Indonesia Expat
History/Culture

Marriage Curstoms-Balinese Elopement

Wedding Ceremony in Buleleng-1939

Wedding Ceremony in Buleleng-1939I was browsing my Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch Indië, not looking for anything specific as I was curious who or what would appear as the first entry.

Aa, Abraham Jakob van der, the writer of “Nederlandsch Oost-Indië (1792—1857)”. Mr van der Aa, it is stated, was born in Amsterdam 6 December 1792 and died 21 March 1857. It does not say where he died, but I assume that it was in Amsterdam, too. His book therefore is very likely the result of desk research, that was dug out of libraries and archives, on the spot, as in his day and age not even photocopiers were available, let alone Google. So whatever the quality of his book, I think his hard work and perseverance fully qualify him for an entry, not only an entry, but the first one, the opening statement of the four volumes of the Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch Indië, Martinus Nijhoff 1917.

And so I browsed on: Aardappel. Kentang (MAL), or potato for English speakers, which was introduced in the Dutch East Indies either by the Dutch or by the Chinese. It is grown for the European community. Only the Tenggerese in East Java (Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park) do eat potatoes—boiled, grated and mixed with maize. Adat. Customs and traditions covering every aspect of life: manners and conventions, agriculture, worship of ancestral worship, and many more. Agrarische Wet. Agrarian Law, which in the colonial days was mainly concerned with regulating the land ownership of foreign companies and at the same time safeguarding the rights of the indigenous peoples. Interestingly, land laws remain a topic of intense discussions today, but for foreign companies substitute the Government. And so on until finally Bali and Baliërs, Balinese.

Marriage customs are included in the section on Customs and Traditions. Apparently, some hundred years ago, there were four forms of marriage on Bali:
a)    The father or guardian of the boy contacts the closest male relative of the girl with the proposal (m?padik);
b)    Abduction with mutual consent (merangkat);
c)    Forcible abduction with the girl resigning to it (malagandang);
d)    The father or guardian of the girl proposes the parents of the boy (s?ntan?).

The most befitting way, the article continues, is the one mentioned as method a). It is accompanied by an engagement of three to six months. This method has, however, gradually given way to the one mentioned under b) abduction with mutual consent. Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch Indië, page 122.

Not completely without risk this second method was, as the bride’s parents were allowed to kill the boy if they caught the couple before they reached a safe house. A similar situation could in the past be found in England, where the couple would be safe from a pursuing angry father once they had arrived in Gretna Green, across the Scottish border.

The encyclopaedia, don’t forget, was published nearly 100 years ago. And whereas the past hundred years has included some of the fastest and most dramatic changes ever brought upon by mankind, the 19th century evolved at a much slower pace. I find it therefore fascinating that on Bali, elopement had replaced the arranged marriage as described under a) during the slower paced 19th century. This would undoubtedly have caused some serious head-shaking by the traditionalists.

Have you heard? The son of xxx has eloped with that nice daughter of yyy.
What is the world coming to?
Why couldn’t they follow our old customs and wait till the parents had reached an agreement!

There must have been a reason for it. Was it cheaper to elope? Maybe, because as soon as the eloping pair had reached the safety of the house of a friend, negotiations about the dowry—the encyclopaedia calls it “purchase price” (patuku)—would start. With the bride already free from parental control, the height of the dowry might be much lower. And, in case the young man is not able to pay the requested sum, he would work for the girl’s parents until the sum is deemed to have been paid.

Now that makes sense, in particular in the light of the Balinese entrepreneurial business sense. Rather than working for your own parents (for food and maybe some pocket money), it’s much more preferable to work for your in-laws and get a bride for free.

It’s economics tweaking customs and traditions. Not drastically, just enough to make them more suitable for changing times. And maybe a similar process of adjustment is taking place now. Many of the island’s visitors moan about the disappearance of the old Bali. Life is too hectic and money orientated, they say. Yes, true. But the provincial income figures put Bali far ahead of comparable provinces, that is, the ones without natural resources such as oil, coal or timber.

The strength of Bali, in my view, is that the Balinese consider the tourists as milch cows. And just like a dairy farmer, Balinese are good at squeezing the tourists dry, unemotionally so, while at home life goes on in its well established customary ways, plus or minus a few tweaks to stay ahead of the game.

Perfect, for another generation or two!

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