Friday, July 01, 2011

The live beef export trade from Australia to Indonesia has been suspended beset with hugh problems.
A cow is significant in the following enthuastic words about an Indonesian Wedding, written about ten years ago by an English bride. Really the wedding is much much bigger than any cow!

...The day, for me, really began with the COW. The cow was the first big surprise - not the fact that we had bought a cow to be slaughtered for food, nor the fact that the cow was LIVING, until not long before the wedding outside M's aunt (M the groom) and uncle's house, being fattened up for the big day. No, the big surprise for me was the sheer SIZE of the cow, or to be more precise the PRICE. The cow cost a whopping 4.5 million rupiah.  To put that into perspective, we are talking about $900 AUD - which (to explain my shock) was just under a third of the total cost of the wedding and about 10 times more than many Indonesian's monthly wage.  The cow (which I knew nothing about until I arrived in Indonesia a week before the wedding) was suddenly a very important part of my big day. I never knew I would spend more than on my wedding outfits, photography, flowers and entertainment combined on one BIG COW.

And let's be very clear about this - the cow was big.  Most of the meat was used to make massive amounts of beef 'rendang' - a traditional dish, made by cooking the beef slowly in coconut milk and spices until almost all the coconut milk is absorbed into the beef, making it extremely tender and very richly flavoured.  Rendang is mostly only served at special occasions as the price of beef is far too expensive for Indonesians on a meagre income to eat regularly.

Hugh pots of rendang filled the primitive cement floored kitchen on the morning of the wedding.  You couldn't walk through the kitchen without walking around a pot of it. It was my first meeting with the cow - and more importantly, my first real indication about just how many guests we were actually expecting.  That many pots of rendang?  How was it ever going to all get eaten?  I asked one of M's aunts - Isn't there a bit much here? - Oh no, she said gravely - we think we may have to buy some chickens later this evening.

And so I left the kitchen, to take my place in the main bedroom with R - my hair/make up artist and all round fairy godmother who was my personal assistant for the day.  With a cautious stroke of foundation (she had never prepared a Westerner for a wedding before and was absolutely terrified)  we began to prepare for the wedding costume.  It was 9 am.

It took two hours to do hair and make up and to don the first costume.  As I had expected, the door was often nudged open by giggling children and curious adults.  My hair had been teased, sprayed, pinned, shaped, sprayed some more and decorated with flowers and a golden hairpiece.  My eyebrows had been shaved, lined and brushed.  My forehead, most concerning to me, had been lined in heavy lack eyeliner - a traditional Javanese wedding look which I heared might look quite stupid on my white Western head: but as I said, R was truly my fairy godmother and I think she did a pretty good job.  My first outfit was a traditional Javanese outfit consisting of a tightly wound sarong in earthy colours and a heavy black jacket with gold trimming.  As I said, it took two hours for me to get prepared - M's dressing took less than 20 minutes.  Then we were on.

Before we exit the door and out into the marquis, I should explain a little about Indonesian weddings. They are not like Western weddings in many ways - most significantly because there is no specific arrival time.  When you receive a wedding invitation it says "From 11am onwards" - and that's exactly what it means.  Guests arrive all day long to pay respects, eat, maybe have a bit of a boogie, or a catch up with news and then go.  Many guests arrive and are gone within half an hour.  Few stay for the whole day.  Close family are pretty much the only ones there from the beginning until the end - and even they often leave at some stage to have a bit of a nap, or to get changed.  It is a very long day for the bride and groom.  As I said, hair and make up began at 9 am, and it wasn't until 2 am next morning that I crawled into the 'wedding bed' which also may offer you a surprise (more on that later!).

So it was 11am, and out we stepped into the incredibly, thankfully not too hot heat of the day.  There were quite a few people already there and the keyboard player had already started to play.

The music provision for the day is well worth a mention before I continue.  An absolute mainstay of the Indonesian wedding is the keyboard.  Without a keyboard, the wedding is considered to be not much of an affair.  I went to several Indonesian weddings with M, the first thing that he and his friends would discuss upon arrival home was the keyboard player, his range of songs and the quality of the speaker he used....So, I am sure you can well understand, after finding a fat enough cow, M considered one of his other most important tasks to be to find the best keyboard player. Than an email from M read - He had good luck! Best keyboard player for our wedding! Can play English, Indonesian, Spanish and Indian Songs!  His excitement was palpable through the email -  he couldn't believe the guy wasn't booked one of the most famous.  Indeed, luck had been with us. 

So, back to our exit, out into the heat of mid morning.  I can't remember what the keyboardist was playing, or singing, but I am sure it was probably an Indonesian love song.  So there were quite a few people there.  Many sitting down in the Sunday ( sorry, Friday) best, and kids lolling around, looking excited yet hot and itchy in their rarely worn very good clothes.

So, to the ceremonial part of the day: an MC, wearing a funky scarf and telling quite a few apparently very funny jokes in Javanese stood us before him, joke telling and then singing us a brief love song in Indonesian.  Very sweet.  An egg was then place at M's foot and the MC asked him to break it by standing on it.  I, then, with a great deal of difficulty, considering how tightly my sarong was wrapped around my legs, knelt down and washed the egg off his foot using floral water.  Everyone clapped and then we were led to our seat - really a throne.  All gold and bright colours and decorated with flowers and small parasols.  It was totally my idea of an exotic Far Eastern wedding throne.  I loved it.

Before M was allowed to sit down, he was taken away and returned with a procession of family members to be brought to me.  When we both sat together, officially, united as a couple, a large group of women with beautiful clothing and voices and accompanied by nothing other than a few small drums and tambourines sang some beautiful Indonesian and Islamic songs to us. It was very moving.

After the singing came the next part of the ceremony during which time M's parents and then grandparents sat on the throne and we knelt before them to receive their blessing. Everyone cried.

Following this, we returned to the throne and then people began to give us their blessings by sprinkling rice and flower petals over us and touching us on the forehead and hands with a small branch dipped in floral water.  More tears as M's close family came through, but as the whole procession of people took close to an hour, with the beautiful singing going on the whole time, we were almost trancelike,  it was quite mesmerising.

After this came the photo sessions, which continued over the whole course of the day. EVERYONE got their photo taken with us, it is very traditionally Indonesian to NOT smile in the wedding photo, such is considered the solemnity and importance of the day. All the smiling Indonesians suddenly become sombre and poe faced as soon as the camera appeared in fromt of them.

By the middle of the afternoon as the weather heated up, when some guests had gone home and more had arrived, and when we had changed costumes - into stunning bare shouldered blittering wrap around outfits of Jogjakarta - I began to make a real game out of trying to get people to laugh, or at least smaile, as the photos were taken.

The afternoon passed in this way.  I must admit that the keyboard player was indeed very good, and could play a very impressive range of songs.  His female companion was also very talented - particularly good at singing Indian songs (which 2 years in India--music-mad Indonesia have given me quite a taste for).  Quite a few people got up and danced whilst many just sat, ate, chatted and then left.

Until mid afternoon, D was the only Westerner in sight apart from me.  D was the subject of an intense amount of interest and was incredibly gracious and patient in both posing for photos and trying to work her way through a lot of broken English and mime and those who just insisted on speaking flat out Indonesian to her as everyone tried to communicate with the only other European peron at the wedding.

Mid afternoon saw D much relieved as many of the foreign guests arrived - mostly teachers from work - including E, who had been built up in the village as a very important man - an Australian Honorary Consul. A special arrangement had been made for a dozen bottle of beer to be put on ice for their arrival.  So as the afternoon melted into evening, focus shifted for a while from the bride and groom to the small group of foreigners in the middle of the marquis, merrily gulping down beer out of bottle whilst all the Indonesians looked on in curiosity sipping their water or tea.

By evening, such a crowd had gathered that stall holders had arrived selling icecreams and small toys for children, parking their bicycles laden with wares at either end of the marquis, cashing in on the festival atmosphere.  With no seats left, people had taken to sittingon their haunches anywhere they could and more and more people arrived.  We changed again, into lovely green costumes, again Javanese.  The headpiece was a crown, and very beautiful.   I really did feel like a queen.

At 7pm M's brother rushed up to the throne to give M the bad news that the BEEF, had indeed all been eaten.  I expressed momentary disbelief until I took a good look around.  The place was as packed as an outdoor music festival.  The COW had been BIG, but not big enough.  Money discreetly changed hands and M's brother took off on a bicycle in search of some chicken.

The evening prayer time (around 7 30pm) saw a brief lull in activity as many (including M) disappeared to pray.  I changed costumes again, this time into a Melayu dostume of bright blue - which involved a change of hair do as well as make up.  The costume was quite loose fitting - a lovely chance to breathe freely after all the tight fitting sarongs.  Not that I am complaining - I promise! I loved every minute of wearing every costume.  It was such a special opportunity to really be treated as a princess. I loved it.

The number of guests swelled even more. The atmosphere was electric.  A bus load arrived and carried over 50 people, some who had travelled on the roof, and a few who had spent the two and a half hour journey hanging out of the bus doors.  But they were not tired, they were ready for good times.  The music picked up, and as the 'young crew' of jungle dwellers began to dance, taking turns in singing a few of their favourite tunes (I never though I would be so entertained by a version of Knocking on Heaven's Door at my wedding).  There was dancing, Western and Indonesian style and by 9 30pm when it was finally time for M and I to leave our throne, cast off our regal wear and return to world as a married couple and no longer royalty, I was ready for a dance. The party went on until 1am when local laws forced us to shut down the music (yes, even in an Indonesian village!) and we returned to being entertained by a couple of guitar strumming lads singing Indonesian rock songs under a black Indonesian sky, lazily swatting mosquitoes from our skin.

It was almost 2 30am when I jumped on the back of a motorbike to be taken to M's aunt's house where we would spend our wedding party night - but not together.  Such was the way things work out in Indonesia, there was one bedroom free.  So, I gave my gorgeous new husband a great big kiss and curled up in the big bed, under a fan, not next to my husband, but to Christine, while M slept on a mat on the living room floor among his good mates.
An Indonesian wedding, right until the end.  I drifted off to sleep with the tune of My Delila on the lips, and wondering just where the hell the keyboard player had learnt to sing that song.  And realising, only now, that I, the bride, had not even tried any of the BEEF RENDANG, but didn't care.  Nor did I couldn't have been any better......

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