Given the broad diversity of ethnic groups in Indonesia, it stands to reason that wedding customs will reflect this diversity. Each ethnic group has different wedding dress (batik, traditional textiles, kebaya) and different marriage ceremonies and customs. Within ethnic groups, those of different religious backgrounds will have different practices as well. The primary differences between wedding receptions of different ethnic groups would be in the style of wedding dress, stage decorations, food served and the dance performance. Besides that, most weddings follow somewhat predictable patterns. More differences would be evident in the traditional wedding ceremonies than in the receptions.[Source: expat.or.id \~\]
The difference in the income level of the individuals will, needless to say, have a great bearing on the extent of the wedding celebrations. Weddings in Jakarta range from simple meals in the family home, to small receptions in community centers to grand extravagant affairs in the Jakarta Convention Center or 5-star hotel ballrooms.
On Java, the father sits on a couch and the bride and groom sit on the father’s lap. When the bride’s mother asks which one weighs the most, the father replies they both weigh the same. This response indicates the couple will treated equally by the bride’s parents. The highlights of some weddings is when the couple kneels before the groom’s father to show their respect and the father kisses the son.
In elaborate weddings, a couple says their vows in the presence of a Muslim cleric while gamelan music plays in the background and the groom crushes an egg with his foot to indicate “I do.” After the couple receives a blessing the bride is secluded for six days. Newlyweds eat yellow rice from each other’s bowl to signify a lifetime together. The couple often requests cash instead of gifts.
In northern Sumatra, the bride’ house is decorated with mats and wall hangings and the bridal chamber is adorned with gold fabric and silver trays and dishes. A wedding throne is built on a veranda. The groom, dresses in silk pants covered by a sarong, white shirt and a black coat and turban. He has a dagger in a silver belt and silver chains and gold keys. The bride wear silk pants and skirt, a silver belt and a black or red blouses along with scarves and necklaces.
The groom and his entourage make their way to the bride’s house. They are welcomed by the bride’s party who recite poetry The ceremony is held on the veranda and presided over by a Muslim leader who recites passages from the Koran and asks the couple for their consent to marry them. After signing a marriage contract the couple are regarded as married. The newlyweds sit on thrones and guests come by to congratulate them and give them presents.
Invitation to an Indonesian Wedding
According to expat.or.id: One of the most important concepts at Indonesian weddings seems to be 'the more the merrier'. Literally every relative, acquaintance, colleague or business partner could be invited to the wedding. Joining a group of others that are invited, even if you did not receive an invitation personally addressed to you, is also okay (as long as it's not a sit down dinner -in which case the limit is clearly stated on the invitation). [Source: expat.or.id /~/]
“Wedding invitations in Jakarta and other urban centers can be very extravagant. The date on the outside of the envelope is very practical if you receive many wedding invitations. In rural areas, the invitation is done via visits from the family to neighbors and friends. The sincere welcome extended to guests is noted on the invitation with wording such as “Merupakan suatu kehormatan & kebahagiaan bagi kami apabila Bapak/Ibu/Saudara/i berkenan hadir untuk memberikan doa restu kepada kedua mempelai”, which means that you do the family great honor by attending and extending blessings upon the bride and groom. /~/
“On the invitation will be noted the date, time and place for the Akad Nikah, which is the actual wedding ceremony,Indonesian wedding cerremonies - Javanese customsas well as the Resepsi Pernikahan, which is the wedding reception. Even though both ceremonies are noted on the invitation, the majority of people will only attend the reception. Attending shows that you care, that you respect the people involved and your relationship with them, that you honor the family and want to show your support of the newlyweds. Don't question the intent of colleagues or subordinates who, upon short acquaintance, invite you to their daughter's or son's wedding. They really do want you to come! On the other hand, not responding to the invitation, or not attending can cause a significant insult and slight to the giver, which can cause problems in your relationship in the future. Having said that .. you are not obligated to attend every wedding that you receive an invitation for./~/
“Appropriate Dress For women, nice dresses, much as you would wear to a wedding at home. For men, a business suit or a long-sleeved batik shirt with slacks. It would be appropriate to wear a long sleeved dress to a Muslim wedding reception. It is not necessary for an expatriate woman to cover her head, though many of the Indonesian attendees may do so.” /~/
Wedding Receptions in Indonesia
According to expat.or.id: “At most wedding receptions, the guests arrive, sign the guest book, accept their thank you token, deposit their gift and enter the reception hall.The path into the reception hall will be flanked left and right with members of the extended families, often dressed in similar traditional dress. A smile and nod to some of these people would be appropriate. Following the family members may be young men and women holding a chain of flowers. This is called the pagar ayu or 'fence of beauty'. [Source: expat.or.id /~/]
“If you arrive on time you will be able to witness the procession of the wedding couple into the reception hall. Depending on the wealth, social standing or ethnic group, this procession can be quite impressive. The bride and groom may be proceeded by dancers who give a traditional dance performance before the wedding couple goes on stage. Or the performance may come after the bride and groom are seated. The parents of the bride and groom and other senior family members will follow the couple in procession into the room. /~/
“Then come the speeches! A representative of each family will address the crowd to thank them for their attendance and to give long, complex expressions of regret if any arrangements for the reception are lacking or found wanting. Depending on whether or not you have one or two representatives speak (thank goodness at some weddings there is only one person representing both families), the speeches can take up to half an hour./~/
“After the speeches, the guests are invited to come to the stage and shake the hands of the bride and groom and their parents. Depending on the number of guests this receiving line can go on for hours. Traditional music may beIndonesian wedding buffetplayed throughout the reception. After going through the receiving line, the guests are invited to eat. The feast can be quite extensive and is a good opportunity to try cuisine from different regions. It could be as simple as nasi goreng or bakmi goreng, ikan asem-manis to the more elaborate where there will be food stalls with sushi, tempura, kambing guling, dim sum, beef Wellington and other western dishes. Once the speeches are complete, it is also acceptable to eat first and then join the receiving line after your meal if the line is quite long. /~/
“Many Indonesians may only stay 15-30 minutes to eat a small snack after shaking hands, especially if they have another invitation to attend that night. Some people can even have up to 5 or 6 wedding invitations for one evening! Don't expect that alcohol will be served at the wedding reception or that there would be dancing, this is highly unlikely. Likewise, coming to a wedding after drinking would be considered very rude. Even if the groom is your drinking buddy, weddings are not an appropriate venue in which to be drunk. /~/
Wedding Gifts in Indonesia
According to expat.or.id: “In the past (as in the 80s and early-90s), the grand, glorious, conspicuously extravagant weddings in Jakarta were gifted with large floral displays which were placed outside the reception hall. Or, wedding guests brought a wide variety of household goods as gifts. In a large wedding, to which thousands of people may be Congratulations wedding flower display in Indonesiainvited, there would be many duplications of gifts. It would not be unusual at avery large wedding for the wedding couple to receive, for example, 15 blenders, 20 mixers, 10 toasters, 25 rice cookers, 5 refrigerators, 3 cars, etc. [Source: expat.or.id /~/]
Therefore, a relatively new practice arose in the mid-90s whereby the wedding couple asks the attendees not to bring gifts or floral displays by the inclusion of additional wording on the invitation “Dengan tidak mengurangi rasa hormat dan terima kasih, akan lebih bermanfaat seandainya ungkapan kasih sayang yang mungkin akan diberikan kepada kami tidak berupa cendera mata atau karangan bunga”, which translates as, “Without belittling your generosity, we'd appreciate it if you didn't give us flowers or a gift.” /~/
“This is a nice way of asking for money instead of gifts. At the reception desk there will be a beautifully decorated box with a slit in the top into which you can insert an envelope with money. If you choose to give money and are uncertain of an appropriate amount to give, ask your secretary or Indonesian colleagues for their suggestions. Sometimes the hostesses will number your envelope as well as next to your signature in the guest book, so that the bride and groom know how much money you gave. Having said this, you are not obligated to bring a gift to the wedding. Don't expect a thank you note after the wedding for your gift. In many weddings attendees are given a small token upon their arrival, a fan, key chain or other item. Attached to this item will be a thank you for your attendance.” /~/
Indonesian Couple on Different Continents Wed in Web Ceremony
In January 2006, Associated Press reported: “Rita Sri Mutiara Dewi's fiance could not get time off from his job in the United States. But that didn't stop the couple — who have never met in person — from tying the knot. And a Muslim cleric who witnessed the ceremony between the Indonesian lovers declared it legal, she said, even though they were on opposite ends of the earth. "We are happy that we're married now, even though we had to do it via the Internet," said Dewi, 50, noting that the two used a video link so her relatives could see her 52-year-old groom. [Source: Associated Press, January 13, 2006]
“Dewi met Wiriadi, a physiotherapist who works at a hospital in California, in an Internet chat room several months ago. They exchanged pictures and contacted each other almost every day, she said, speaking usually online but other times by phone. In November Wiriadi proposed. Over the Internet, of course. Dewi, who works as a teacher in Malaysia, returned to Indonesia for the virtual wedding. Wiriadi, who uses only one name, was in California. It was the second marriage for both. Dewi said Friday she plans to travel to the United States next month to meet her new husband.
Indonesian Wedding Photographs
Triwik Kurniasari wrote in the Jakarta Post, “For many Indonesians, a wedding is not only about having a special gown, picking attractive invitations and souvenirs, reserving a spacious venue for hundreds (or even thousands) of guests for the big day or even ordering good food and floral decorations. There is another ritual prior to the actual wedding day which many consider no less important than the main event: getting photographed in a pre-wedding session. [Source: Triwik Kurniasari, Jakarta Post, October 3 2010]
“I’ve found out that pre-wedding photo shoots only exist in Indonesia. It’s a culture for couples here,” said prominent photographer Darwis Triadi. “Normally, the photos taken in the pre-wedding session will be put on wedding invitations. Traditionally a photographer would take standard photos of the couple, but in this era of advanced technology, and particularly special effects, pre-wedding photo sessions have become a medium for couples to express themselves (and to show off their togetherness to their guests). Nowadays, not only are the photos used for the invitations, but they are also displayed around the wedding venue for guests to enjoy. The bride and groom can explore their creativity by creating special themes for their photos, such as box-office movies. Thus, pre-wedding photo sessions have become an inseparable “tradition” for most couples here. They have become a huge phenomenon in the last decade, and as a result the pre-wedding photography business has flourished, particularly in big cities. However, this trend is not without its critics. Earlier this year, a group of ulemas from East Java declared pre-wedding photos haram (not allowed under Islamic law), claiming that such photo sessions encouraged unmarried people to hug each other while posing.
Why have pre-wedding photo sessions become tradition? “There is a tendency in our society to invite many guests to a wedding party. Guests sometimes have to queue and wait for a long time to congratulate the married couple,” photographer Darwis Triadi explained. “In a bid to chase away the boredom of the guests, the host couple display a number of their [pre-wedding] pictures in some spots around the building so the guests can enjoy them while waiting for their turn.” Diani Pranata, chief editor of wedding magazines Bella Donna and Mahligai, shared a similar insight. She said the tradition started in the 1990s. “They don’t just showcase the photos at the wedding venue, many couples now use the pictures at home for decoration, such as on the bathroom wall, for instance,” she said.
Fancy Indonesian Wedding Shoots
Triwik Kurniasari wrote in the Jakarta Post, “As time goes by, couples have become more and more daring in choosing extraordinary and off-the-wall themes. The concepts, Diani added, are varied, ranging from outdoor, casual, fun and elegant-glamor to fashion photos. But there’s something more important than just choosing a theme. “A pre-wedding picture should show the chemistry of the couple. Don’t upstage the photo with the concept, because this is not for commercial purposes,” Darwis said. “You don’t even need a stylist because it’s not a photo for a fashion page. It’s OK if you use a theme, but I think it would be better if you both appeared naturally.” Diani agreed. “Bringing out the chemistry through the photos is important. Remember, you will keep the photos at home and see them every day,” she said. “When you have a quarrel with your partner, the photos will remind you of the day you fell in love with your spouse.” [Source: Triwik Kurniasari, Jakarta Post, October 3 2010]
Darwis and Diani were speaking during a workshop on pre-wedding photo shoots at the Beautifying Indonesia Conference 2010, a one-day event held by beauty producer Martha Tilaar Group recently at the Jakarta Convention Center in South Jakarta. The event was also attended by two prominent makeup artists — Chenny Han and Lucia Tan, who shared tips about applying makeup for pre-wedding photo sessions. While Chenny gave a demonstration about makeup for indoor pre-wedding photo shoots, Lucia spoke about makeup for outdoor shoots. Both makeup artists noted the importance of applying natural yet subtle makeup. “I suggest couples do the shoots two months prior to the wedding so they have enough time to plan everything,” Lucia said. “If you choose to have the shoot outdoors, try not to do it during the rainy season,” she added.
Amelie Poerwoko is among many women who offer pre-wedding photo sessions. She did not hesitate to spend around Rp 10 million (US$ 1.119) on a series of stunning pre-wedding pictures for her own wedding. “I think every one has to do pre-wedding photos. It’s like a follow the leader kind of thing. But I basically really wanted to do this,” Amelie told The Jakarta Post. “When I was still working as a fashion stylist, I was busy planning photo sessions. Then I thought, ‘It’s time for me to take the hot seat.”
As she is not your typical romantic woman, she opted for dreamy, cute and cartoon themes. Rene Magritte’s paintings and rom-com flick 27 Dresses are just some of the eight inspirations she based her photos on. “I think concept is important in taking pictures, even for pre-wedding ones. A pre-wedding shoot is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, so let’s kill it,” said the 20-something woman who admitted that she persuaded her husband to do all of the shoots. The couple later displayed the pictures in the venue on their wedding day. However, the pictures, she added, have to reflect the real personality of ourselves and our partners. “The couple should set the concept themselves, not the photographer. The bottom line is, when people see your photo, they will say, ‘Wow, this photo is so you’.”
Different from Amelie who set various themes for her pre-wedding, Bastina chose a natural setting for her photo shoots — the Bogor botanical gardens, south of the capital. She said she had only spent money printing the pictures as she asked her photographer friend to take the pictures. “We did not want to use a set concept. We wanted it to be natural and intimate. The point was there was chemistry between us,” Bastina said. And did they hold on to the photos? Both said they had hung up several of the photos at home. “After the wedding was over, I realized the photos were not so worth while because I ended up asking myself if I would hang on to them all?” Amelie said. She later gave some of them to her parents and in-laws. “You know what, I even ‘gave’ the photos away to those who wanted to keep them so they wouldn’t just be in the store room,” she said. The concepts, Diani added, are varied, ranging from outdoor, casual, fun and elegant-glamor to fashion photos. But there’s something more important than just choosing a theme.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015