Although our tribal nature is far from the politeness expected of Javanese society (especially after the paper plane episode), Dad receives an invitation to attend a wedding in Garut.
“Garut is a magical village where we can see the cipanas,” Dad says wide eyed, “Hot springs – coming out of the mountains and there are volcanos rumbling all around us”
“Can we go up the volcano and see in the crater? or swim in the hot springs?” Matt asks.
“Well we will have to go up and over the mountains first and then we will see.”
The last time we all travelled to a wedding was many years ago when Tony was a page boy. While he dresses up in a special kilt and carries the rings on a silky cushion through the church and dances all night with a little girl in a long white dress, I get to stay in a caravan nearby and sulk.
At the customary bush barbecue the day after the wedding, bull ants bite my feet ferociously and, as the newlyweds sit me up on the picnic table to hush and soothe me, my sausage in a blanket drops into the dusty ground. Bitter tears carve streaks on my hot cheeks as I sob at the bitter injustices of life.
Recalling the last wedding disaster (but being much more mature now) means I will not sulk or sob, but I will expect some recompense.
“When is the wedding?” I ask eagerly,”Will we need new clothes?”
“We’re not going to the actual wedding,” Dad explains,”We are going for the first celebrations before the wedding. In Java wedding celebrations can take many days. We can just wear our usual clothes for the weekend.”
“This is a very special celebration so there has to be very best behaviour,” Mum eyes each of us at the table ahead of directing the travel preparations,”It is the wedding of Pak Setiayan’s daughter and we are very lucky to be their guests.”
I resign myself to disappointment. No real wedding. No new clothes.
After much discussion with the driver on whether to take the valley or the mountain road we find ourselves rumbling south from Bandung up and over the mountains.
As we start the climb into the forest enormous trees and great clumps of bamboo loom over us and the road reverts to uneven rutted dirt. Vines stitch the forest into a tunnel which drips wet and warm around us. Here and there are small inroads made into the skirts of the forest. Bananas, mangoes and other small plants make patterns in the dark soil and their deep green leaves shine in the faint light beneath the trees.
A sudden opening along the road reveals steep paths and shimmering layers of padi fields that sparkle and shimmer below us under the open sky. The great mountain Gunung Guntur sits as a brooding shadow over the valley with clouds lapping its shoulders.
“Gunung buruk, tapi sekarang tidur,” the driver tells us as the wheels spin and slide over bumps and patches of wet ground as we start our descent. The scarified, bald face of the ‘bad’ mountain’s west side shows layers of repeated eruptions from many years ago. Now sleeping, the giant still menaces the villages at its feet with the occasional puff of smoke.
“Dormant,” says Tony.
After three hours of juddering from side to side, the road opens out to a village dressed for festivities with flags and festoons of flowers and intricate sculptures from banana leaves bobbing over the road in welcome.
“Selamat datang di Garut!” announces our driver with pride. This is his home town.
We find the decorated house full of people in preparation for the days ahead. Two colourfully dressed women – the mother of the bride and the bride-to-be – welcome us with kisses and, with girlish giggles, take mum and I aside into a small room where two sets of beautiful traditional clothes lay over the bed.
“Would you like to try?” the younger lady asks. She is Dwi and her mother is ibu Siri. More women come in and in a moment we are in a whirl of batik cloth and lace and silk. Firm hands wrap a batik kain tightly over my hips – the women laugh as my skinny waist bulges under the kemban band around my chest and the lace of the kebaya puckers over my flat chest. They pull my long hair tight and twirl into a bun with pins and find earrings and brooches and sandals which can just fit my long feet.
“Cantik, indah!” chimes the young bride-to-be when she sees her new guests.
We pose for photos and the admiration of the household. My mum looks like a practised princess but her efforts on deportment are lost on me.
I take small steps through the house in the beautiful clothes. Just a few months ago I was a farm girl in gumboots now I have to try to be a Javanese lady. My face starts to go hot and blotchy.
The young bride-to-be senses my discomfort.
“Let me take you inside and you can get back into your own clothes. These clothes are not easy to wear if you are not used to them,” Dwi says.
I am very grateful pull my old clothes on again but stroke the lovely patterns of the batik, now tossed on the bed.
“I am sorry not to be able to wear the clothes properly,” I apologise to Dwi, “I like looking at them and I like drawing clothes and different costumes, but I’m not really used to wearing such nice things.”
I feel I have not been fair to her kindness. We sit on the bed and talk – she has a voice like a bird, so soft and clear.
“I know you won’t be used to clothes like these,” Dwi says,”I grew up in Australia too, you know – when my father was studying there. That was how he knows your family. It was very cold there sometimes, but I liked it there too. Especially in the mountains, I’ve always liked walking in the mountains.”
“And what will you wear for the wedding?” I am still curious to imagine how she will look as a bride.
She brings out her bridal clothes – a kebaya of embroidered cream lace, studded with pearls and a kain of intricately patterned batik, like rivers and mountains all pushing and rolling into one. Then she shows me the high headdress she will wear – so fragile with beads around the head with long chains of beads woven to drape to the back.
“You will look so beautiful! When is the wedding going to be?” I ask, imaging every moment of the ceremony.
“It will happen over many days,” she explains, “This evening my fiancé will have the blessing of my parents. And then I will have his parents’ blessing. Then we must go to the local office to register our marriage. Then we will have the religious ceremony and then there will be the village celebrations and other parties of course.”
“And will you have to wear different clothes to everything.”
“Oh yes lot’s of different outfits!” Dwi laughs out loud, “Let’s go and get some food.”
We run down the small hallway of the house and into the back of the house.
Dad and the boys are already happily seated where there are sure signs of the week of celebrations about to begin. Small banana leaf cups are ready to fill with rice full of spices and roast peanuts while chicken soaks in coconut sauce over a gas flame and beef sears on a fire and is basted in rending.
“Silakan makan,” the Mother of the Bride invites us all to eat with a great flourish and wave of her fan. The delicious food is served and we take our places on mats spread out in the back room or under the shade of the fig trees in the garden – there is not a burnt sausage or angry bull ant in sight.
For the next two days we enjoy every moment in Garut. We make friends in the company of children living in the clumps of village houses with thatched roofs leaning over the hot springs which steam and stink of sulphur and even climb some of the way up onto the grumbling shoulders of Gunung Guntur.
My thoughts of brides and clothes and weddings disappear in the folds and peaks of Garut where we run and climb where-ever we want to go.
History of Gunung Guntur’s regular eruptions during the 19th century:
Nice article about the mountain at https://theindonesiadventurer.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/gunung-guntur
Erupsi Gunung Guntur yang tercatat adalah pada tahun 1847, 1843, 1841, 1840, 1836, 1834-35, 1833, 1832, 1832, 1829, 1828, 1827, 1825, 1818, 1816, 1815, 1809, 1807, 1803, 1800, 1780, 1777, 1690
If you are a bit wedding obsessed you can find photos of the full modern Javanese wedding – a much more elaborate affair these days – in http://www.bridestory.com/blog/
if you are academically inclined and want to know more about the intricacies of Javanese religions, rituals & ceremonies then you can start with Clifford Geetz’s primary tome – ‘The Religion of Java’ first published in 1960 but with more recent editions see http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/R/bo3627129.html Although Geetz’s book is based on East Central Java (Jawa Timur) rather than Western or Sundanese Java (Jawa Barat) – there is lots to learn here.
I had written this chapter a long time ago but getting an illustration which would work with it took much longer. But these have a story too which I’ll post next time.