Enchantment beyond Happily Ever After.

Ella and Erga.

Ella holding the Ajug, seven candles, representing the direction they should follow to ensure a happy married life.

An important myth of European history sees the Age of Discovery as a time when the world was dramatically stripped of false enchantment, when it was measured, assessed, mapped, and objectively known by Westerners for the first time.

– Nigel Barley’s Foreword for Honoré de Balzac’s My Journey from Paris to Java.

In the age of Google, you’d think everything was known and knowable leaving little room for curiosity and some splendor. But I’ll tell you, nothing about experience can be Googled–and that’s exactly what I told my parents when rationalizing this latest trip to Indonesia. It was a split-second decision made in part because the invitation came late and I couldn’t forgive myself for passing up this opportunity to witness an Indonesian wedding of a Muslim friend.

I met Ella when we were still both bright-eyed and far from thoughts of the domestic. We were sent on a conference in foreign but friendly Brunei. The awkwardness of meeting  immediately ceased as we were all in a different place, forced to hasten connections and find something similar about each other. I had learned then that she was Indonesian–something I could tell earlier on from the shape of her eyes and the memory of shadow puppets. They all looked quite royal to me and on her wedding day, I could not shake off the feeling that perhaps my friend was a princess in real life.

Hard as it may be to accept the dull reality that what is magical and also romanticized is not real, I still plead that sometimes, when we are strangers to things, our detachedness by itself allows us to live in the enchanted.

Ella married Erga–that alone spells magic.

They both trace their Indonesian lineage along the lines of West Java and though their wedding was officiated in a mosque, certain Sundanese traditions flourished on their wedding day.

The Merak dance of the Sundanese.

The Merak dance of the Sundanese.

I took note of these technicalities hoping to write more extensively on them in the future but for now let me just outline two things that struck me most in this wedding:

First, the underlying value of family that is typically Asian–but I’d posit, obviously human–is not lost on the exotic. In fact, it is amplified. Yet another reason to believe that humans, though fascinatingly different from one another, have much in common. There is a part in the wedding ceremony, after the man has been grilled by the elders and blessings have been made, when both bride and groom kneel in front of their parents to symbolize gratitude and earn the permission to live separate lives. This is supremely moving–and even the most hardened of men at the mosque struggled against their tears.

Parents. Then, there is the beauty of the Batik which is paralleled only by the variety of food offered by the Indonesian palate. I had no photos to prove this because the eating commenced immediately and I was always holding two plates at once while the camera dangled on my shoulder waiting to be used. The wonderful thing about Indonesia is that Batiks come in different textures, designs and colors such that no one ever wears the same thing making the experience of attending a wedding almost like seeing an entire country’s story unfold in a matter of hours.

There is reason to return. There is also reason to rethink marriage and traditions. One of the things I left with was a comment by a newfound friend, also a foreigner, who had shared this experience with me. He said, “It’s wonderful how they mix traditions and take the best of themselves to the altar.” I’m inclined to believe this is true and when I tie the knot, things will be different.


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