Weddings, Bangka Style

Love is in the air. It is wedding season in Indonesia, and my fellow ETAs have been sharing about their experiences with Indonesian weddings across the archipelago. From Manado to Malang to Gorontalo, us bules have run the gamut of wedding experiences. It is no different in Pangkal Pinang.

Prior to this year, I have been to exactly two weddings. One was for my Uncle Phil and Aunt Anna, who live in Washington State. I was in fifth grade at the time and I remember writing them letters asking if I could be flower girl, which they allowed. (Thanks! Love you guys.) The other wedding I have been to was for a cousin of my host family in Thailand. That was a traditional Isaan (northeastern Thailand) wedding where the groom and his kin walked from their family’s compound to the home of the bride, bearing gifts of pillows and blankets and other household objects. There was a live band that marched with the family and family members had the option of dancing with the musical procession. I danced with them and took lots of pictures of the actual ceremony, which involved monks chanting and lots of white string binding everyone together as a new, united family.

Now that I have been in Indonesia for two almost three months, I have exponentially increased my number of weddings attended. Thanks to the good work done by aforementioned ETAs in other cities (check out their blog links above!) I have realized that the weddings I have attended are in the style of Bangka (the name of my island) and that these festivities are not the same everywhere in Indonesia.

The part of the weddings that I have seen is the reception. This is the time when all friends, kin, neighbors, and the itinerant foreigner can come to congratulate the happy couple, eat to the point of bursting, and maybe sing a song or two. People are constantly coming and going… once you have shaken the hands of the couple, both sets of in-laws, and other relatives stationed under the arched entryway, you are expected to load up on kue [cakes]. After appetizing yourself with chunks of luridly-colored, wiggling pastries, you are expected to get up for round 2 which consists of heaps of rice and as much savory, spicy food as you can handle. Round 3 is optional depending on whether or not you want a sweet drink and/or ice cream to cleanse your palate.

[Side note: As a vegetarian the food is usually a non-event for me; I have learned to be very mistrustful of Indonesian food and as a rule of thumb I eat before leaving the house unless I know I will be going to a “safe” (i.e. already vetted for being both clean and veggie-friendly) establishment.]

Once you have eaten your fill, you have the option of shaking everyone’s hand again to take your leave, which is what most people do. OOOORRR you can stay awhile and get down and dirty to the dangdut music that is sure to be blasting from large boom-boom-booming speakers. Dangdut music deserves a post of its own, but for now let it suffice to say that I have a love-hate relationship with this uniquely Indonesian musical form. Dangdut is descended from pop-style music from India and has taken on a life of its own in Indonesia. On an aesthetic level, I hate it. The beat is annoying and I would never choose to listen to dangdut on my own will. When some of my students gleefully informed me that there was even a “King of Dangdut,” Rhoma Irama, I just about peed with fear that I would then be subjected to song after song from this supposed King.

But on a cultural level, I love dangdut music. I love seeing a different side to my Indonesia friends as they quite literally go wild when dangdut music comes on. People here LOVE their dangdut music, and they are not afraid to show it. Dangdut makes people sing and dance and laugh and smile, all of which is contagious. Dancing for dangdut music even has its own verb: berjoget. When the music comes on, all the Indonesians around me instantly urge Joget, Miss! Joget joget! Dance, Miss! Dance dance! I am a willing participant and have found myself joget-ing atop more than a few stages during my time here. My love of dancing, complete with hip wiggles and flailing arm movements, have found a welcoming home in the thudding beat of dangdut.

Anyway, I have only seen the reception of four different weddings here. I imagine that there is a private ceremony where the couples say their vows or whatever the Indonesian equivalent is, but I think that part is reserved for family members only. So without further adieu, I bring you… pictures!!

The first wedding invitation that has ever had my name on it!
The first wedding invitation that has ever had my name on it! This is the first wedding that Caitlin and I attended. It was for two teachers at her school.
The back of the invitation, which has more information about the event as well as a handy-dandy map.
The back of the invitation, which has more information about the event as well as a handy-dandy map.
Unsure of what we were expected to bring, I made this card for the happy couple. I had never met them since they are teachers at Caitlin's school, but I didn't want to come empty-handed.
Unsure of what we were expected to bring, I made this card for the happy couple. I had never met them since they are teachers at Caitlin’s school, but I didn’t want to come empty-handed.
This is the inside of the card. I opted for a short and sweet message in English instead of broken Indonesian. And it turns out that I needn't have worried; people don't bring gifts to weddings. They do, however, bring money in unmarked envelopes that they slip into donation boxes. Duly noted for the future.
This is the inside of the card. I opted for a short and sweet message in English instead of broken Indonesian. And it turns out that I needn’t have worried; people don’t bring gifts to weddings. They do, however, bring money in unmarked envelopes that they slip into donation boxes. Duly noted for the future.
The welcoming archway as Despri and Nisa's wedding. Family members are waiting to greet guests under the yellow pop-up tent. The couple and their parents are sitting on a stage immediately to the left under the big tent, and rows and rows of chairs are set up facing the tent so that guests can people-watch while consuming massive amounts of food from the heavily laden buffet tables that line the perimeter of the big tent.
The welcoming archway as Despri and Nisa’s wedding. Family members are waiting to greet guests under the yellow pop-up tent. The couple and their parents are sitting on a stage immediately to the left under the big tent, and rows and rows of chairs are set up facing the tent so that guests can people-watch while consuming massive amounts of food from the heavily laden buffet tables that line the perimeter of the big tent. Also notice the elaborately woven lantern-thing on the left side of the photo. These markers let guests know that they have arrived at the wedding and the names of the bride and groom dangle in the breeze below.
A family wanted me to take their picture as they arrived at the wedding. Notice the traffic jam in the background. I have seen many others weddings set up right in the middle of the street here, which can be a minor inconvenience for motorists but is just part of life here.
A family wanted me to take their picture as they arrived at the wedding. Notice the traffic jam in the background. I have seen many others weddings set up right in the middle of the street here, which can be a minor inconvenience for motorists but is just part of life here.
The bride and groom and in-laws must shake hundreds, perhaps thousands of hands throughout the course of the reception. Guests must shake hands with everyone upon arrival and before departing.
The bride and groom and in-laws must shake hundreds, perhaps thousands of hands throughout the course of the reception. Guests must shake hands with everyone upon arrival and before departing.
Once we have congratulated Despri and Nisa and their families, we walk of the stage and are immediately greeted by a kue [cake] stall.
Once we have congratulated Despri and Nisa and their families, we walk of the stage and are immediately greeted by a kue [cake] stall. We each grab a plate and shuffle off to find a group of unoccupied chairs in the crowd.
I am not the biggest fan of Indonesian desserts and try to find a way to inconspicuously avoid eating more than a tiny bite.
I am not the biggest fan of Indonesian desserts and try to find a way to inconspicuously avoid eating more than a tiny bite of each.
Caitlin and I are the only bules for perhaps at least a 50 km radius. As such, we attract quite a bit of attention.
Caitlin and I are the only bules for perhaps at least a 50 km radius. As such, we attract quite a bit of attention.
While we sit and nibble at our kue, we have prime viewing of the endless procession of greeters on stage. Indonesians get dressed up for weddings, and it is dazzling to see all of the bright colors and variety of styles on display.
While we sit and nibble at our kue, we have prime viewing of the endless procession of greeters on stage. Indonesians get dressed up for weddings, and it is dazzling to see all of the bright colors and variety of styles on display.
Once we have eaten our cakes (or at least sat for awhile and picked at them), it is time to load up on a full meal. At this particular wedding there were no veggie-friendly options, so I occupied myself by taking pictures while others ate. Thankfully, I had the foresight to make a PBJ which I ate in the car on the way to the wedding.
Once we have eaten our cakes (or at least sat for awhile and picked at them), it is time to load up on a full meal. At this particular wedding there were no veggie-friendly options, so I occupied myself by taking pictures while others ate. Thankfully, I had the foresight to make a PBJ which I ate in the car on the way to the wedding.
Es Cincau is a dark brown drink that has ice and mysterious, wiggling brown jelly strands. It tastes like it might be a distant relative of chocolate but it is hard to say for sure. Lya, wearing a blue hijab and a friend of Caitlin and I, is helping serve up cup after cup of Es Cincau.
Es Cincau is a dark brown drink that has ice and mysterious, wiggling brown jelly strands. It tastes like it might be a distant relative of chocolate but it is hard to say for sure. Lya, wearing a blue hijab and a friend of Caitlin and I, is helping serve up cup after cup of Es Cincau.
As I walked around taking pictures, I attracted quite a bit of attention. Everyone, from the hired help to families wearing matching batik, wanted to take photos with me. As a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner here I am basically a walking photo-op.
As I walked around taking pictures, I attracted quite a bit of attention. Everyone, from the hired help to families wearing matching batik, wanted to take photos with me. As a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner here I am basically a walking photo-op.
But I also get pictures of Indonesians too, like this cutie and her proud papa.
But I also get pictures of Indonesians too, like this cutie and her proud papa.
Another cute kid with none other my lovely sitemate Caitlin, joget-ing in the background. Mango, a.k.a. Ibu Siska from SMK2, a.k.a. one of my favorite people of all time, is singing in the background.
Another cute kid with none other my lovely sitemate Caitlin, joget-ing in the background. Mango, a.k.a. Ibu Siska from SMK2, a.k.a. one of my favorite people of all time, is singing in the background.
Caitlin's on her way to being Indo-famous.
Caitlin’s on her way to being Indo-famous.
Before leaving Despri and Nisa's wedding, we have to wait patiently for there to be an ebb in the tide of greeters. Somehow Indonesians manage to damn fine no matter how hot it is. I have no such luck as my face turns red and gleams with sweat at the slightest provocation. I also discovered that my kabaya (the green shirt) was literally soaked through by the time we left this wedding.
Before leaving Despri and Nisa’s wedding, we have to wait patiently for there to be an ebb in the tide of greeters. Somehow Indonesians manage to damn fine no matter how hot it is. I have no such luck as my face turns red and gleams with sweat at the slightest provocation. I also discovered that the back of my kabaya (the green shirt) was literally soaked through by the time we left this wedding.
There is a break in the handshakers, and we make a break for it! The couple is in the center, with Caitlin and I and fellow teachers from SMK 2 (Caitlin's school) flanking out the sides.
There is a break in the handshakers, and we make a break for it! The couple is in the center, with Caitlin and I and fellow teachers from SMK 2 (Caitlin’s school) flanking out the sides.

After getting back in the car and weaving through traffic to head back into town, the teachers that took us on this adventure asked if we were tired. Caitlin and I responded with a rousing “No, not yet.” They then informed us that we actually had a full itinerary of weddings because there were other couples getting married on the same day all over the city. And so in one day I went to three and a half weddings, plus in the afternoon we went to a temple, gamelan class, cemetary, hospital to visit a sick relative, and were introduced to the extended family of said sick relative. It was a full day, to be sure. But I’ll stick with telling about the weddings for now…

The second wedding wasn't nearly as large as the first, and the bride and groom were far younger. Apparently the groom is an alumn of SMK2, though he looks so young that I wonder if he is actually still a student. Both he and his new bride are 19. The norm in Bangka is to be wed at 21/22 for ladies and 24/25 for gents, so even the teachers we were with agreed that they were a little young. Still, we wish them all the best.
The second wedding wasn’t nearly as large as the first, and the bride (seated center) and groom (standing on the left wearing black) were far younger. Apparently the groom is an alumn of SMK2, though he looks so young that I wonder if he is actually still a student. Both he and his new bride are 19, or so I was told. The norm in Bangka is to be wed at 21/22 for ladies and 24/25 for gents, so even the teachers we were with agreed that they were a little young. Still, we wish them all the best.
Requisite group photo with the bride and groom at wedding #2 of the day.
Requisite group photo with the bride and groom at wedding #2 of the day.

On the way to our third wedding of the day, we stopped so that one teacher could go to a different wedding while the rest of us waited in the car. “I wasn’t invited,” sniffed another teacher. It seemed like weddings were a free-for-all, but maybe that’s just because we are bules and live by different rules than most Indonesians due to our foreign and generally clueless status. So we waited while Teacher #1 did the hand-shaking/making-an-appearance thing.

The third wedding was in a different city entirely, which means that we had plenty of time to cool down in the air-conditioned car. There were plenty of signs in addition to the woven-leaf lantern letting us know that we had arrived.
The third wedding was in a different city entirely, which means that we had plenty of time to cool down in the air-conditioned car. There were plenty of signs in addition to the woven-leaf lantern letting us know that we had arrived.
At first I thought that someone had given the couple a new car, but it turns out that this car is owned by a family member and was decorated to take the couple to their next destination (maybe their honeymoon?) after the reception.
At first I thought that someone had given the couple a new car, but it turns out that this car is owned by a family member and was decorated to take the couple to their next destination (maybe their honeymoon?) after the reception.
Sitemate love in PKP at wedding #3.
Sitemate love in PKP at wedding #3.
The inside of the tents at wedding #3 were especially nicely decorated.
The inside of the tents at wedding #3 were especially nicely decorated.
I'm not sure if these girls are hired dancers or family members dressed up in matching outfits like bridemaids in the States. Either way, they added some sparkle to the crowd.
I’m not sure if these girls are hired dancers or family members dressed up in matching outfits like bridemaids in the States. Either way, they added some sparkle to the crowd.
Children are a feature of every aspet of life in Indonesia, including weddings. Indonesians would be shocked to hear that children are not invited to some weddings in the States. The munchkin holding the balloon thought nothing of grabbing onto me as she made her way through the chairs in hopes of snagging some food from the little man sitting in front of her.
Children are a feature of every aspect of life in Indonesia, including weddings. Indonesians would be shocked to hear that children are not invited to some weddings in the States. The munchkin holding the balloon thought nothing of grabbing onto me as she made her way through the chairs in hopes of snagging some food from the little man sitting next to me.
At last, the happy couple at wedding #3. They were so cute together and seemed very much in love. I even got a little emotional. Awww
At last, the happy couple at wedding #3. They were so cute together and seemed very much in love. I even got a little emotional. Awww

The fourth wedding that I have been to was with teachers from my school, SMA3, when a fellow teacher got married a few weeks after the first round of weddings. The day started early, when Caitlin and I were picked up at home by none other than my headmistress. We stopped at school for a bit, where we met with teachers taking a chartered bus to the wedding which was apparently two hours away.

The ride there was uneventful, though Caitlin and I had a firsthand look at the burning jungles that are the source of the smog that is enveloping many parts of Sumatra, Kalimantan, and even my new home in Pangkal Pinang. I haven’t loaded those pictures into the Cloud yet, so smartphone photos will have to do for now.

Though there were vegetarian options at this wedding, I still opt to take photos (selfies, in this case) instead.
Though there were vegetarian options at this wedding, I still opt to take photos (selfies, in this case) instead.
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With the dangdut beat going strong, I grabbed the nearest willing dance partner, who happened to be Novi’s toddler.
With all of my fellow teachers at SMA3 in attendance, expectations for me to joget were high. And I did not disappoint. The young lady dancing next to me is Pak Suryadi's (a vice principal at SMA3) daughter, and she was a brave soul for joining me on stage in front of hundreds of people.
With all of my fellow teachers at SMA3 in attendance, expectations for me to joget were high. And I did not disappoint. The young lady dancing next to me is Pak Suryadi’s (a vice principal at SMA3) daughter, and she was a brave soul for joining me on stage in front of hundreds of people. Two of my fellow teachers are singing and joget-ing in the background.
SMA3 famiily photo! Ibu Kun, my headmistress, is in the center wearing green.
SMA3 famiily photo! 
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6 thoughts on “Weddings, Bangka Style

  1. Thank you for sharing the traditions of marriage in Pangkal Pinang, Indonesia. What a busy day of weddings. I love the beautiful and colorful clothing. I wonder if the young couples in these weddings are well-off? It looks like families are big and everyone comes to celebrate. The pictures are wonderful. I’m so glad you and Caitlin got to experience sharing in these young couples special day. Love, Mom XXXO

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    1. Hi Mumzie, I don’t think any of these couples are terribly well off, but people here seem to go all-out for weddings. I also got the scoop on the rest of the wedding ceremony today

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