Indonesian weddings, or pernikahan Indonesia, are interesting affairs. They occur over as many as five days and have several different stages of events. Some portions of Indonesian weddings resemble our American concept of what a wedding is, and many do not. As I tried to explain in Budaya Campur, culture here is complicated, layered, and diverse. Indonesian weddings, and Javanese in particular, are no exception.
Let’s start at the beginning: pacaran. Pacaran (remember ‘c’ makes a ‘ch’ sound here) means courtship, or dating. Dating is somewhat different here than it is in the States. People are more conservative and dating is taken very seriously. Marriage is always thought to be the inevitable outcome of dating and that’s understood from the beginning. Dating can be as short as a couple of weeks to many years. My host sister-in-law dated her husband for four years. Long courtships are not at all unfamiliar here; though there are relatively short periods of courtship as well. My parents married after three weeks of dating and I have yet to find an Indonesian who is not shocked when I tell them this. As with all things in Indonesia (and America) there is no shortage of variation.
When a couple wishes to marry they have lamaran. Lamaran means proposal. There are two lamarans. Close neighbors will attend and it is a time for the families to decide if the marriage is a good idea and begin planning wedding arrangements. The first lamaran happens at the girl’s family home and the second one at the boy’s with their respective neighbors attending each one. Ultimately the decision lies with the couple, but as family is so central to life in Indonesia, this is an important step and the approval of the family is valuable. The two families will be joined together just as much as the man and woman.
Arranged marriages happen in Indonesia, though they are not as common nowadays. Typically, an arranged marriage is something that has been a long time coming. Such as two bapaks who want their kids to get married so they make sure their kids spend a lot of time together from childhood onward. It’s not a “married at first site” arrangement, individual preference is still taken into account here. My community liaison had an “arranged” marriage and she dated her husband for six years.
Weddings in Indonesia present a strange intersection between religion and government. It is possible to have the religious ceremony part of a wedding without ever going through the process of civil registration. The government of Indonesia will only recognize one marriage per person and only if the couple has registered; however, because Islam allows a man to have multiple wives only one of the marriages may be registered with the government.
I’m only familiar with Islam in this regard and I’m not sure how this capacity to have multiple wives affects people of other religions in Indonesia. If a married Muslim man does decide he wants to marry again he may do so only by religious means. Any wives, other than the one registered with the government, won’t be recognized as wives and will not receive any of the legal benefits marriage entails.
Within Islam there are rules that must be adhered to if a man wishes to have multiple wives. A man is not to have more than four wives. He must be able to provide financially for each additional wife, and in order to marry again the man must receive approval from the current wife/wives. This is not something I have encountered in Indonesia, so I cannot verify the extent to which these guidelines are followed.
One major disadvantage of only having the religious part of a wedding is divorce is as easy as saying “I divorce you,” if the man wants to end the marriage. The woman does not have this right. I’m unaware of how frequently this occurs, but as I was asking people in my community about weddings this was always something that came up and it ended with them emphasizing the importance of civil registration. This also leads into one of the major advantages of registering with the government.
Before the wedding couples must undergo a brief counseling session, rapak nikah, to make sure they understand what marriage encompasses, their rights regarding marriage, and to receive advice about marriage. One thing Indonesia does fairly well is making sure the woman is aware of what grounds are needed to divorce her husband. There is a list of four things that, should the husband do any one of them, the wife will have grounds for divorce. I’m am unaware of the judicial process through which this happens or what kind of evidence is necessary for divorce. Rapak nikah is also when the husband is proven to be able to pronounce and understand all four qualifiers for divorce in Indonesian, Arabic, and Javanese (or, I assume, the husband’s regional language).
If an Indonesian man leaves his wife for two consecutive years, can’t provide living expenses for her for the length of three months, abuses or hurts his wife, or neglects his wife for six months then his wife has grounds for divorce. Only one of those criteria must be met to justify divorce.
The religious component of weddings is quite important to the government. For any couple to be married in Indonesia they must both be members of one of six recognized religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Protestantism, or Catholicism. A couple cannot register their marriage unless their declared religions match. If a non-Muslim couple chooses to only have a religious ceremony and decides not to register, their marriage will not be considered legal. The religious ceremony must be performed by a representative of the same faith as the couple’s declared beliefs.
For Muslims the wedding ceremony itself is known as akad nikah, or wedding contract. Akad nikah is when the couple signs their buku nikah, wedding book. This ceremony can happen in a mosque, home, restaurant, or some other venue of the couple’s choosing. It’s the most important part of the wedding as it is what legally binds the couple together. The buku nikah is provided by the government and the couple is explained its contents during their counseling session, rapak nikah.
In Indonesia dowry, or mas kawin, is given from the husband, or his family, to the wife. It is incredibly rare for the dowry to be given to the husband and his family from the wife and her family in Indonesia. Mas kawin can vary wildly in amount; it depends on the financial capability of the man and his family and what has been agreed upon by the families and the couple. The purpose is to show that the man is financially capable of supporting his wife. Dowry can also be given in the form of clothes, furniture, appliances, or any other goods the wife may want. At the wedding, if mas kawin is given in the form of cash, it is generally arranged to make it look like a piece of art.
I was able to attend an akad nikah during my fifth week of training and it was a great experience. The ceremony began around six thirty in the evening in a mosque about an hour outside of Kediri. Everyone, including the bride and groom, sat on the floor as the ceremony was officiated by a person from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Penghulu. After the ceremony we had a short dinner and took photos with the couple. The “wedding reception,” as we know it, did not happen until the following morning. Unfortunately, due to PST, I could not attend.
The night or two before the wedding there is usually a selamatan, or celebration. This is when the men in the village gather in the house of the groom, they pray, and then eat. It is similar to Yasinan and Tahlilan in design; which I hope to explain at a later date.
The day before the wedding ceremony there is a bridal shower, or siriman. During siriman the bride is literally showered with perfumed water and flowers. This event is only for women and not very common among orthodox Muslims as it is Javanese, and thus Hindu-Buddhist, in origin.
After the akad nikah the bride and groom are separated and cannot see each other until temu manten, which doesn’t translate well but is essentially the wedding reception. Temu manten happens the day after akad nikah and is a large celebration of the couple.
The day after temu manten there is sometimes anther selamatan, though not always. After all of the wedding events are over the bride will move into the family home of the groom. This is called ngunduh mantu. The family of the bride will bring the bride to her new home and there will be discussion, prayer, tears, and lots of delicious food. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the ngunduh mantu that followed the akad nikah from my fifth week of PST. I came to the groom’s house about an hour before the groom, bride, and the bride’s family arrived. We sat on the floor and snacked on some Javanese treats as we waited for the couple to arrive. A great experience.
Most weddings on the island of Java will follow the basic blueprint of events I listed here; though it’s tough to find any two weddings that have a strong resemblance to one another. Just like the archipelago of Indonesia weddings are a beautiful patchwork of different beliefs, traditions, and styles all existing simultaneously.