A Javanese Wedding: More Letters From Java

WHEN I received your letter, we were about to go to a wedding. It is not customary for young girls to go to weddings and sit among the wedding guests, but Mamma graciously gave us her consent. If the bride’s mother, an old friend of ours, had not pressed us to ‘honor her’ with our presence at the great feast, we would gladly have stayed away. Before we started from our house, we saw the retinue of the bridegroom going toward the mosque; there was a downpour of rain, and the carriage in which the bridegroom sat was closed, as were the other carriages which followed it. Gold-striped banners were streaming over the aloenaloen. It was a melancholy-looking train; we were depressed by it. Indeed, it made us think of a funeral procession. When we came to the home of the bride, we found her sitting in front of the kwada [an article of furniture with three doors in front] waiting for the bridegroom. Father went with us, too.

We sat on the ground close by the door; the eldest between the two little sisters. Incense and the perfume of flowers filled the room. Gamelan music, and the soft buzzing of voices reached us from outside. The gamelan broke into a song of welcome: the bridegroom was coming.

Two women seized the bride by the arms, lifted her up, and led her to meet the bridegroom, who was also being led toward her by two persons. After a few steps, they are opposite each other, and bride and bridegroom give, each one to the other, a rolled-up sirih2 leaf. A few steps nearer and both sink to the ground. The bride prostrates herself on her knees before him, as a symbol of her subjection to the man. Flat before him, she makes a respectful sembah, and humbly kisses his foot! Again, a submissive sembah, and both rise and go hand in hand and seat themselves under the canopy.

‘Joe, Joe,’ whispered Kleintje to me with dancing eyes and a roguish twist to her mouth. 'Hè! I should go wild, if I could only see a bridal pair come smiling to meet each other and hand the sirih leaf with eyes sparkling with joy. Of course, that would have to be among the younger generation — a bridal pair who had known each other beforehand. Would not that be fine — eh, Joe ? Will it ever happen? I should go crazy with delight, if I could ever see it.’

‘It will come,’ I said mechanically, and smiled; but in that room, I felt as if my heart were being pierced with a dagger; and there at my side, with face beaming and dancing eyes, sat my sister.

I thought to myself that, if I did something terrible, which would call down universal scorn upon my head; if everyone passed me by, and I were showered with insults, would father and would mother turn away from me? No, they would not. I should still be their child, and have a place in their hearts. All the time we were sitting quietly here in our room, sewing on Kleintje’s clothes. She will have nothing that a strange hand has touched. We must do everything for her ourselves. The door opened a little way, and father came from behind it to stroke the rebellious head that surged with so many unruly thoughts.

After four weeks, sister will be with us no longer. ‘ You will all miss me very much; I know it,’ she said. ‘In everything, always we three have been together.’

Forgive me for having taken so long to write. After the departure of our darling, our heart and soul sister, I could not write.

Sister went from here to her new home on the thirty-first of January. You know how we three have always clung together, and that she has been our darling, because she is not strong, and has always needed our care. Before her marriage, we thought so much about the coming separation; but when the blow fell, we felt nothing. We were so dismally calm, we were incapable of thought. We saw her go, with dry eyes.

Annie Glazer, our companion, who came on a visit, reminded us so much of sister. One evening she played on the piano the pieces that sister had loved most. And under the spell of her music the ice-crust melted from our hearts. But with the warmth the pain too came back. ‘Thank God, that we could feel again. Thank God, thank God!’ we said, in spite of the pain. For those who cannot feel pain are not capable, either, of feeling joy.

She has gone far away from us, and we cannot realize that she will be with us no more —our Kleintje, our own little girl. We see her in everything, she is with us always, only we cannot prattle aloud to her as formerly. We can only do that in our thoughts. It is still so strange to us that we must take a pen and paper to tell her something or other.

There is a young man with a very clever head, and at the same time of high position, who does not know us personally, but who has much sympathy for our struggle, and takes as much interest in it as if he were our own brother. We correspond with him and, later, he is coming himself to make the acquaintance of his sisters. He is so different from all the other men that we know. I read once that the greatest thing in the world was a noble man’s heart. I understand now, truly a noble man’s heart is the most priceless thing in the world; it is so rare. We are happy because we have found such an one.

Sister Roekmini thinks of you often and has such a high opinion of you. She is a fine child, so good, so faithful. You would like her, I know, if you could meet her; but you do know her already through me, do you not?

When I was sick, I tried to make her write to you, but she would not because it might make you uneasy. When she was with me, and I was so very sick, I thought to myself it was very discouraging. Here is someone who glows with enthusiasm for a noble cause; who longs to be strong and brave, to overcome mountains, and see! now she lies helpless, powerless. If someone picked her up and threw her into a well, she could make no resistance because she would be wholly defenseless.

Of the wedding here, I shall only say that sister was a lovely bride.

She was married in wajang costume and looked beautiful. In the evening, at the reception, she looked like a fairy princess from the Thousand and One Nights. She had on a golden crown, with a veil hanging down behind. It was a new idea, but I have no doubt that it will be imitated.

Resident Sijthoff was much interested in seeing sister for the last time as a young girl. He stayed through everything. He would have liked to press her hand in farewell, but that might not be. He could only greet her with his eyes.

As though carved in stone, she sat straight as an arrow, before the glittering golden canopy. Her head was held proudly high, and her eyes were looking straight ahead as though staring at the future that was so soon to be unraveled before her. There were none of the usual tears, but even strangers were affected. Only she and her two sisters were calm. Our emotions had been lulled to sleep by the gamelan music, by incense, and the perfume of flowers.

We talked to the Resident of our plans that very evening. Imagine our speaking at the end of a crowded feast about a cause which is so earnest and so sacred; but it was our only opportunity to talk to him alone, and we had to make the most of it. Alone! all around us there were people, and still more people. Surrounded by evergreens and flowers, with a shimmer of silk, and the glitter of gold and jewels before our eyes, amid the buzzing of a thousand voices, in a very sea of light, we sat there at midnight, with champagne glasses in our hands, to speak of grave matters.

We were afraid that he would laugh at us or at least think us ‘ silly.’ But we did not let him frighten us. He talked first with me, and then with Roekmini, separately, to make sure that our ideas were our own and not borrowed from each other. Several times he left us rather abruptly, but each time he would come back to resume the conversation.

If we could go to Holland to study, would it be best for us to go or to stay here? What do you and your husband think? Will you give us an answer? You are not able to see my face as I write this, so I must tell you that I ask it from my heart, and expect you to answer me from yours.

I have still another request to make of you, an important one: when you see your friend, Dr. Snouck Hurgronje, ask him if, among the Mohammedans, there are laws of majority, as among you. Or should I write myself to his Excellency for enlightenment? There are some things I should be so glad to know about the rights and duties, or, better still, the laws concerning the Mohammedan wife and daughter. How strange for me to ask! It makes me ashamed that we do not know ourselves. We know so bitterly little.

The influence of blood cannot be denied. I attach a certain value to the descent of everyone around me, and I have an idea that I shall be blessed by the ancestors of those persons whom I love and honor.

I have already written you about my sister in a former letter. It is such a great loss, we miss our heart and soul sister all the time. Happily we have already had encouraging letters from her. She is such a dear, noble child. She is worth more than the other two of us put together.

Sister can do much for our cause if she can arouse the interest of the wives of the native officials. You know already, from the marriage announcement that was sent you, that her husband is Patih; that is one of the highest ranks in our native official world; besides, our brother-in-law is heir to a throne. When his father ceases to reign, he will, of course, succeed him. As the wife of a regent, sister will be able to do a great deal for the education of women, much more than we shall ever be able to accomplish. We have great hopes that her husband will support her; at least, he was much in favor of the plans of the Heer Abendanon.

He is devoted to his little wife, has a cheerful, energetic disposition and sympathetic heart. He maintains a whole multitude of poor families; that is pleasant, do you not think so? But many Javanese do that; they have much consideration for their poor neighbors.

You are right. The separation from sister has been a great grief to us, we have been together so long, and so intimately. People were not wrong when they said that we three had grown to be one in thought and in feeling. We cannot realize that sister has really left us; the idea that she has gone away never to return is unbearable. We try to imagine that she is only away on a visit, and will be back some day.

We miss our Kleintje very much. But happiness will not stand still; this will not be the only hard parting, we know that; many others await us in the future.

It is wise from time to time,
When a tender strong bond,
Binds and caresses the poor heart,
To tear it asunder with our own hands,

says Genestet. But it is easier said than done. Do you not find it so? We receive encouraging letters from little sister. She is happy and pleased with her surroundings. That makes us so thankful; her happiness is our happiness. And now I shall try and tell you something of her wedding.

A native marriage entails a heavy burden upon the family of the bride. Days and weeks beforehand, the preparations for the solemnity are begun. Sister’s wedding was celebrated very quietly on account of a death in the family. You must know that Kleintje is married to her own cousin. His mother is father’s sister. He was here with us long ago, but then she was only a schoolgirl and no one thought of an engagement; though it has happened that children have been affianced and married, and later, when both were full grown, the marriage would be celebrated over again.

The acquaintance of sister and her husband was renewed when the Governor General was at Samarang. It is not customary among us for young girls ever to leave the house until they follow a strange bridegroom; but as I have already told you, we have broken with many traditions, and can do what others cannot, on account of the unusual freedom of our bringing up; and now we are working to break tradition still further.

No Javanese girl must be seen before her marriage; she must remain in the background, usually in her own chamber; and in December we were at Samarang with sister, and she went openly into the shops to buy some things she wanted, herself.

A Javanese girl receives no good wishes upon her engagement; the subject is not mentioned before her; still less does she mention it herself. She acts just as if she knew nothing of it. I should have liked to read the hearts of our fellow countrywomen when they heard sister speak openly and freely of her coming marriage.

A day or two before the wedding, we commemorated our dead. That is our custom: in the midst of joy we always invoke the memory of our dead. There was a sacrificial meal, during which their blessing was asked for the offspring of the coming nuptials.

This takes place in the bride’s family. My brother-in-law and his family came on the day before the wedding. The first thing that a European bridegroom would do on arriving at the home of his bride would be to go to her. But among us that would be out of the question. The bridegroom must not see his bride until the knot is tied. Even his family must not see her.

On the day of the wedding, the bride was bathed in a bath of flowers, and after that she was taken in hand by the toekang paès, a woman whose business is the dressing of brides. The bride takes her seat on a cloth that is especially prepared for the occasion: it consists of katoentjes and zidjes, enough for a kabaja, joined together. This is the property of the toekang paès. At her side are placed sweetmeats, besides sirih, pinang nuts, bananas, a jug of water, a roasted hen, a live hen, and a burning night candle. Incense is burned and the toekang paès cuts the fine hair from the bride’s neck and face; the hair on the forehead is cut, too; even the hair over the ears. And the eyebrows are shaved off with a razor. One can always tell a newly married woman, by the shorn hair across the forehead and ears and by the shaved eyebrows.

At about one o’clock in the day, the toilet of the bride begins. The forehead is covered with a soft salve, even to the ears, while the hair is dressed in the form of a cap, and ornamented with flowers.

On the headdress are seven jewels, fastened upon spirals, which are constantly waving up and down.

A gold embroidered kain, and a kabaja of silver gauze, with the usual jeweled ornaments, such as brooches, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and sleeve-buttons, completed her toilet.

In Java, young girls must not wear flowers in the hair; only married women do that; one often sees very old women going around with flowers in their hair.

The evening before the wedding is called widodarenniwidodari means angel, heavenly being. On the last evening of her maidenhood, the girl on the threshold of matrimony is compared to such a heavenly being, and the occasion is celebrated.

A handsome carved kwada, covered with gold figures on a purple ground, was in the great hall at the back of the kaboepatin [the dwelling-place of a regent]. All tables, chairs, and benches were removed from that apartment, and the floors were covered with a great alcatief.

On both sides of the kwada, which was draped and ornamented with flowers, stood two large copper vases, filled with young cocoanut leaves and flowers. These vases are called kembang majang, and must not be broken at a wedding.

At about half-past seven in the evening, when all of the women guests had assembled in the kwada-hall and were ranged on the ground in two rows, one on each side of the kwada, sister came in, led by the hand of our married sister and our sister-in-law, and followed by a woman who carried her sirihdoos3 and kwispeldoor.4 Sister sat down in the middle of the room, near her family and the most prominent guests. The sirihdoos and the kwispeldoor were placed next to her only as a matter of form, for Kleintje eats no sirih; behind her, a little girl waved a koelte [fan].

Sister sat with crossed legs before the shining gold kwada, motionless as an image of Buddha, between the gravely dressed, solemn-looking wives of the native dignitaries, equal in rank to her husband. Tea and cakes were served; everyone took a cup of tea and several kinds of small pastries. The bride and the most distinguished guests each had an individual tea-service, and a tray of pastries. It was as if a whole carpet of pastries were spread out before the guests, here and there broken by sirihdoozen and kwispeldoors of gold and tortoise-shell, of wood, or of silver. The company was composed entirely of married women. We unmarried ones were not there.

You have certainly heard that among the Javanese it is a great misfortune for a woman to remain unmarried. It is a disgrace as well. Not so long ago, in enlightened Europe it was looked upon in the same way; is not that true? So we must not think ill of the foolish uncivilized Indians.

If the bridegroom has a mother, on this evening she must be at the feast of her daughter-in-law-to-be.

Our masculine guests ate with father in the pendopo, or large hall, while the bridegroom stayed in his lodgings.

Sister was so glad when, at half-past nine, the ceremonial was over, so far as she was concerned. She walked decorously and sedately from the hall, through the throng of women sitting around; but as soon as she was out of sight and safe in our room, all the formality was gone. She was again our little sister, our dear happy Kleintje, and no Buddha image. That evening was sacred to the prophet. In the mosque there was a great Slamatan (sacrificial meal), celebrated with prayers; the blessing of heaven was asked upon the approaching marriage.

At that meal only men were present, our women guests, even the Regent’s wives who had come to sister’s wedding, ate at home with us.

Early the next morning, there was a stir in the kaboepatin. It looked quite gay, with its decorations of greens and flags. Outside on the highway, there was bustle and noise. The tricolor waved merrily among the rustling young cocoanut trees that bordered the road which led to the house of the bridegroom. In the green covered pasébans, two little houses on the aloen-aloen before the kaboepatin, the gamelan played lustily.

We were on the back gallery, where stood baskets of hanangas, tjempakas, and melaties. Women’s hands were arranging the flowers into garlands, or suspending them on little swings, or tearing the blossoms from the leaves, so that they could be strewn in the way of the bridal pair wherever they might go. The kaboepatin was filled with gamelan music and the perfume of flowers. Busy people walked to and fro. In our room, the toilet of the bride was begun. Her forehead had been painted dark before; now it was decorated with little golden figures.

Sister lay down during the operation. Behind the figures there were two borders fastened to the hair — a dark one behind the gold; into this, jeweled knobs were stuck. With other brides the border-work is made of their own hair; but for sister we had a false piece set in, because the elaborate process is painful, and the poor child had just recovered from a fever.

Above the border-work came a golden diadem, and her hair at the back of the head was dressed like a half-moon and filled with flowers; from that, a veil with a border of melati flowers fell and reached to her shoulders. Her head was again surmounted by the seven jewels glittering on their spirals. Behind these, there was a jeweled flower, from which hung six chains of real flowers, suspended behind the ears, over the breast, and down to the waist. These chains, which were about as thick as one’s fingers, were made of white flowers linked together with little bands of gold and ending in a round knob which was stuck full of melati flowers.

Her wawang costume was décolleté in front, so that neck, face, and arms were entirely uncovered. All that was visible of sister except the face, which was whitened, was covered with a fragrant salve. She wore a gold-embroidered kain, over which there was a drapery of gold woven silk; the whole was held up by a sash of yellow with long hanging ends of red silk painted with figures of gold. A dark green sash, growing lighter till it was pale green in the centre, was bound around the upper part of her body. Little glints of gold showed delightfully through this. Her arms and shoulders were left entirely free. The yellow girdle around her waist was called mendologiri. Sister wore one of gold, three fingers broad and ornamented with jewels; garlands of flowers, with hanging ends, were fastened to it, reaching from behind one hip to the other. Around her neck, she wore a collar, with three wing-shaped ornaments hanging down over her breast and almost to her waist. There were bracelets on her wrists and on the upper part of her arms, shaped like serpents with upraised tails and heads; golden chains dangled from these.

It was between three and four o’clock in the afternoon. In the kwada-hall the wives of the native nobles assembled in gala attire. From the kwada to the pendopo there was a carpet of flowers, over which the bridal pair must walk. The bride was led forward by her sisters and took her place before the kwada. The lights were already lighted in the pendopo; the regents stood assembled in official costume, and there were a few European acquaintances who were anxious to see sister for the last time as a maiden. In the aloen-aloen, and all outside the kaboepatin, it was dark with people; only the road, which was decorated with flags and green leaves, remained free.

A streak of yellow could be seen in the distance; it drew nearer, till there appeared a train of open gold-striped parasols (pajongs), under which the native officials walk on great occasions.

It was the retinue which preceded the bridegroom, who, with the other regents, was in an open carriage, which was covered with a glittering golden parasol. Gamelan music sounded from the pasébans and the kaboepatin, to greet the approaching procession.

It reached the kaboepatin and halted at the door of the pendopo. The whole company squatted down; the bridegroom got out of the carriage, and was led forward by two unmarried regents. They went into the pendopo, and all three knelt down in the middle of the room to do homage to father and the other regents. The two regents moved back, still on their knees, and left the bridegroom alone in the middle of the pendopo. The chiefs formed a circle around him, within which there was a smaller circle of priests. Father sat at the head of the regents, and the High Priest who was to perform the ceremony, next to the bridegroom. Father announced to those present the reason for the calling of this assembly, and said that he now sought the assistance of the High Priest to bind his daughter in marriage to the bridegroom.

From the crowd of people in the pendopo there arose a mystic buzzing noise. They were praying.

I was so sorry that I could not be near enough to hear. A teacher who is a friend of ours, sister Roekmini, and I were the only women in the pendopo, which was filled with men.

But we were very glad to be allowed there at all, and to have that much freedom granted us. It would not have been seemly for us to appear among a crowd of men during the celebration of a marriage ceremony. It was a pity, as we should have been glad to hear the betrothal formulas. We could only see that during the betrothal service the Priest held fast to the hand of the bridegroom, who had to respond after him. The solemnity lasted a quarter of an hour at most; but we did not have a watch with minutes, so we could not tell exactly. It was impressive and still in the pendopo; not a sound could be heard save the mystic droning of the priests.

There was a stir among the crowd of men, and the priests rose from their knees. The ceremony was over.

The regents stood up; two of them lifted up the bridegroom, and now they started off over the carpet of flowers, followed by the most prominent regents. Back in the kwada-hall, the bride was raised up by her sisters, and, supported by them, she too started down the road of flowers, followed by Mamma and all the women guests. As the bride and bridegroom came within a few steps of each other, those who were leading them fell back, and the bridal pair gave, each to the other, a rolled up sirih-leaf filled with flowers. They took a few steps nearer, and then both knelt down and with them the whole company.

The bridegroom sat; on her knees, the bride moved nearer to him and made a sembah — both hands held together and brought down under the nose; that is our mark of reverence. Then she kissed his right knee. Again the bride made a sembah. The bridegroom rose and raised his wife, and hand in hand the young pair walked over the carpet of flowers to the kwada, followed by the whole company except the regents, who turned back to the pendopo.

Bride and bridegroom sat before the kwada like two images of Buddha; the family and the lady guests thronged around them. Behind the bridal pair sat two little girls waving their fans to and fro.

In most cases, husband and wife see each other for the first time at this ceremony. At the stroke of half-past seven the regents came back, and formed a half-circle on the ground around the bridal pair; the women of their families formed the other half of the circle.

The bride and bridegroom saluted the older relatives with the foot-kiss. The bride first raised herself on her knees and shuffled forward toward Mamma; she made a sembah and kissed Mamma’s knee, to beg her mother’s blessing on her marriage. From Mamma, sister went to the aunts, sisters, and cousins, — to all those who were older than she, — and went through with the same ceremony. Then she went to Father and kissed his knee, in order to receive his blessing; from him she went to her father-in-law; after that to her uncles and cousins. When she had finished kissing the feet of all and had returned again to her place, the bridegroom began the foot-kiss journey. He followed the example of his wife. When he had completed this ceremony, the regents went out, and tea and pastry were served as on the evening before.

At half-past eight bride and bridegroom departed. Hand in hand they left the hall. Usually they must go out on their knees; but as both of them had just recovered from illness, they were allowed to walk.

In other families the bridegroom must creep up the steps instead of walking, on coming to the house of his parents-in-law, before he pays his respects to the ladies of the family; that is the perfection of good manners.

The bridegroom went to the bridal chamber, and sister to our room, where we dressed her for the reception to Europeans.

Her bridal toilet, which had been the work of a whole day, was undone in five minutes. Only the headdress and the decorations on her forehead were left unchanged. We young girls ought not to have dressed her alone, but we did it just the same. We thought that it was entirely too stupid for us not to be allowed to touch sister in her bridal toilet. Sister now put on a kain of silk interwoven with gold, and a kabaja of ivory-colored satin with silver embroidery. She wore another jeweled collar; the jeweled flowers in her hair and the diadem were taken off. In their stead she wore a golden crown from which hung a veil. On her head jeweled flowers on spirals were fastened. The costume was very becoming to her. What a pity that she could not have been photographed in it!

The bridegroom appeared in his official dress. Again the bridal pair sat before the kwada. At nine o’clock, they went arm in arm to the front gallery, where two gilded settees stood ready for them before a background of palms.

They received the good wishes of the European ladies and gentlemen, standing.

It was called a reception, but at the sound of the music, the dance-crazy feet turned toward the empty pendopo; bride and bridegroom both took a few turns around the pendopo.

It is not customary for young girls to appear at a wedding, but it would have been foolish for us to remain away from sister’s feast.

It was not yet twelve o’clock, when the Resident, who was among the guests, toasted the young pair; his speech was answered by Father. Soon after the European guests took their leave, all but the Resident and a few others, among them a lady who is an intimate friend of ours. They remained for the native part of the feast.

After the departure of the European guests, the native nobles, who had absented themselves from the pendopo during the reception, came in and formed a half-circle, before which the bridegroom must give a proof of his proficiency in dancing.

The regents as well as the other chiefs had meanwhile dressed in more informal costume.

The gamelan played; a dancing-girl entered and began to dance. The Patih of Japara brought, on his knees, a silver waiter to the bridegroom, on which there was a silken cloth. When the bridegroom had taken the cloth, the patih fell back.

Soft gamelan tones again sounded: it was a prelude, an invitation to the hero of the day to open the feast. The bridegroom rose and went to the middle of the pendopo; he fastened the silken cloth around him and named his favorite air to the gamelan players. The gongs chimed; the air was immediately struck up.

I shall not attempt to describe the dance; my pen is inadequate. I shall only say that it was a joy to the eyes to follow the agile dancer in his graceful movements as he kept time to the beautiful gamelan music. Behind him danced the dancing-girl, also singing. The circle of native dignitaries accompanied the music by singing and beating their hands together. Toward the end of the dance the Resident went forward with two glasses of champagne. The gong sounded, and both dancers fell upon their knees. With a sembah the bridegroom accepted a glass from the Resident. He drank it and the Resident emptied his at the same time amid joyful gamelan tones and sounds of general mirth,

A servant took the empty glasses, and the Resident fell back. The bridegroom stood up and again began to dance. Now his father-in-law brought him a health to drink; dancing, they advanced to meet each other, and at the sound of the gong, the young man knelt down to receive the wine-glass from the hand of the older one.

After a health had been brought to him by all the regents present, he left them and went back to sit by the side of his wife. Soon after that the bridal pair left the assembly; the European guests went home, but the feast was kept up till early in the morning. The European gentlemen had danced too, and our Assistant-Resident acquitted himself excellently.

Mamma, our friend, sister Roekmini, and I stayed till the last European guest had gone.

The next day there was quiet in the house. In the afternoon the last ceremony took place. That is the first visit of the bridal pair to the parents of the groom. It is called in Javanese ngoendoh mantoe, which, literally translated, means ‘daughter-in-law plucking’! The daughter-in-law is compared to a flower which her husband’s parents will pluck.

For this occasion both bride and groom should again put on their bridal costume; but that would have been much too wearisome, so the groom was dressed as usual and sister wore a kain interwoven with gold and a silk kabaja; her hair was dressed in the form of a cap, and on her head was a small sheath in the shape of a cross, which was filled with flowers, and over the whole was a network of melati blossoms, and again the jeweled spirals waved to and fro above her head.

The bridal pair went in procession, followed by the native chiefs on foot, to the house where the father of the bridegroom lodged.

Days and weeks after the wedding the newly married pair are still called bride and bridegroom. The bride is a bride until she becomes a mother. But there are women, mothers, who all their lives are called nganten, short for penganten, which means bride and also bridegroom.

The day after the ceremony was spent in receiving visits from both Europeans and natives.

Five days later there was again a feast in the kaboepatin; the first return of the holy day which had opened the wedding ceremonies was celebrated.

The young couple left a week after the wedding; they were fêted everywhere by various family connections with whom they stopped on their journey home. At Tegal the marriage was celebrated all over again; they remained there a week, and finally they reached their own home at Pemalang.

There you have a description of a Javanese wedding in high circles. Sister’s marriage was called only a quiet affair, and yet it entailed all that ceremony. What must one be that is celebrated in a gala way?

We were dead tired afterward.

The Javanese give presents at a marriage: things to wear, such as kains, stomachers, head-dresses, silk for kabajas, cloth for jackets; and also things to eat, such as rice, eggs, chickens, or a buffalo. These are merely meant as marks of goodwill.

Kardinah also received a splendid bull from an uncle. This had to be placed on exhibition with the other presents!!

When a buffalo is killed at the time of a wedding, — and usually more than one is needed for the feast meals, — a bamboo vessel filled with sirih, little cakes, pinang nuts, and pieces of meat must be mixed with the running blood of the slaughtered buffalo. These vessels, covered with flowers, are laid at all of the cross-roads, bridges, and wells on the estate, as an offering to the spirits who dwell there. If these bridge, road, and water spirits are not propitiated, they will be offended at the festivities, and misfortune will come of it. That is the belief of the people; its origin I do not know.

A friend of ours says rightly that the Javanese are a people who are filled with legends and superstitions. Who shall lead the people out of the dusky realm of fairy tales into the light of work and reality? And then, when superstition is cast off, we do not want the poetry to be trampled under foot.

But of what good is my prattling? Let me rather ask you if you have been interested in this epistle, and if you will now forgive me for my long silence?

There is so much that is lovable in my people, such charm in their simple naïve beliefs. It may sound strange, but it is, nevertheless, a fact, that you Europeans have taught me to love my own land and people. Instead of estranging us from our native land, our European education has brought us nearer to it; has opened our hearts to its beauties, and also to the needs of our people and to their weaknesses.

Do not let me tire you any longer with the scribbling of a silly Javanese girl; I have written enough.

In some places it is the custom when the bridal pair meet for the first time for the bride to wash the groom’s feet as a token of submission, before she gives him the knee-kiss. Whenever a widower marries a young girl, or a widow a young man, the giving of the sirih at the wedding is omitted. The one who has already been married hands the other, who carries a watering-can, a piece of burning wood, the contents of the can are poured upon the fire, which naturally goes out; whereupon the charred wood is thrown away and the watering-can broken into pieces.

The symbolism of this I do not have to explain. It is plain enough. You should have seen sister as she sat there before the kwada. She ought to have been photographed, or, better still, painted, because that would have shown the coloring.

She stepped so calmly and sedately down the carpet of flowers; everywhere there were flowers and the perfume of incense; yes, truly, she was much like an incarnation of Buddha.

I cannot hear the gamelan, or smell the perfume of flowers and incense, without seeing her image before my eyes.

The people picked up the flowers over which sister had walked and kept them; they bring good luck, it is said, and to young daughters, a husband!

(More Javanese letters will be published next month)

  1. Translated from the original Dutch by AGNES LOUISE SYMMERS.
  2. A kind of paste which is eaten by the Javanese women. At weddings bride and bridegroom present it to each other in a golden leaf. — THE TRANSLATOR.
  3. The box to hold the sirih paste.
  4. A spitting-box; for it is necessary to spit after chewing sirih. These boxes are often of gold or tortoise-shell, and beautifully ornamented. They are placed by a Javanese lady on all formal as well as informal occasions. — THE TRANSLATOR.