Kim and I participated in an event in our neighborhood called an Aqiqah or ‘haircutting ceremony’. When a baby reaches a certain age, somewhere between 40 days and four months, a party is held to celebrate the new life. It varies when this celebration is held, but usually after the baby is healthy and deemed survivable.
Our neighbor’s baby turned three months and so she held an Aqiqah two doors from our house. Kim was invited to help with the cooking a few days beforehand. The women in our area are stay-at-home moms so they relish the opportunity to get out and cook with other women. It breaks up the monotony I suppose. A space was set up in the backyard. Even though it’s hard work cooking over a fire in the hot sun, the women got all dressed up for the occasion. It was quite a site to see. I took several pictures of the women in action from our house.
The ceremony began around 8 am with a drum group called ‘bedikir’. You can hear the ‘dhong dhong’ of the drums from a ways away. This is considered ‘traditional entertainment.’ Even though there are modern forms of entertainment, like DJ’s and loud music, on the outskirts of town they still appreciate the traditional forms. Roughly around 9:30 am (time is not a fixed thing in Indonesia) it was time to get started. Enough people had showed up, the seats were mostly full, and a member of the household stood up to welcome everyone. He greeted the honored guests, gave a rundown of events, and then said a prayer in Arabic. Arabic is a formal ‘religious’ language not typically understood by most people. They memorize and recite prayers in Arabic, but that’s about it. The drum group also sings/chants in Arabic.
What happened next was a little bit of a blur. Everyone started eating at the same time and the mother and father started walking around as people cut snips of hair off their baby’s head. It was a little hard to know where to be.
The haircutting takes place by carrying the newborn baby in a circle while respected elders and people from the family cut a little strand of hair from the baby’s head and put it in a coconut husk. They also take some leaves from a bowl and touch the baby’s head while speaking a blessing. Later the father and mother receive advice and prayers from an elder. From what I could understand the prayer consisted of asking that the child would grow strong and healthy, be protected from evil spirits and the devil, and be a faithful and strong member of the community. They also put the baby in a swing and rocked her seven times. We asked people what the significance of ‘seven’ was (why seven times) and so far all we’ve gotten is that they’re supposed to do it seven times, and to do any more or less would break tradition. Obviously we need to investigate this more.
Food is arranged on a couple tables buffet style. They always serve the same four or five dishes- cooked beef (called rendang), a salad (called gado gado), a vegetable soup, a spicy chip dish, and fish. All of this gets mixed over the top of rice and is really quite tasty.
With food, prayers, and the hair cutting out of the way people started to leave. Indonesian parties are usually pretty short, anywhere from 45 minutes to 2-3 hours at most. Since we were neighbors we stayed a little longer, which was okay because it allowed me to get more pictures and ask questions. Neighborhood events are a very common part of our life in Indonesia. They make the community come together. And now that Ramadan is near we can expect a lot more ‘rendang’ and drums in our schedule!