My wedding date and I looked pretty good, if I do say so myself. She met me at the centre and we caught a ride to the wedding with her friends, who were also attending.
Jakarta is a huge city. Ten million people live here and on any given day, traffic is crazy, except during Idul Fitri when the entire city gets eerily quiet and empty…well, relatively. The wedding was on a Saturday afternoon in an area of the city called Bekasi, which is normally about an hour away by car from where I live. Yes, I said an hour. In the same city. Not a suburb of the city, but the city itself. That’s how big Jakarta is.
In Saturday midday traffic, it took us 2 hours to get there using the highway. That’s how bad the traffic was. That meant that we missed a big part of the wedding show – the traditional Batak dance. Ya, the very thing I most wanted to see, I missed. But I didn’t let it get me down. I was there and I was going to soak up as much of the experience as possible.
At this Batak wedding (I don’t know if this is typical of all Batak weddings), only Batak people were allowed to sit in the downstairs area; the rest of us non-Batak people had to go hang out upstairs in a balcony area and watch from afar. This wasn’t a bad thing for me, because it gave me a great vantage point to observe everything and everyone. The focus of the entire proceedings was a stage, where the bride and groom, their parents and a few other relatives sat. When we arrived, they were greeting guests in a receiving line on the stage, so we joined in before we adjourned to our upstairs holding area.
As we made our way across the stage, bopping lightly to the live Batak music being played by the Batak band, we shook hands with each relative from 1 end to the other, saying, “Selamat,” (congratulations) to every single person. Our group of about 10 stopped when we got to the bride and groom in the middle of the stage and did a group photo with them (I don’t have it or I would have posted it here), then we continued making our way across the stage, shaking hands and saying ,”Selamat.”
Once we were done, we made our way upstairs to get some food and watch the proceedings from the balcony. Actually, we were pretty glad to get food because when we had arrived, we had heard that the food was finished. Luckily, that was a vicious, vicious rumour and there was still some left, so I got a bellyful.
By the time we were done eating, just about all of the hundreds of people in attendance were done greeting the bride, groom and other stage family, and congratulatory speeches from the various male Batak family heads were just about done. Then it was time for more ceremonial happenings – the giving away of money.
Various people from the groom’s side of the family draped rich fabrics called ulos over their shoulders then did a little shimmy dance over to the other side of the stage to give the envelope of money to a recipient from the bride’s side of the family. Then there was reciprocation from the bride’s side to the groom’s side. Then both sides of the family on the stage got together to shimmy-dance down off the stage and down the centre aisle to various groups of family, like the bride’s mother’s uncle’s family or whatever, to give them money too. I don’t know how much money was given away at that wedding but I suspect it was a lot. My date had told me that putting on a proper Batak wedding is an expensive undertaking and I was beginning to see why. What with the feeding of so many people and the giving away of money, it must have been really expensive.
After all the money distribution was over, it was time for more rituals. Three ladies put tall, slim sacks of rice on their heads and danced before and behind a man with an ulos in his arms walking down the aisle towards the stage, where a ceremony of wrapping the ulos around the bride and groom took place, with all the stage relatives gathered around. There were tears flowing because it signified the bride’s parents giving her care over to her new husband.
After that, the bride and groom gave gift baskets to a couple of family groups. Then things seemed to be winding down, so my date ordered an Uber (my first time in a lady-driven one, she was nice) and we left. We chatted for the entire hour back to our neighbourhood.
My date was worried that I didn’t have a good time at the wedding because we had arrived late and I didn’t get to see the traditional Batak dance. But I assured her that I had a great time nonetheless, because I got to observe a wedding that’s far outside of how my culture does it. I told her about Jamaican weddings – the bride wears white and no-one else does, the wedding ceremony in church or wherever, and once the speeches are made it’s all about the DJ, the dance floor, and the drinks. Also, the cake, let’s not forget the cake.
There was no DJ, no dance floor, no booze and no cake. But I had a great time because of the new experience and the company. One more first under my belt!