Last week, soon after arriving back in Pangkalan Bun, Bu Arfa invited me to attend the daughter of a family friend’s wedding. I was keen to witness a Pangkalan Bun wedding and see how it differed from the one I briefly visited in Jakarta with Bu Valentina.
We rode there on motor bikes because the roads near where the wedding was being held are so narrow that a car would have difficulty navigating them let alone finding somewhere to park. I went with Bu Arfa on her motorbike while Ari, Bapak and Intan rode on the second bike. Bapak was steering with Ari riding pillion behind him and Intan standing on the running board in front of Bapak with her face to the wind.
We were one of the first visitors to arrive. We walked through the formal sitting room to the next room where several large Indian styled glittery lengths of green bunting material hung parallel across the ceiling and underneath them was a small camp bed sized mattress covered with beautiful Javanese batik. On the batik covered mattress were 2 folded matching batik squares and sprinkled around them were thinly sliced fragrant pandan leaves. There was no other furniture in the room other than a coffee table with a TV on it and a sideboard. A few women were already seated on the floor and I was pleased we had arrived early enough to be able to choose a spot to sit against a wall. The only man in the room at this point was the brides father, a very elderly looking toothless man. The room gradually began to fill up with women, all but one with their head covered! I was pleased I wasn’t the only one!After chatting with the women nearby, Bu Arfa suggested I might like to say hello to the bride and groom who were waiting in an adjoining room together! Grateful for a chance to stretch my legs, and also very curious to meet the bride and groom, I headed over and entered the room. Inside, the bride and groom were standing waiting wearing very heavy white clothing with whom I thought was the official photographer but I later discovered her to be a friend of the bride and groom who owned a very fancy camera! The bride greeted me by name and asked me why Rebecca hadn’t come with me to Kalimantan! By that question I immediately could tell that she remembered us from from 2009 when we taught at SMA 2 Pangkalan Bun briefly, however I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember her at all. I asked if I could take some photos and they shyly agreed. I soon realised that the beautiful bride had no front teeth and therefore was doing everything possible to ensure her lips were closed for each photo.
I returned outside and regained my seat by the wall just in time before it was snaffled by the steady inflow of guests. While the women sat here in this room, the men sat outside and teenagers stood in the doorways holding mobile phones ready to take some photos.
After about half an hour, 2 officials arrived and sat directly in front of the batik covered mattress and the bride and groom were called to join us.
They were each seated one of the matching batik squares facing everyone in the room. The actual ceremony didn’t take very long. Firstly the brides father had to repeat something official and confirm his daughters name as it was to appear on the documents. Then it was the grooms fathers turn. The groom then had to repeat some Arabic and the officials were very insistent he pronounced it all correctly. After a few false starts they stopped and gave him some impromptu lessons which was quite funny although the groom was terribly embarrassed as it was all using a microphone!
Once the paperwork was done, everyone bowed their heads and held out both hands with palms facing upwards for prayers. Then after the prayers, the bride and groom began acknowledging their appreciation and respect for each of the elder members of their family. It began with their parents who were placed on the bridal sarong covered mattress. Firstly the bride grasped the hands of her new mother in law with both her hands and then bent low over them touching her forehead to them. She then held this position for about 10 seconds while meanwhile her husband was doing the same with his fathers hands. They then swapped parents before repeating this with the brides parents and then each family member present in the room.
Once all the important family members had been recognised, the bride and groom were seated again on the batik mattress and presented with a plate of nasi kuning (yellow rice) topped with a boiled egg. The grooms mother then gave them each a spoonful of rice with some egg
With their nerves and probably the fact that they hadn’t had much to drink or eat for a while, the food seemed very difficult to swallow! They then repeated this with what I would assume to be a welcome sip of water.
As they were completing this, other guests began to stand and the room gradually began to empty slightly. Bu Arfa invited me to join her outside for some dinner. I walked through the huge open kitchen where many people were busy organising food and plates and cutlery for the guests, down some stairs to the back under cover area where several people were seated on the floor eating. Bu Arfa gave me a plate and then returned to the kitchen to see if there were any vegetable dishes. She found a delicious vegetable dish made from kangkung and garlic. Bu Arfa had warned me that there would be a good chance there would only be fish and rice served so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to enjoy some vegetables! I found a bench to sit on while eating my yummy meal and behind me was a mother rocking her toddler to sleep in a sarong cradle hanging from the rafters. Behind Bu Arfa & Bapak was a small fish farm pond which fascinated Intan. Luckily her big brother kept a firm eye on her while she navigated the wooden planks surrounding the water.
As soon as we had finished our meal we gave our plates to the tireless crew washing dishes and then returned the rest of the food to the kitchen.
Inside we discovered the bride and groom standing and having their photos taken with various guests. The bride asked if I would join them for a photo and as soon as I had had my photo taken with them, suddenly others also wanted their photo taken with the 3 of us!
We finally dragged ourselves away and made our way out to the front door to head home. The bride and groom followed us and then stood by the door to formally thank each departing guest for coming to the wedding!
A few days later I spoke to several people who know the bride and her family and asked why she had lost her teeth at such an early age. They all think it has to do with the water that the families who live in that area used to use for washing and for drinking. Apparently it was incredibly acidic and quickly destroyed the tooth enamel. However, it seems that these families now tend to buy water so their children today have a greater chance of avoiding such horrendous tooth decay. However they now have to be vigilant and careful to prevent tooth decay caused by foods high in sugar!