I stood in the yard in front of the church while the crowd began to gather. For once in my life I felt tall—at 5’2” I’m a short American, but next to the young Indonesian women who surrounded me, I could see the tops of their heads without straining.
We had run across the courtyard from our dormitory when we heard the siren that we were certain was the police escort for the wedding procession. People came from every direction to stand in front of the church and wait. Police lined the red carpet keeping the crowd from mobbing the wedding procession, as news cameras rolled and people snapped photos from their cell phones. Life in Balige, a rural town in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, rarely reached this level of excitement.
This was the wedding of two superstars in Indonesia—Judika Sihotang, a former Indonesian Idol runner-up turned rock star, and Duma Riris Silalahi, beauty queen and former Miss Indonesia contestant. I had only planned to watch them enter the church, but one of my students tugged at my shirt and pulled me toward the building. We, along with a hundred other curious fans young and old, filled the balcony to peer down on the ceremony. It was my first (and only) time crashing the wedding of a famous person.
The structure of the wedding ceremony was not different from the other weddings that happen in that church several times every week. Keeping to Batak culture, the same church worship and rituals are performed, whether it is in a small village or city, poor or rich. This means, that although Judika and Duma had the notoriety and wealth that would, by Western cultural norms, grant them the ability to wed anywhere and anyhow they wanted, their wedding took place in the manner prescribed by their cultural traditions just like everyone else. Balige, a small city at the foot of Lake Toba, is Duma’s hometown and was a natural location for the wedding to take place.
A year earlier, in August 2012, I had attended a wedding as part of the family in a village a few hours away (this one I received a real invitation). In Batak culture, before the wedding ceremony the two families meet and eat a meal together. With the groom’s family, I ate saksang and gave respects to the bride’s family. The we processed to the church. Sometimes the procession happens by car, but this one happened by foot. From a family home, we walked through alleyways in the village, and crossed the main road toward the church following a band of trumpets, saxophones, and trombones.
In all Batak weddings, a party follows the wedding ceremony. The “reception” party includes lunch and lasts all afternoon, sometimes into the night. Not unlike the funeral party, Batak wedding parties have distinct rituals (dancing, blessing, giving and receiving) which are performed that include immediate family, extended family lines, as well as members of the community and village.
When I sat in the balcony crashing the wedding of people I didn’t know, I thought about the importance of the culture and tradition around me. Again, as with other events I had attended, the wedding was more than just about individuals; it was a celebration and gathering of community.
During the time I lived in Indonesia, I walked in the liminal space of being an outsider and being included in the community. Even though I was an outsider, I was invited into families, and invited to participate in the culture. I am most grateful for all the invitations, and even the times (like Judika’s wedding) when I peered from a balcony into the life and rituals of the culture.
Below, a gallery of the two weddings I attended: