Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 17, Tuesday December 6, 2005



weddings across cultures

In our Weddings special issue, we're focusing on weddings across cultures, and this involves the difference in wedding rituals between different faiths, as well as the difference caused by geographical boundaries. Our interior décor guru Nazneen Haque Mimi gives us a taste of a cross cultural wedding, so read on for a little international flavour.

Beyond Borders
Indonesia is a melting pot of cultures. It is estimated that there are some 300 different languages and cultures flourishing within its borders. Weddings here are flavoured and influenced by the cultures of the families involved.

Enter the players in this romantic story:
He was a Bangladeshi Muslim, educated in India and the US, a banker like his father before him.

She was an Indonesian Muslim, of Padang (West Sumatran) descent, born and raised in Jakarta, a career-oriented woman with ten years of working experience.

Now, since most Indonesian weddings are determined by the culture of the bride, our featured wedding was performed according to the Padang tradition. Now let's take a look at how it all works.

According to the family laws pertaining to marriages in Indonesia, all couples wishing to marry must declare a religion. Agnosticism and Atheism are not recognised. Both partners must be of the same religion, or else, one of the partners will have to declare in writing, a change of religion. Since both partners in this particular wedding were Muslim, that wasn't a problem.

Since, however, the groom was of a different nationality, care had to be taken to complete the legal formalities of matrimony that pertained to both their countries. They had to file for a marriage certificate and the groom had to obtain a document called “Letter of No Impediment to Marriage” from his Consular Representative.

After notifying the Marriage Registrar at least ten days before the actual ceremony is to take place, and after obtaining all the necessary documents, the couple is ready to tie the knot.

In Indonesia, the engagement period may vary from a few months to a few years. During this period, pretty much the way it happens in Bangladesh, ceremonial gift giving takes place between the families to strengthen the bonds.

Finally, the big day arrives, and the wedding ceremony takes place. As long as the Islamic rituals remain the same, the couples are allowed to choose the venue for their wedding. Our featured couples decided to have theirs in the lush neighbourhood of Menteng, a diplomatic zone, at the Rumah Maroko, a house built in the Moroccan style, with carved parapets bordering the roofs, mosaic-tiled walls and fancifully shaped windows. The building belongs to the former Indonesian Ambassador to Morocco.

The wedding took place in August last year, with 51 guests from the groom's side flying in from Bangladesh, India, Canada, Thailand, and Malaysia to attend the festivities, staying at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Sudirman Road, Jakarta.

The wedding ceremony itself follows the basic Muslim marriage requirements of consent, prayer and blessing. Following the religious ceremony, the couple has to sign the marriage certificate, which is then signed by witnesses, and the Marriage Registrar.

The grand event begins with the Wedding Reception. An Indonesian wedding programme is a very important event. Anyone acquainted with the couple may be invited so it is usually a very large gathering, as, even though not many attend the actual ceremony, it is considered rude to not attend the Reception.

There is an elaborate processional into the reception site, decorated by a long chain of flowers. Professional dancers perform traditional Indonesian dances while family and guests await the arrival of the newlyweds. It is customary for the Indonesian bride and groom to greet the guests in a long receiving line before the festivities begin.

As the pictures show, the couple was dressed in the traditional Indonesian wedding garb. The bride was resplendent in gold, with an elaborate headdress, consisting of the crown, which is known as the Sunting, and an intricate arrangement of banana leaves and jasmine. The groom was bedecked in necklaces, his own sunting, and carried an ornamental dagger, which symbolises respect and honor.

Once the formalities were over, everyone got down to the important business of enjoying themselves, and it surely was an unforgettable event for all those who attended it.

By Nazneen Haque Mimi
Special thanks to Shabbir Kabir and Asha Paloma Karina Tamala

Under a different sky

By Iffat Nawaz

Ki diya Sajaimu tore
In a country where the color of nuptial joy represents the color of widowhood and sorrow of Bengal, how does one create harmony between the red and white, the two extremes to compensate a blissful conjunction. From a Brides white to a Bride's red and a Groom's black to the Groom's Golden.

Bengali weddings in America. In a land full of options and diversity when a Bengali chooses his/her life partner and decides to get married how do they manage, and what traditions do they care to follow and which ones do they prefer to drop.

It always amazed me to see the efforts that go into the Bengali weddings in America. The friends and relatives always ready to give a hand even with their busy schedules, a schedule where personal time and vacation taking is not the most convenient, still trying their best to create (or should I say re-create) the good old Bengali Gaye Holud stages, alpona, the recycled pati/straw mat (usually purchased from some Bengali corner of America and then passed on to the next Holud in need), the rakhi and pasted turmeric from Korean grocery stores, the hand made flower garlands, the forgotten mirror for rusmot and the replacement of wedding cake instead of Jorda. It takes extra miles and many more inches of eyebrow raising and stress, arguments and new friendships to create a Bengali wedding in America, the ones which are almost effortlessly achievable in Bangladesh.

Of course there are sites like weddingstura.com or shaddi.com that cater to South East Asian weddings in America, but I am not sure how much it really helps a Bengali out. A middle class Bengali family in America usually can not afford the extravagant weddings these sites portray. Renting a hall to getting catered good Bengali Biriyani, and inviting at least 300 unknown and known people itself costs an arm and a leg, and that too with some tongue lashing and back biting, but I guess that's the trend for us Bengalis (or maybe just human?), we must criticize, “the chicken was too dry,” or “the brides sari wasn't red enough” whatever it might be, it doesn't make the job any easier for the organizers, it's like the true test of taste and culture, the clashes of backgrounds more sharply prominent, the game of status more forceful.

And of course there are the adopted and personalized touches each Bengali wedding conceives these days. From bouquet throwing to gift sakes, the stretch limos instead of the flowered up cars, the honeymoon suite at some hotel in town instead of a bashor ghor in shoshur bari…it's all different from wedding to wedding, convenience and preference over tradition, the traits taught by America, and practiced for our own good, to satisfy a part of us that's Bengali and at the same time American too.

I will not bash my fellow Bengali Americans by pointing out the affect of Bollywood culture in these wedddings, I believe the similar affect dwells in weddings in Bangladesh, that's an aspect that both Bangladeshi Bengalis and American Bengalis have failed to resist. I won't mock the lack of “Bengaliness” on Bride's clinique make-up covered face where matte tan finish is more popular the white paint wash that Bangladesh brides receive, it's an acquired preference due to geographical separation.

In fact there are nice surprises at many American Bengali weddings, when Bengali folk songs take more prominence as the back ground music rather than the latest Hindi beats, or where the common yellow sari with red border is still making a come back.

I don't mean to write an essay about Bengali weddings, the literal meaning of wedding is the ceremony at which the beginning of marriage is celebrated. And a celebration can be as unique or generic as one wishes it to be. I look forward to the new or old, typical or innovative Bengali American weddings that are defining our new identity for the our yesterday, today and tomorrow.


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