Upacara–Tedak Siten

Sorry for the huge delay on the ceremony post. Been tired, busy and lazy. Probably in that order!

Jasmine’s family being asli Yogyakarta means that there is a rich cultural background that we have had the opportunity to sample. After our “Western” wedding ceremony in 2007 we travelled to Jogya for a intimate traditional wedding upacara (ceremony) (around 400 guests). Then last year we were lucky enough to experience a Mitoni – a Javanese ceremony performed when the mother-to-be is 7th months pregnant with her first baby. This traditional ceremony aims to request God’s blessings for the safety of the would-be parents and the baby. This trip led to the opportunity to hold an Upacara Tedak Siten for Jack.

So why hold these upacara? Why not! Unfortunately these days many of the ceremonies are not held by your every day Orang Jawa (Javanese person). Like all cultures there is a slow seeping loss of traditions as globalisation and modernisation takes hold combined with most upacara being comparatively expensive and taking a lot of organising and time to prepare. In this way we’re lucky to have a family that is so excited by the prospect of hosting these ceremonies and have so many contacts that make organisation so easy (for us anyway!).

So – a Tedak Siten – what is involved! Well, the specifics are a little sketchy as the lady that explains the ceremony to us speaks to us in the Krama Inggil level of Bahasa Jawa, the level that no-one we know speaks fluently. Jas can speak Ngoko fluently and can understand some Krama Madya. I understand some Bahasa Indonesia which is largely useless when someone is speaking Javanese.  The easiest way to explain this is basically like having someone explain something to you in Ole World Shakespearean English when one of you speaks Generation-X English and the other one speaks French. Even our family don’t speak Krama Inggil – so things tend to get interesting!

The Tedak Siten is a ceremony to celebrate Jack’s first steps on the earth and to help provide with guidance and blessings for his life ahead. There were complex preparations, a Taj Mahal marquee set-up in the back yard and we were joined by everyone from the village, plus some local friends and the UGM Bules. The ceremony had a number of steps and stages, that despite the number – flew by! It all started with the first steps on the earth. Jack was assisted with stepping on seven different coloured plates of glutinous rice that symbolise aspects of nature that he will be able to overcome. Jack then had to climb (with assistance) up a sugarcane ladder (Arjuna ladder), sit on a sugarcane chair on top and be generally brave and strong. Jack was meant to behave like Arjuna – a true Javanese fighter and warrior. Passing the sugarcane Arjuna ladder stage depicts that he should walk in life with determination and full of confidence like the hero.

Mandi time followed in a big brass tub. This symbolic cleansing will lead to our child (hopefully) giving a good name to the family. Then, my favourite bit. Jack (and his caring and supportive mother) had to climb inside a giant decorated rooster cage. Inside the cage are various things of interest such as pens, books, jewellery, traditional Apple iPhone© and toys. Jack was then encouraged to choose whatever took his fancy. This would be a sign of his future career – kind of like a pick your future lucky dip. The little man in the cage (Jack) picked a book twice then grabbed some jewellery! This produced sage-like nodding and much cheering – our little man will be a rich scholar, so well done lad. Can’t wait!

Now, this bit I still don’t get. I can see the symbolism in the other stages. I’ve found things online that explain the intricacies. But this bit leaves me, and anyone we ask about it a little stuck. Jack had to walk holding a long piece of sugarcane with a whole ayam bakar (baked chicken) on the top and a tangan pisang (hand of bananas) on the bottom. He had to hold the sugarcane like an old mountain hiker and walk along (assisted of course) the length of the patio. We’ve had a few people try to explain this part and have got; that it will give him grace from god or that he will have a strong spirit. No-one is really sure, but it looked hilarious! Then, it all got a little bit crazy. Well, a lot crazy. The upacara officially over; it was time to get rid of everything. Coins and nuts were thrown in to the crowd by Jas’ Mum. With fervour. Kids came up to fight over the decorated eggs and toys. The sugarcane ladder was broken up and hurled piece by piece in to the onlookers (Jas got in on the act for this). Followed by the chicken-on-a-stick (bananas still in situ). I’ll be honest, it was dangerous.

Still – no one was seriously injured and by all reports everyone thoroughly enjoyed the upacara. Bancaan was handed out (gently) for everyone to eat (wouldn’t be an Indonesian ceremony without food). Then in what is now Indonesian tradition, everyone left as quickly as humanly possible to head off home. Left dazed, confused and still not looking quite right in Batik – I attempted to piece together the stages of the ceremony, understand as much as I could and try to relax. With so much to take in, some confusion and some parts that still no-one can explain – it’s taken quite a while to work out what to write. Hence why it’s taken 5 weeks to get on to this post! So hopefully this will give you a bit of insight in to one of the many, many traditional Upacara Jawa that exists. Or at least some pictures to look at during your lunch-break!


NB1: Huge thanks to our good friend Budi for his amazing photos of our Tedak Siten and Mitoni.

NB2: An even big thanks to family. Mum for making it across, and Ibu Is and Pak Wid for organising the ceremony for us. Terima kasih for the opportunity.

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