INDONESIA

A JAVANESE WEDDING

 

The writer of this letter, whose name was Kartini, was  Javanese  Regent's daughter, with the title Raden Adjeng. She lived only from 1879-1904, but she had a tremendous influence in her short life. She was the first Javanese lady of high rank to break with the old Mohammedan traditions. She was hungry for education, for herself and for other women, high and low. With her wise father's reluctant agreement, she went to a Dutch school for a few years. She refused to agree to the usual arranged marriage, and eventually married a bridegroom of her own choice. She established a school for girls in her own home, and, after her death, many schools were founded in her name, which is highly honoured in Indonesia today.

Princess (or Lady) Kartini's letters were first edited by a former Dutch Minister for Education and Industry in the Netherlands East Indies, in 1911. In 1921 an English edition appeared. The following letter describes a Javanese wedding in high circles: it is her own sister's, and every detail of procedure and decoration is given for the Dutch friend to whom she is writing. In view of the changes which have come with independence and westernization, this letter, and many others in the collection, are now valuable historical documents.  

 
           
 
You are right. The separation from sister has been a great grief to us, we have been together so long, and so intimately. People were not wrong when they said that we three had grown to be one in thought and in feeling. We cannot realize that sister has really left us, the idea that she has gone away never to return is unbearable. We try to  imagine that she is only away on a visit, and will be back some day.
 
 
We miss our Kleintje very much. But happiness will not stand still; this will not be the only hard parting, we know that; many others await us in the future.
 
It is wise from time to time,
When a tender strong bond
Binds and caresses the poor heart,
To rear it asunder with our own hands,
says De Genestet.  But it is easier said than done. Do you not find it so? We receive encouraging letters from little sister. She is happy and pleased with her surroundings. That makes us so thankful, her happiness is our happiness. And now I shall try and tell you something of her wedding.
 
A native marriage entails a heavy burden upon the family of the bride. Days and weeks beforehand, the preparations for the solemnity are begun. Sister's wedding was celebrated very quietly on account of a death in the family. One of our cousins who was a sister of the bridegroom, died shortly before the marriage. Poor creature. She was still such a young thing, and she left little children behind her. You must know that Klentje is married to her own cousin. His mother is father's sister. He was here with us long ago, but then she was only a schoolgirl and no one thought of an engagement; though it has happened that children have been affianced and married, and later, when both were full grown, the marriage would be celebrated over again.
 
The acquaintance of sister and her husband was renewed when the Governor General was at Semarang. It is not customary among us for young girls ever to leave the house until they follow a strange bridegroom; but as I have already told you, we have broken with many traditions, and can do what others cannot, on account of the unusual freedom of our bringing up, and now we are working to break tradition still further. No Javanese girl must be seen before her marriage; she must remain in the background, usually in her own chamber; and in December we were at Semarang with sister, and she went openly into the shops to buy some things which she wanted.
 
A Javanese girl receives no good wishes upon her engagement, the subject is not mentioned before her; still less does she mention it herself. She acts just as though she knew nothing of it. I should like to have read the hearts of our fellow country-women when they heard sister speak openly and freely of her coming marriage. A day or two before the wedding, we commemorated our dead. That is our custom: in the midst of joy we always invoke the memory of our dead. There was a sacrificial meal, during which their blessing was asked for the offspring of the coming nuptials. This takes place in the bride's family. My brother-in-law and his family came on the day before the wedding. The first thing that a European bridegroom would do on arriving at the home of his bride, would be to go to her. But among us that would be out of the question. The bridegroom must not see his bride until the knot is tied. Even his family must not see her.
 
On the day of the wedding, the bride was bathed in a bath of flowers, and after that she was taken in hand by the toekang paes, a woman whose business is the dressing of brides. The bride takes her seat on a cloth that is especially prepared for the occasion, it consists of katoenjes (pieces of cotton and silk) and zidjes, enough for a kabaja (long-sleeved jacket), joined together. This is the property of the toekang paes. At her side are placed sweetmeats besides sirrih, ping nuts, bananas, a jug of water, uncooked rice, a roasted hen, a live hen, and a burning night candle. Incense is burned, and the toekang paes cuts the fine hair from the bride's neck and face, the hair on the forehead is cut, too, even the hair over the ears. And the eye-brows are shaves off with a razor. One can always tell a newly married woman, by the shorn hair across the forehead and ears and by the shaved eyebrows.
 
At about one o'clock in the day, the toilet of the bride begins. The forehead is covered with soft salve, even to the ears, and the face is whitened, while the hair is dressed in the form of a cap, and ornamented with flowers. On the headdress are seven jewels, fastened upon spirals, which are constantly waving up and down. A gold embroidered kain (a long straight skirt made by wrapping material round the body), and a kabaja of silver gauze, with the usual jewelled ornaments, such as brooches, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and sleeve-buttons, completed her toilet.
 
 
In Java, young girls must not wear flowers in the hair, only married women may do that; one often seen very old women going around with flowers in their hair. The evening before the wedding is called widodarenni; widodari means angel, heavenly being. On the last evening of her maidenhood, the girl on the threshold of matrimony is compared to such a heavenly being, and the evening is celebrated. You must have seen the photographs of Javanese wood-work at Mevrouw Rooseboom's, and you may remember the picture of an article of furniture with three doors in front. That is called a kwade, and is used at weddings. A handsome carved kwade, covered with gold figures on a purple ground, was in the great hall at the back of the kaboe-patin (house of Chief of the district). All tables, chairs, and benches were removed from that apartment and the floors were covered with a great alcatief
 
On both sides of the kwade, which was draped and ornamented with flowers, stood two large copper vases, filled with young cocoanut leaves and flowers. These vases are called kembeng majang, and must not be broken at a wedding. At about half-past seven in the evening, when all of the women guests had assembled in the kwade-hall and were ranged on the ground in two rows, one on each side of the kwade, sister came in, led by the hand of our married sister and our sister-in-law, and followed by a woman who carried her sirrihdoos (the box to hold the sirrih paste. Sirrih: betel leaf and kwispeldoor (a spitting-box; for it is necessary to spit after chewing sirrih. These boxes are often of gold or tortoise-shell, and beautifully ornamented. They are placed by a Javanese lady on all formal as well as informal occasion). Sister sat down in the middle of the room, near her family and the most prominent guests. The sirrihdoos and the kwispledoor were placed next to her only as a matter of form, for Klentje eats no sirrih, behind her, a little girl waved a koelite
 
Sister sat with crossed legs before the gold shining kwade, motionless as an image of Buddha, between the gravely dressed, solemn-looking wives of the native dignitaries, equal in rank to her husband. Tea and cakes were served, every one took a cup of tea and several kinds of small pastries. The bride and the most distinguished guests each had an individual tea-service, and a tray of pastries. It was as though a whole carpet of pastries were spread out before the guests, here and there broken by sirrih-doozen and kwispeldoors of gold and tortoise-shell, of wood, of silver. The company was composed entirely of married women. We unmarried ones were not there.
 
You have certainly heard that among the Javanese it is a great misfortune for a woman to remain unmarried. It is a disgrace as well. Not so long ago, in enlightened Europe it was looked upon in the same way; is not that true. So we must not think ill of the foolish uncivilized Indians. If the bridegroom has a mother, on this evening she must be at the feast of her daughter-in-law-to-be. Our masculine guests ate with father in the pendopo, while the bridegroom stayed at home in his lodgings. Sister was so glad when, at half-past nine, the ceremonial was over, so far as she was concerned. She walked decorously and sedately from the hall, through the throng of women sitting around, but as soon as she was out of sight, and safe in our room all the formality was gone. She was again our little sister, our dear happy Kleintje, and no Buddha image. That evening was sacred to the Prophet. In the mosque there was a great slamatan (sacrificial meal, celebrated with prayers); the blessing of heaven was asked upon the approaching marriage.
 
At the meal, only men were present, our women guests, even the regents' wives who had come to sister's wedding, are at home with us. Early the next morning, there was a stir in the kaboepatin. It looked quite gay, with its decorations of greens and flags. Outside on the highway, there was bustle and noise. The tricolour waved merrily among the rustling young cocoanut trees that bordered the road which led to the house of the bridegroom. In the green covered paselhuisen, two little houses on the aloenaloen before the kaboeipatin, the gamelan played lustily. We were on the back gallery, where stood baskets of kamangas, tjempakas, and melaties. Women's hands were arranging the flowers into garlands, or suspending them on little swings, or gearing he blossoms from the leaves, so that they could be strewn in the way of the bridal pair wherever they might go. The kaboepatin was filled with gamelan music (music of Javanese orchestra) and the perfume of flowers. Bush people walked to and fro. In our room, the toilet of the bride was begun. Her forehead had been painted dark before, now it was decorated with little golden figures.
 
Sister lay down during he operation. Behind the figures there were two boarders fastened to the hair - a dark one behind the gold, into this, jewelled knobs were stuck. With other brides the boarder-work is made of their own hair; but for sister we had a false piece set in, because the elaborate process is painful, and the poor child had just recovered from a fever. Above the border-work came a golden diadem, and her hair at the back of the head was dressed like a half-moon and filled with flowers, from that, a veil of melati (Jasmine flowers) with a border of flowers fell, and reached to her shoulders. Her head was gain surmounted by the seven jewels glittering on their spirals. Behind these, there was a jewelled flower, from which hung six chains of real flowers, suspended behind the ears, over the breast, and down to the waist. These chains, which were about as thick as one's fingers, were made of white flowers linked together with little bands of gold and ending in a round knob which was struck full of melati flowers.  
 
Her wajang costume was decollete in front, so that neck, face and arms were entirely uncovered. All that was visible of sister except the face, which was whitened, was covered with a fragrant salve. She wore a gold embroidered kain, over which there was a drapery of gold woven silk, th3e whole was held up by a sash of yellow with long hanging ends of red silk painted with figures of gold. A dark green sash, growing lighter till it was pale green in the centre, was bound around the upper part of her body. Little glints of gold showed delightfully through this. Her arms and shoulders were left entirely free. The yellow girdle around her waist was called mendologirl. Sister wore one of gold, three fingers broad and ornamented with jewels, garlands of flowers, with hanging ends, were fastened to it, reaching from behind one hip to the other. Around her neck, she wore a collar, with three wing-shaped ornaments hanging down over her breast and almost to her waist. There were bracelets on her wrists and on the upper part of her arms, shaped like serpents with upraised tails and heads, golden chains dangled from these.
 
It was between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. In the kwade-hall the wives of the native nobles assembled in gala attire. From the kwade to the pendopo there was a carpet of flowers, over which the bridal pair must walk. The bride was led forward by her sister and took her place before the kwade. The lights were already lighted in the pendopo, the regents stood assembled in official costumes, and there were a few European acquaintances who were anxious to see sister for the last time as a maiden. In the aloen-aloean, and all outside the kaboepatin, it was dark with people, only the road which was decorated with flags and green leaves remained free. A streak of yellow could be seen in the distance, it drew nearer, till there appeared a train of open gold-striped parasols (ipajoengs), under which the native officials walk on great occasions. It was the retinue which preceded the bridegroom, who, with the other regents, was in an open carriage, which was covered with a glittering golden parasol. Gamelan music sounded from the pasebans and the kaboepatin, to greet the approaching procession.
 
It reached the daboepatin and halted at the door of the pendopo. The whole company squatted down, the bridegroom got out of the carriage, and was led forward by two unmarried regents. They went into the pendopo, and all three knelt down in the middle of the room to do homage to father and other regents. The two regents moved back, still on their knees, and left the bridegrooms alone in the middle of the pendopo. The chiefs formed a circle around him, within which there was a smaller circle of priests. Father sat at the head of the regents, and the High Priest who was to perform the ceremony next to the bridegroom. Father announced to those present the reason for the calling of this assembly, and said that he now sought the assistance of the High Priest to bind the daughter in marriage to the bridegroom From the crowd of people in the pendopo there arose a mystic buzzing noise. They were praying.
 
I was so sorry that I could not be near enough to hear. A teacher who is a friend of ours, sister Roekmini, and I were the only women in the pendopo, which was filled with men. But we were very glad to be allowed there at all, and to have that much freedom granted us. It would not have been seemly for us to appear among a crowd of men during the celebration of a marriage ceremony. It was a pity, as we should have been glad to hear the betrothal formulas. We could only see that during he betrothal service the Priest held fast to the hand of the bridegroom, who had to respond after him. The solemnity lasted a quarter of an hour or most, but we did not have a watch with minutes, so we could not tell exactly. It was impressive and still in the pendopo, not a sound could be heard save the mystic droning of the priest. There was a stir among the crowd of men, and the priests rose from their knees. The ceremony was over. The regents stood up, two of them lifted up the bridegroom, and now they started off over the carpet of flowers, followed by the most prominent regents. Back in the kwade-hall, the bride was raised up by her sisters, and, supported by them, she too started down the road of flowers, followed by Mamma and all the women guests. As the bride and bridegroom came within a few steps of each other, those who were leading them fell back, and the bridal pair gave, each to the other, a rolled up sirrh-leaf filled with flowers. They took a few steps nearer, and then both knelt down and with them the whole company.
 
The bridegroom sat, on her knees, the bride moved nearer to him and made a sembah, both hands held together and brought down under the nose, that is our mark of reverence. Then she kissed his right knee. Again the bride made a sembah. The bridegroom rose and raised his wife, and hand in hand the young pair walked over the carpet of flowers to the kwade, followed by the whole company except the regents, who turned back to the pendop. Bride and bridegroom sat before the kwade like two images of Buddha, the family and the lady guests thronged around them. Behind the bridal pair sat two little girls waiting their koeltes to and fro. In most cases, husband and wife see each other for the first time at this ceremony. At the stoke of half-past seven the regents came back, and formed a half-circle on the ground around the bridal pair, the women of their families formed the other half of the circle. The bride and bridegroom saluted the older relatives with the foot-kiss.
 
The bride first raised herself on her knees and shuffled forward toward Mamma; she made a sambah and kissed Mamma's knee, to beg her mother's blessing on her marriage. From Manna, sister went to the aunts, sisters, and cousins - too all those who were older than she - and went through with the same ceremony. Then she went to Father and kissed his knee, in order to receive his blessing; from him she went to her father-in-law; after that to her uncles and cousins. When she had finished kissing the feet of all and had returned again to her place, the bridegroom began the foot-kiss journey. He followed the example of his wife. When he had completed this ceremony, the regents went out, and tea and pastry were served as on the evening before. At half-past eight bride and bridegroom departed. Hand in hand they left the hall. Usually they must go out on their knees, but as both of them had just recovered from illness, they were allowed to walk. In other families the bridegroom must creep up the steps instead of walking, on coming to the house of his parents-in-law, before he pays his respects to the ladies of the family; this is the perfection of good manners.
 
The bridegroom went to the bridal chamber, and sister to our room, where we dressed her for the reception to Europeans. Her bridal toilet, which had been the work of a whole day, was undone in five minutes. Only the headdress and the decorations on her forehead were left unchanged. We young girls ought not to have dressed her alone, but we did it just the same. We thought that is was entirely too stupid for us not to be allowed to touch sister in her bridal toilet. Sister now put on a kain of silk interwoven with gold, and a kabaja of ivory-coloured satin with silver embroidery. She wore another jewelled collar, the jewelled flowers in her hair and the diadem were taken off. In their stead she wore a golden crown from which hung a veil. On her head jewelled flowers on spirals were fastened. So veiled and crowned, it was as though she had stepped from a page of the Thousand and One Nights. Sister looked like one of the fairy princesses. The costume was very becoming to her. What a pity that she could not have been photographed in it!
 
The bridegroom appeared in his official dress. Again the bridal pair sat before the kwade. At eight o'clock, they went arm in arm to the front gallery, where two gilded settees stood ready for them before a background of palms. They received the good wishes of the European ladies and gentlemen, standing. It was called a reception, but at the sound of the music, the dance-crazy feet turned toward the empty pendopo; bride and bridegroom both took a few turns around the pendopo. It is not customary for young girls to appear at a wedding, but it would have been foolish for us to remain away from sister's feast. It was not yet twelve o'clock, when the Resident, who was among the guests, toasted the young pair, his speech was answered by Father. Soon after the European guests took their leave, all but the Resident and a few others, among them a lady who is an intimate friend of ours. They remained for the native part of the feast.
 
After the departure of the European guests, the native nobles who had absented themselves from the pendopo during the reception, came in and formed a half-circle before with the bridegroom must give a proof of his proficiency in dancing. The regents as well as the other chiefs had meanwhile dressed in more informal costume. The gamelan played; a dancing-girl  entered and began to dance. The Patih of Japara brought, on his knees, a silver waiter to the bridegroom, on which there was a silken cloth. When the bridegroom had taken the cloth, the Patih fell back. Soft gamelan tones again sounded, it was a prelude, an invitation to the hero of the day to open the feast. The bridegroom rose and went to the middle of the pendopo, be fastened the silken cloth around him and named his favourite air to the gamelan players. The gongs chimed, it was immediately stuck up.
 
I shall not attempt to describe this dance, my pen is inadequate. I shall only say that it was a joy to the eyes to follow the beautiful gamelan music. Behind him danced the dancing-girl, also singing. The circle of native dignitaries accompanied the music by singing and beating their hands together. Toward the end of the dance the Resident went forward with two glasses of champagne. The gong sounded, and both dancers fell upon their knees. With a sambah the bridegroom accepted a glass from the Resident. He rank it and the Resident emptied his at the same time amid joyful gamelan tones and sounds of general mirth. A servant took the empty glasses, and the Resident fell back. The bridegroom stood up and again began to dance. Now his father-in-law brought him a health of drink; dancing , they advanced to meet each other, and in the sound of the gong, the young man knelt down to receive the wine-glass from the hand of the older one. After a health had been brought to him by all the regents present, he left them and went back to sit by the side of his wife. Soon after that the bridal pair left the assembly; the European guests went home, but the feast was kept up till early in the morning. The European gentlemen had danced too, and our Assistant Resident acquitted himself excellently. Mamma, our friend, sister roekmini, and I stayed till the last European guest had gone. The next day there was quiet in the house. In the afternoon the last ceremony took place. That is the first visit of the bridal pair to the parents of the groom. It is called in Javanes ngoendob mantoe, which literally translated, means "daughter-in-law plucking!" The daughter-in-law is compared to a flower which her husband's parents will pluck.
 
For this occasion both bride and groom should again put on their bridal costume, but that would have been much too wearisome, so the groom was dressed as usual and sister wore a kain interwoven with gold, and a silk jabaja, her hair was dressed in the form of a cap, and on her head was a small ehath in the shape of a cross, which was filled with flowers, and over the whole was a network of melati blossoms, and again the jewelled spirals waved to and fro above her head. The bridal pair went in a procession, followed by the native chiefs on foot, to the house where the father of the bridegroom lodged. Days and weeks after the wedding the newly married pair are still called bride and bridegroom. The bride is a bride until she becomes a mother. There are women, mothers, who all their lives are called nganten, short for penganten, which means bride and also bridegroom. The day after the ceremony was spent in receiving visits from both Europeans and natives. Five days later there was again a feast in the kaboepatin, the first return of the holy day which had opened the wedding ceremonies was celebrated. 
 
The young couple left a week after the wedding, they were feted everywhere by various family connections with whom they stopped on their journey home. At Tegal the marriage was celebrated all over again, they remained there a week, and finally they reached their own home at Pemalang. There, you have a description of a Javanese wedding in high circles. Sister's marriage was called only a quiet affair, and yet it entailed all that ceremony. What must a wedding be that is celebrated in a gala way?
 
We were dead tired after the wedding.
 
The Javanese give presents at a marriage, things to wear, such as kains, stomachers, headdresses, silk for kabajas, cloth for jackets, and also things to eat, such as rice, eggs, chickens, or a buffalo. These are merely meant as marks of good-will. Kardinah also received a splendid bull from an uncle. This had to be placed on exhibition with the other presents! When a buffalo is killed at the time of a wedding - and usually more than one is needed for the feast meals - a bamboo vessel filled with sirrih, little cakes, pinang nuts, and pieces of meat must be mixed with the running blood of the slaughtered buffalo. These vessels, covered with flowers, are laid at all of the cross-roads, bridges, and wells on the estate, as an offering to the spirits who dwell there. If these bridge, road, and water spirits are not propitiated, they will be offended at the festivities, and misfortune will come of it. That is the belief of the people. Its origin I do not know. A friend of ours says rightly that the Javanese are a people who are filled with legends and superstition. Who shall lead the people out of the dusky realm of fairy tales into the light of work and reality? And then, when superstition is cast off, we do not want the poetry to be trampled under foot.
 
-----From Letters of a Javanese Princess (1921)
 

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Indonesia - History and Early Culture - Parts 1 & 2
 
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