The Javanese word for please is monggo. In Sundanese people say mangga. In both Indonesian and Javanese mangga means mango. So to say mango in Sundanese people say buah manggah, which literally means mango fruit. Explaining this somewhat trivial difference in language was always one of the first things people in Kediri would do when I told them I would be moving to West Java.
What started as an attempt to write about Indonesian cultural events has evolved through many different forms over the past few weeks. Realizing it would be impossible to sufficiently cover the three main types of selamatans (celebrations for weddings, funerals and births) I decided to narrow the focus to weddings only. Surely a single type of event would provide substantial interesting material while simultaneously being easy to encapsulate in a few hundred words.
Well even this more focused task proved too complicated as I spent the majority of time trying to explain the origins of the major wedding traditions. A big problem is that Javanese weddings can have a lot of variation, too much variation to apply a simple generic explanation. To solve the problem I switched from weddings to traditional Javanese culture and the external influences they have adopted over the years. Maybe this iteration was a step up in difficulty as my goal was nothing short of disentangling one-thousand years of culture from foreign influences. Then it is not surprising to learn that I have fallen terrifically short of my previous goals.
The first several days with my homestay family were particularly difficult. I couldn’t understand anything my ibu said and very little of what my bapak said. No one spoke to me in English so I had to rely on only two days of training in bahasa Indonesia. During my first week of PST limited communication with my homestay family was only a small part of the my vast collection of fledgling Peace Corps trainee woes.