– By Katy Renenkampf –
There are two days of celebration and tradition that take place when a new couple gets engaged in Atambua. On the first day, the groom-to-be’s family walks over and is welcomed into the bride-to-be’s house. The groom must first find the bride, as she is hidden somewhere in the house. The families then sit down together to negotiate the price of the marriage, which we might refer to as a “bride price.” All of the negotiations take place inside the house, while guests and friends sit outside, awaiting a successful agreement. I recently got to partake in part of these celebrations, at the invitation of my neighbor, Ibu Brin, whose nephew Maxi is getting married in October.
For Maxi and his love Alia, their Saturday negotiations were finalized when Maxi’s family paid 75 million rupiah to Alia’s family. After the sum was paid in cash, the two families enjoyed food and dancing, then returned home to prepare for the second day of celebrations.
On Sunday around noon, I came to Maxi’s house, wrapped in a woven ikat sarong, and was welcomed as “the photographer” for the day.
The afternoon began with the bidu dance, a dance that is used to welcome guests. Women who are friends and family of the groom welcomed the bride’s party, as the bride and her family and friends walked to the groom’s house.
The bride and her family brought many gifts, including a massive hog. The pig was not pleased, and, at a value of 7 million rupiah, the bride’s family’s gifts on Sunday were definitely not equal to the cash paid by Maxi’s family the day before.
The bride’s family also brought cigarettes, beer, and baskets of makan siri pinang, a combination of betel leaf, areca nut, and ground limestone, which is popularly chewed in southeastern Indonesia.
The bride and groom were escorted to their honorary seats at the front of the house. Cake and water were offered to all of the guests, as everyone slowly settled in. Patriarchs of each family greeted the guests, and led a prayer to give thanks for the happy occasion, everyone’s health, and the food we were about to eat.
Throughout the day I met and spoke with many people (though never the engaged couple!) and heard stories about Maxi and Alia’s families and friends. One woman identified herself as their matchmaker; she is friends with the bride’s family but lives next to the groom’s family. Maxi and Alia have known each other for two years, but she helped convince the families that they should be married, and was also involved in the planning and negotiations for their engagement and marriage. She said it is her first time serving as a matchmaker, finding two people and “making them one.”
Around 1:30pm we ate lunch, a simple but delicious meal of rice, smoked pork, bitter melon, and “Timornese” sambal. Of all the sambals I have tried across Indonesia, this is by far my favorite—much like pico de gallo, it is made very simply from hot pepper, onions, garlic, salt, lime juice, and coarsely chopped tomatoes.
During lunch, beer was also poured and passed around. Both women and men indulged, and I quickly learned that the hospitable mantra of “Tambah, tambah!” (“Take more, take more”) applies not only to rice, but also to beer!
After everyone finished their lunches, the chairs were cleared away and it was time for tebe! The tebe is a dance of joy and celebration, and I think I have partaken in the circle-dance every month since my arrival, at communion parties and weddings and other celebrations. Unfortunately, I didn’t record the tebe this weekend, but I do have a video from a previous party, where you can see the group dancing the tebe.
Instead, I took the opportunity to meander around the house, see what was going on behind the scenes, and play with kids. One thing I will definitely miss about Indonesia is the abundance of children wandering freely around neighborhoods and adding laughter to every party. I spent a lot of the day shadowing my neighbor/little brother Daery, who is always ready to laugh at my jokes and introduce me to his cousins and classmates.
The entire day was fun and sweaty and delicious, filled with laughter and stories and introductions. I met more people than I can possibly remember, and enjoyed hearing all of their stories about their friends, children, and extended families. They all made me feel like I was part of their family, too, which has always been one of my favorite things about Atambua.
About the author: Katy Rennenkampf is a second-year Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara. She graduated from the University of Maryland College Park in 2013 with degrees in math, economics, and English. Katy finds wisdom in the words of Dr. Seuss and is hopelessly addicted to rujak.