Award winning author Junaedi Setiyono received his doctorate degree in 2016 from the State University of Semarang.
Setiyono’s short stories have been widely published. His first novel, Glonggong (Penerbit Serambi, 2008), won the Jakarta Art Council Novel Writing Award in 2006. In 2008, the same novel was on the five-title shortlist for the Kusala Sastra Khatulistiwa Literary Award, which recognizes Indonesia’s best prose and poetry. His second novel, Arumdalu (Penerbit Serambi, 2010), was on the ten-title shortlist for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2010. In 2012, the manuscript for what would become his third novel, Dasamuka (Penerbit Ombak, 2017), won the Jakarta Art Council Novel Manuscript Award. The novel was translated into English in 2017 and published under the same title by Dalang Publishing. The novel won the 2020 literary award of the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Education.
Setiyono can be contacted via his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Requiem for a Wedding
Arsap sneered as he watched the people gathered around Marinten, tapping the lip of her bowl-shaped vessel with her alu, wooden pestle, making music with her band outside in his yard. He had recovered from his heartache, and the fury inside him had subsided.
A waning moon peeked out from behind the fronds of a coconut palm. A hissing kerosene lamp on the veranda attracted insects. Two steer hindquarters hung upside down from the rafters of the kitchen porch, curing. The fragrance of incense and roasting satay wafted in the wind.
At the beginning of Marinten’s performance, the rhythm of the large wooden pestles hitting their vessels, along with the clanking brass lids, seemed off. Marinten and the other performers were not in sync. The tune they were supposed to play tonight was different from the music they played when making dodol, a sweet toffy-like confection, or the music they played when livestock was slaughtered for a special occasion or the music they played to celebrate a harvest of crops or to express sympathy.
This music created a different atmosphere. The arrangement seemed to convey a condolence, but the tap of the alu was softer and irregular. At other times, the tapping was quick and punctuated. Then, accompanied by a loud crashing of the cymbals, the music sounded like a piece played during a harvest celebration. But next, the music tapered off, becoming softer and softer, as if it were carried by a breeze.
Arsap knew that the peculiarity in the rhythm was not caused by human error. The players constituted a music group led by Marinten. She was known in her village as a skilled musician capable of playing various rhythms of ketuk lumpang, a Madurase way of making music using brass spittoon lids along with wooden mortars and pestles. Marinten’s band was usually asked to perform at all the gatherings in the village. It was impossible that Marinten had made a mistake in directing her fellow musicians.
Aside from being a competent musician, Marinten was charming, which made people want to invite her to play. Although Marinten dressed plainly, she still looked beautiful. Wearing a clove-flower patterned batik shawl and a flowered kebaya, an Indonesian long-sleeved blouse, with her hair put up in a slanted chignon and decorated with strands of jasmine, Marinten caught people’s attention during every occasion. Her appearance was simple, but attractive. Some people said that she had inherited her mother’s charisma.
According to hearsay, Marinten’s mother had once been known as a skilled ketuk lumpang musician too. It was said that her tapping could relax tired muscles after a big harvest, liven up the atmosphere during a wedding celebration or circumcision ceremony, and console mourners drowning in their sadness at a funeral.
When Marinten’s mother was invited to play at a circumcision ceremony, the invited guests thronged to the event, as if the music of tapping pestles and clanking brass lids enticed them to rush to the occasion. Even those who already had other obligations made arrangements so they could come for the sake of watching Marinten’s mother when she and her friends performed the ketuk lumpang music.
Like Marinten, her mother had been the center of attention, not only from the invited guests, but also from people who came without an invitation. Many young men in the village were attracted to her beauty and amazed at her competence in playing ketuk lumpang. Marinten had inherited all of these attributes.
During every harvest and wedding season, Marinten and her musicians never lacked for invitations to play. They even had to turn down some invitations when dates overlapped one another.
But this night, the music that Marinten and her group played was quite different. The music sounded sad, then angry, then suddenly chaotic, like a cadence played by someone in despair.
Like the other guests, Arsap could not take his eyes off Marinten’s figure in the middle of his yard. He enjoyed listening to the incongruous rhythm of the ketuk lumpang music, and he considered Marinten’s off-beat performance as retribution for his defeat.
The night moved on slowly. The tapping and the clanging of the brass tops became more apparent. The aroma of satay roasting on the hot grills filled the air. Even though the music Marinten and her group played was not in accordance with the occasion and tended to be off-key, people still stayed to listen. Babies slept soundly in the warm safety of their mothers’ slings.
Arsap took a deep drag on his cigarette and then exhaled slowly. The smoke rose coiling into the air. His cigarette butts were piled up on the edge of his saucer. Four pieces of wajik, an Indonesian sweet made of glutinous rice, and dodol remained on a serving platter.
A woman is not supposed to underestimate a man! Arsap thought arrogantly.
Marinten’s mother’s refusal of Arsap’s wedding proposal to Marinten had made him very angry. To be refused without any reason was quite a humiliation. In fact, he and Marinten had been in love since they were teenagers. Consequently, Arsap asked his father, Maksar, to find him a girl who was willing to be married immediately.
Maksar, who had also objected to his son proposing to Marinten, immediately started looking for a prospective daughter-in-law. As soon as Maksar found a girl he considered an appropriate wife for Arsap, Maksar proposed to her for his son.
They set the date for Arsap’s wedding less than two weeks after Marinten’s mother had refused Arsap’s proposal.
Arsap intentionally invited Marinten to perform ketuk lumpang on the night before his wedding. The invitation was meant to snuff the hot humiliation, anger, and heartache that had fueled his heart and to retaliate against Marinten’s mother.
While the sounds of the ketuk lumpang continued, the scent of a new block of incense that had replaced the burned one drifted through the house. In the kitchen, women remained busy preparing various kinds of food for the wedding guests.
The night dragged on. Arsap and his father mingled with their relatives and guests on the veranda. Maksar seemed happy, his laughter interspersing the conversations. Now, there were only two pieces of dodol and wajik left and only coffee dregs remaining in the cups.
Suddenly, Arsap noticed the arrival of old man Samulla in the yard. Holding a burning cigarette between his fingers, the old man walked slowly while watching Marinten and her group play.
What is the old man doing here? Arsap wondered. He nudged his father’s arm with his elbow.
Maksar followed Arsap’s gaze, and abruptly stopped laughing. He frowned, looking at old man Samulla.
Samulla stood still for a while, watching Marinten from a near distance as she played the ketuk lumpang. He didn’t walk to the veranda to see the host. He had a strange look in his eyes. The way he slowly exhaled the cigarette smoke from his mouth gave the impression that he had gained some kind of truth.
Arsap’s heart pounded in his chest. Some time ago, his father had told him about that old man.
After the performance was over, Marinten walked home. She saw Samulla waiting for her at the roadside. The old man, who had never married, told Marinten her mother’s story. Now Marinten understood why her mother had refused Arsap’s proposal.
That night, Marinten’s mother could not fall asleep. Sitting by a window, she kept hearing the discordant sounds of ketuk lumpang music that her daughter was playing at Arsap’s wedding celebration.
Suddenly, she heard the door being pushed open and then slamming shut. Without any greeting, Marinten stomped into the house and dropped herself on one of the wooden chairs. Sulking, she removed the strands of jasmine from her hair and loosened her chignon.
“Shame on you!” Marinten’s mother approached her daughter angrily. “How could you mess up that badly? Don’t you know how to play wedding music?”
Chewing on a wad of betel leaves, Marinten’s mother paced in front of her daughter. Every so often, she spat betel juice into a can that contained ashes from the earthen stove, sitting near the leg of a bamboo bench. Her face hardened as she bombarded Marinten with questions that had been bothering her for some time.
“Why did your musician friends follow your lead? Everyone knows you should harmonize the rhythm with one another!”
Marinten didn’t respond.
“I am sure that you caused the performance to fail. Your thoughts were everywhere except on what you were invited to do!”
“Was it not you, my mother, who taught me to unite my soul and thoughts when I play ketuk lumpang? You said that we have to instill all our feelings in our music. For a happy occasion, we must play with gladness in our soul, and the other way around. Thus, the music we play can touch the hearts of our audience. The music will enable them to reach the depths of their souls and experience the feelings we are instilling. Right?”
“You are right. So, then, why didn’t the music you play convey that? You should have played happy tunes!”
“My soul was in the music I played; there is nothing I regret.”
“You were invited to play at a wedding, not a funeral!”
Marinten gritted her teeth. “Am I supposed to be happy at Arsap’s wedding?” She rose from her seat, glared at her mother, then shook her head hard. “No, Mother!”
“How stupid you are! You are upset that I refused Arsap’s proposal to marry you?”
“Give me a reason why you refused his proposal.”
“He is not good enough for you. You may marry whoever you want except him!”
“Marry whoever I want?” Marinten grimaced.
“Yes! You may marry whoever you want to marry!”
Marinten threw her head back and laughed. “All right! Then, tomorrow I will go to old man Samulla’s home and accept his proposal to marry me!”
Marinten’s mother was struck speechless. She stopped chewing the wad of betel leaves in her mouth. She stared at Marinten’s back as her daughter vanished through the door.
Marinten lay down on a bamboo bench. She slowly exhaled while her thoughts drifted to what Samulla had told her earlier that night ⸺ why her mother had refused Arsap’s proposal. It was a problem that involved Samulla, Maksar, and her mother.
A long time ago, according to the story, both Maksar and old man Samulla had courted her mother. Both of them often waited for her when she walked home from an engagement. The two men — one old, one young — competed for her mother’s hand.
Marinten’s mother had chosen Maksar. Not only was Maksar younger, brawnier, and more handsome than Samulla, but he was also a slick sweet-talker.
Samulla, who was almost forty then, did nothing to change her mother’s choice.
Maksar felt he had gained a victory without having to go to war. He made plans to propose to Marinten’s mother as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, Maksar’s parents didn’t agree. Going by a rumor that Marinten’s mother owned a susuk pemikat — a magic gold pin that could supposedly bewitch a man — Maksar’s parents made him marry another girl.
Samulla was furious when he heard what happened. He could not accept that Maksar had abandoned Marinten’s mother because of a rumor. The two men quarreled bitterly and almost fought each other with sickles.
Marinten was sure that refusing Arsap’s proposal was her mother’s way to settle her score with the past. It was her way to compensate for the hurt Maksar’s family had inflicted on her and that she had kept buried all this time. She had intentionally told Marinten to accept Maksar’s invitation to play the ketuk lumpang at Arsap’s wedding celebration in order to show his family that there were no hard feelings.
Marinten grimaced. Her mother had put on a big show. Marinten clenched her teeth and stared at the ceiling.
The next morning, Marinten frowned as soon as opened the doors to the veranda. The alu she had used the night before lay broken into three pieces on the floor. Marinten ran to the kitchen. It was quiet there. The hearth was still cold. The cleaver that was usually propped up against one of the legs of the bamboo bench was gone.
Her heart racing, she ran back to the veranda and anxiously picked up two pieces of the broken pestle.
The light fog still hung on the branches of the coconut tree. Marinten gazed down the road.