Januari 19, 2015

Fatmawati's Wedding

FIONA KERLOGUE'S documentary Fatmawati's Wedding was shot in 1995 in Jambi, central Sumatra, and depicts the wedding of two Muslim sisters in a matrilineal society. In the opening scenes, we accompany Fatmawati, Halimah and their mother during the wedding preparations, and watch the cooking of the ceremonial food and the folding of various ceremonial textiles that will later be exchanged between the families.

With the arrival of the first groom and his family, the akad nikah ceremony, carried out by Islamic officials, begins. In the course of this event, the groom's family pays a small brideprice. After the bride and groom have both signed the official wedding forms and gifts have been exchanged, they separate again.

In Jambi, the Islamic akad nikah ceremony and the traditional matrilineal wedding ritual are staged on two different occasions. While the akad nikah ceremony speaks to the prominent role of Islam in contemporary Indonesia, the second ritual harks back to a time when it was not Islamic officials but the exchange between matrilineages that structured the matrimonial field.

Some days after the akad nikah ceremony, family members and a female shaman prepare Halimah and Fatmawati for the second wedding party (pesta malam). Their feet and hands are dyed with henna, their skin is softened with hot vapor, and at the end of the purification procedure Halimah is luxuriously made-up and clothed with the traditional Jambi wedding costume. When everything is ready, the groom, under a yellow umbrella and accompanied by a couple of young musicians, arrives with his relatives and friends at the village. Then while the couple is seated in a prodigiously decorated bedroom, a festive crowd gathers in the house. At the end of the film, bride and groom make their appearance in Western style wedding clothes while a photographer takes their pictures. After the wedding, as we learn from Kerlogue's commentary, the newly-wed man moves to the bride's residence until the couple can afford to build their own house.

Like many recent ethnographic films, Kerlogue's documentary is the outcome of thorough fieldwork and is shot without the help of a professional crew. But unlike other such films, instead of letting her protagonists speak, Fiona Kerlogue gives her own commentary on the events.

Why do I mention this point? For some time now, anthropology has begun to focus on the subjective quality of the gaze, on the fact that human perception is culturally codified and on the realisation that editing mostly follows Western representational conventions. As a result, the realist paradigm in anthropology has been weakened and some even speak about "the death of ethnographic film". In this context, anthropologists have started to reinterpret their filmic work in David MacDougall's sense: instead of objectifying the events by their comments, anthropologists aim at the "evocation of a subjective voice in film." (See Mac-Dougall, in Lucien Taylor's "Visual Anthropology Is Dead, Long Live Visual Anthropology!" [American Anthropologist, 100 (1998): 535]).

If such voices give us insights into the sometimes controversial standpoints and interpretations of the subjects of research, an ethnographic film can achieve something that commercial productions rarely do: it can show us rich multifaceted cultural relations instead of simplifying and mystifying other cultures.

By suppressing her protagonist's voice, Kerlogue misses part of this chance, but compensates for it by her proximity to Fatmawati and her family. Due to her longstanding fieldwork and intimate relationship with the family represented, she lets the spectator experience a foreign world and gives us insights into a unique transformational process in Indonesia, in which two antagonistic systems, Islam and matriliny, find a rare compromise.[]

Fatmawati's Wedding. Researched, filmed and produced by Fiona Kerlogue. Hull: University of Hull Audio-Visual Centre, 1997. 50 mins., color video; in Malay, with English narration and subtitles. Distributed by Fiona Kerlogue, Centre for South-East Asian Studies, University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull HU6 7RX, U.K.; VHS-PAL, sale price £40-00.


Kathrin Oester, “Fatmawati's Wedding”, Visual Anthropology, 14, 4, (2001): 441-442.

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