It wasn’t even 24 hours after I arrived in a small village somewhere in the jungle of East Java in the middle between the mountains and the beach of Banyuwangi, that I got the offer from my homestay’s brother to photograph his niece’s wedding.
In a village with only 300 people, everyone knows everyone and family ties are strong. His niece is going to marry a man from a neighboring village which is a huge occasion and half of our village was invited to witness the ceremony.
Still stunned by the different lifestyles of such a local village, coming from Jakarta and my hometown being Berlin, there wasn’t a way to say no.
Of course, I wouldn’t want to miss such an opportunity.
The way to the village was already an adventure in itself. On google maps, the roads looked simple but manageable. In reality, the roads were so steep, that it needed a good car, motorbike, and experience to pass them without any casualty. Needless to say, that the rain makes it even more difficult. Have I already said that it is rain season?
So here I was sitting in the SUV of my homestay’s family on the way to the wedding, having no idea what was waiting for me. If one thing was certain, then that there would be a lot of food.
Even on my first evening, I got invited to a local family to eat with them. Hungry after my travel from Jakarta to Banyuwangi, I patiently waited for their prayers to finish. The hospitality is amazing and everyone is interested in where I am coming from and what if I like their local dishes. Only one thing they find strange about me – that I don’t smoke.
Almost every man smokes in this village, every man but no women. Smoking makes a bad woman. Since there isn’t any woman smoking here, I guess there aren’t any bad women.
The way to the village where the ceremony should be held was rocky but very manageable for the car. On the other hand, there were whole families on simple scooters and motorbikes even carrying some of the food and presents for the upcoming wedding.
The arrival was relatively calm. No bride or husband in sight, so we just walked up to our seats. Strictly sorted by gender, the children and women were seated on their own long table with stacks of cookies and other food, more than anyone could eat anyway.
Very prominent were the thrones for the couple. In the center and very well lit with extra spotlights. Flowers and other decorations in front to even further the emphasis on the importance of the wedding.
While we are waiting for the couple to arrive the men pass their time with smoking and enjoying the traditional coffee.
Then there was news, that the couple is on their way. Which meant that we have to leave the seats and all the tables were removed in preparation for the wedding procession to have enough space.
So we moved to another friends house to wait there until the couple is closer. Needless to say, that in every house you feel like at home. People serve their food, coffee and it is like family everywhere.
Now the music was getting louder which signaled us, that the main subjects must have been just around the corner. Going by the noise I thought they must have been already near our house.
Rest assured, this Indonesian wedding seemed to be accompanied not only by one but multiple traditional drum bands, which impaired my sense of their distance.
Then there was sudden hecticness breaking through the calmness of the village life. The wedding couple could be seen. People marry very early here to further strengthen the family ties. The bride was only 19 years old and the nervousness of the upcoming ceremony was very visible.
In front where the drum band, some children in traditional costumes, with heavy make-up and somewhere in the middle were the groom and bride, sitting on a throne behind heavily adorned horses.
It is a tradition in legacy to the past kings & queens, that the modern groom and bride are dressed in these costumes.
The music playing from the drum bands got louder and faster the closer we were getting to the stage where the marriage should be finally happening. In a stage of trance, along with the music, they were lead to the stage, where they presented themselves to the whole wedding party.
After a few small talk, and settling down, the parents were invited to the throne to give their blessing to their children, which was the highlight of the ceremony.
There isn’t much talking or even a “pastor” leading the ceremony. It is more an order of gestures and traditions that everyone is clear about.
The whole ceremony started around 2 pm and around 6 pm we already left the wedding. In the village, the life is dictated by the light-cycle and around 6 pm this time of the year it already gets dark. So we left and took home this great experience.
This sums up my very first day in Indonesia and hopefully more interesting stories to follow.
I am writing this in my room in my homestay as it is raining the whole day. Hopefully, the power won’t cut out again and the mobile Internet will remain relatively stable.
Other than that, the local life in such a small village is obviously very different than what I am accustomed to from Berlin or even Jakarta.
People are very welcoming, although my non-existent Bahasa and their limited English make communication difficult, it is clear how friendly they are and interested to hear my background.
These are some of the insights and customs that I wouldn’t get know myself without traveling hear. So the travel has already “paid off” I guess and I took home some great memories.
I am curious what is coming up next and which surprises lay in ahead of me.