Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Being Included

“Hold the baby!” the women around me were urging.

I carefully picked up the 1-month-old infant from the decorated swing—the place of honor—to hold and coo and adore.

“Put the baby over here!” they said, pointing to a spot on the floor, before I’d been holding that baby for about 3 seconds.

I thought maybe they were urging me to put him down because Evan, my 17-month-old son had noticed that someone else was grabbing his mom’s attention. Evan had begun to climb on top of me. But then I noticed that the women called out to other guests at the party, urging them to pick up the baby from the floor, then put him directly into the swing. Then someone else would pick up the baby from the swing and put him on the floor. And on they’d go.

And in between each cycle, the baby’s grandmother took a candle and moved it around the swing, then threw yellow rice on the baby, then on the person who’d just held the baby.

Apparently, this ritual, in which I’d unknowingly participated, is just one part of a special celebration to commemorate the passing of one month of age for this Indonesian baby, and to ceremoniously put that newborn in a swing for the first time.

I’d gone to a similar celebration just two weeks ago—for the baby’s cousin. But I must have missed that part of the ceremony that time.

During that last celebration, the baby had had to share the spotlight with two other people—a female adult relative who was preparing to leave for her haj—her pilgrimage to Mecca, as required by her Muslim faith. The third part of the ceremony was to allow a 9-year-old girl to read the Koran in public, in Arabic. Apparently, she had just finished reading through the entire Koran, in Arabic (which uses a different alphabet than Indonesian or English) for the third time.
But she was shy and nervous, so while her family members lit all the appropriate candles and selected passages for her to read in front of the guests, she began crying and refused to read.

Attending these types of acara, as they are called in Indonesian, or events as we might say in English are some of the more interesting aspects of living in this diverse culture.

For instance, I learned that yellow is an important color for the ethnic group that had held the baby swing acara. And clearly candles and rice take important roles, too. Abundant food for guests always plays a part—one of the more fun parts for a guest like me. But a guest’s responsibility is to bring a small envelope with a monetary gift—large or small.

And of course, there is the occasional cultural misunderstanding, like when I thought I was being handed the baby to hold for as long as I desired. But apparently, the acara must go on.

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