Weddings are fun to watch, especially when they happen in high places. Consider the wedding of British royals Princess Diana, Prince Phillip and of course Prince William and Kate Middleton. Or locally, Yogyakarta’s royals Kanjeng Ratu Bendara and Pangeran Haryo Yudanegara. High-profile weddings, especially traditional Indonesian ceremonies, are full of symbolism and processions that are entertaining in different ways.
Javanese weddings often become the talk of the town, as both men and women engage in gossip ranging from the bride’s and groom’s expressions, their makeup, the ceremony, the expensive traditional kebaya outfits, the catering and food served, who came with who. And of course there is the politics, such as in the lavish wedding of Edhie “Ibas” Baskoro Yudhoyono, 31, and Siti Rubi Aliya Rajasa, 25.
But because Edhie’s father happens to be President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Aliya’s father is Hatta Rajasa, the coordinating minister for the economy and the National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman, the wedding drew controversial media coverage, a barrage of inappropriate criticism and evil political speculation.
It all depends on how you look at it. Personally, I think it is pure coincidence that President Yudhoyono and Hatta became in-laws. There is no such thing as a forced political coalition marriage, although people may think so. And the cynical comments published in local papers are simply out of proportion. No one has the right to associate the problems facing the nation, nor the inability of a president in handling state affairs, to a wedding. Besides, it is a president’s personal business who his son chooses to wed.
It is true that the nation faces a multitude of problems that the president has yet to solve. It is also true that the president’s popularity is declining, but we have to be objective. Cultural heritage must not be mixed with politics. We must put ethics high in our heads.
For the high-profile wedding, the Indonesian political elite converged on Cipanas and witnessed what some say was the wedding of the century. From opposition party chief patron Taufik Kiemas to ousted outspoken minister Fadel Muhammad to rival former vice presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, they all put aside differences and came to respect tradition. Even a one-time critic of the president, Amien Rais, who acted as a wedding witness, gave the thumbs-up.
As far as ethics are concerned, I think no media or NGO has the right to query a president’s personal finances or to question how much was spent for a wedding, regardless of whether the president is SBY or not. It’s none of their business. In the case of his son’s wedding, we all know that SBY made it clear that no state money would be used.
It is the universal custom and tradition in Eastern society for parents to provide the best for their children, which includes festive weddings. In Javanese society, people recognize weddings as a cultural heritage that symbolizes keprajan, which means rule, authority, power and rank. Therefore, it is up to the parents to host a prestigious wedding as long as they can afford it. We can’t change that tradition.
A colleague of mine from Makassar said that the wedding at the Cipanas presidential palace was so grand that it was insulting to the suffering of local people. It was reported that for security purposes, the whole area of Cipanas had to be closed to accommodate the VIPs, and therefore caused hardship for the common people.
But again, that is not exactly true. The people had the opportunity to witness the wedding procession as well. And there was no traffic jam as some have claimed. Television news coverage quoted a frustrated angkot driver who opposed the wedding taking place in Cipanas. But there was little coverage of the beauty of the wedding. Why?
I am not defending SBY or feudalism. But I acknowledge weddings are part of Javanese cultural heritage, which is here to stay. The point I want to raise is that we have to look at things objectively. Of course in a democratic society, freedom of expression reigns. But ethics are ethics, and traditions play a critical role in Indonesian society, and they must be honored. It is true that Javanese culture is based on feudalistic principles, but that too must be respected the way people in the West respect monarchies.
In the Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono and Siti Rubi Aliya Rajasa wedding, two different ethnicities, customs and traditions of both Javanese and Palembang (Sumatra) cultures were united. The wedding ceremony was conducted in the ethnic Palembang tradition, while the reception, which was held two days later in Jakarta, was done in a Javanese setting.
Javanese make up 80 percent of the population and they actively practice many facets of their cultural heritage. There is no way of building a new logic that feudal traditions have to be replaced with other ideals in the name of democracy. It is a cultural heritage of Indonesia that must be recognized and honored.