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Intercultural Marriage in Indonesia

January 11, 2019

Lucky Agung Pratama is in the PhD program in the Built Environment, received his MS at UW in Construction Management in 2015, and is the Southeast Asia Center’s Graduate Student Assistant this year.  Originally from Padang, Sumatera, over winter break, Lucky traveled back to Indonesia to get married.  Lucky’s new wife is from Central Java.  Being from different cultural traditions, rather than one wedding ceremony, they had two!  Read more about his experience below.

Traditional marriage in Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia included, can be complex at times. There are several steps that must be taken before a couple can be officially announced as a family. A marriage is more than tying the knot between a couple, it is a symbol of unifying both the bride’s and groom’s families.

There are so many ethnic groups in Indonesia with their own unique marriage traditions. Intercultural marriage is not uncommon, but it can cause some issues. Certain culture even discourages it. When a couple from different ethnic groups would like to marry, there are some overlaps or incompatibilities with their different traditions. The incompatibility could extend to more than just the marriage procession. For example, the intercultural marriage might render the bride and groom ineligible for any inheritance from their families. It could also potentially exile both of them from their family trees.

In Lucky’s case, both families decided to celebrate the wedding in both Javanese in Minangkabau traditions. Most of Lucky’s marriage procession was done in the Javanese tradition. In the Javanese tradition, the groom is not allowed to meet the bride for several days until their marriage is official.  The night prior to the marriage, the family members from both parties would meet. During the meeting, the groom’s family would bring gifts called seserahan for the bride. A typical seserahan contains everyday items that are going to be used by the bride such as make ups, prayer dresses, and so on.

The couple after Ijab Kabul

The next step is Ijab Kabul, the equivalent of which is found in different religions.  It is an agreement between the bride’s parents and the groom. In the agreement, the bride’s parents declare their willingness to allow their daughter to be married by the groom. The declaration must be stated correctly by the bride’s father and the groom, otherwise the marriage can’t be made official by the penghulu  (a local chief).

Javanese Wedding

The wedding ceremony is typically done on a different day, after the Ijab Kabul. However, Lucky’s ceremony was done right after Ijab Kabul due to the limited time both families had while he was in Indonesia.  Javanese traditional wedding attire has adopted a modern approach, especially on the bride’s outfit shown in the picture. However, it is still common to see traditional outfits in other weddings across Java.

Minangkabau wedding

In contrast to a Javanese wedding, Minangkabau weddings are mostly done traditionally. The wedding also has its own term in Minangkabau language: baralek. In Lucky’s case, the Minangkabau wedding ceremony was done symbolically, as most of the procession had been done in the Javanese tradition.

The bride and groom wear red and gold attire during the main ceremony. The bride wears an extravagant hair ornament which could weigh almost 5 pounds, whereas the groom wears a simpler red and gold outfit. The bride’s hair ornament is so heavy that there are certain occasions in which the bride faints from having to endure wearing it for an extended time.

Minangkabau’s wedding ceremony is just as festive as its Javanese counterpart. Traditional dances are performed at the start of ceremony to entertain the families and guests. Guests are treated with local dishes such as rendang, which is a food staple in Minangkabau. The guests then give blessings to the couple and the couple’s parents before leaving the ceremony. The wedding couple might not recognize some of the guests since they can be their parents’ acquaintances whom the couple only met once prior to the ceremony.

Considering all the processions that must be done, the wedding is by no means cheap. It can be a once in a lifetime event for the couple, so the families believe the wedding should be done as exquisitely as possible to make it memorable. Therefore, sometimes the parents’ family members would willingly chip in for the wedding to reduce the financial burden of the wedding preparation.