everyone’s faces. It was a beautiful and awe-inspiring day. And that was just the beginning…