Published in Jakarta Kini August 2008

Ibu-Ibu Gaya
Rumpik Sari Dewi Emily

Ever since my very first trip to Jakarta in 1975?to buy a folder at the first floor of Cikini Immigration (things were deliciously hands-on in the good old days of the Order Baru)?I have been impressed by Jakarta’s glamour ladies of the realm, their grooming and their gait.
In those days, the wives of the Development Bosses flaunted helmet-head coifs, in the fashion of Darth Vader; they wore bright Gucci ‘golf weekend’ chemise, and carried weapons-grade black patent leather handbags. They all walked at a snail’s pace, in the manner of Javanese princesses, flailing ladies in-waiting who wore vaguely-Dutch daywear.
They had the unique ability to block any attempt at being overtaking from behind?in air bridges or on hotel corridors?by gently moving sideways: in fact, they seemed to be endowed with radar in their rear ends.
Rumour also had it that they all slept standing up, like Borgs, so as not to ruin their perfect coifs.

* * *

Today’s fabulously independently wealthy, talented and beautiful golden girls are much more nimble and much more fun!
One group calls itself the Ibu-Ibu Gaya (or Glamour Girls) and is dedicated to steamy sarong-kebaya eveningwear and exotic dancing, in the style of the bossa nova brunettes who graced the Presidential Palace in the days of that great patron of parties, President Soekarno.
Last month, between trips to Darjeeling and Denpasar, I was invited to cover the Mangkunegaran Palace wedding of Soekarno’s granddaughter, Gusti Raden Ayu Agung Putri Suniwati, to a dashing crooner from Makassar, Sarwana Thamrin?a distant relative of the Raja Goa.
With my press pass and a handful of Hemaviton vitamin pills, I got to observe these Solo sirenes at close range.

* * *

The following SMSes were sent from the Istana Mangkunegaran on 12 June 2008:

11 a.m. At the Akad Nikah Betrothal ceremony.
The Ibu-Ibu Gaya Group, resplendent in peppermint, occupies the central portion of the raised dais inside the Dalem Mangkunegaran?the Palace’s inner sanctum. The superbly proportioned Yani Arifin is at the Group’s epicentre.
Perfectly powdered, milky breasts and feathered fans flutter. Diamonds glitter. It seems that the Ibu-Ibu Gaya are always ‘central’ at any important or glamorous Javanese occasion. It was never decreed that they should be seminal, and pivotal?today, for example, ambassadors, and even government ministers, sit below, way below, with Warwick Purser?but there they have always sat. Chefs de Protocol are at a loss to explain their inevitable appearance in the these viceregal sections: beauty has its own rules, it seems.
Likewise no one can ever explain the membership rules of the Ibu-Ibu Gaya Group; but once one has attained membership? Through either wealth, beauty, talent or the other thing? Then membership is as precious as life itself.

1300 hrs : At Yani Arifin’s house in Central Solo
The Ladies are all now frying their perfectly-formed breasts at the town market.
A few minutes ago they stormed out of the dining room door?a phalanx of über-consumers?botoxed bottoms setting slowly in the noonday sun.
Baby Dolls and bowlegs.
Jackie O glasses.
Tireless retainers running after them?down the perfectly-rolled asphalt?with handphones, grease-busters and body-bras. (No boyfriends or bodyguards allowed in the inner circle?by threat of expulsion!)
Enzymes are secreted, discretely, in foreign ports.
Earlier, these indefatigable Ibu-Ibu of the realm had transformed themselves via a ten-course lunch: from Solo sirenes into hard-bargaining batik wenches, in the space of an hour.
I now sit alone in the excess air-conditioning, catching my breath.

2000 hrs : Back to Ibu Yani’s, to fetch the girls for the wedding reception
Preman, drivers and spent make-up artists line the driveway that leads to the glittering pavilion.
Inside, the deep bass beat of Barry White disco music drowns out the squeals of delight as, one by one, the divas of divine decadence emerge from their dressing rooms. Madam Miranda Gultom, in flattering mauve, preens, nervously, in the mirror: ”are these emeralds too small?“ she seems to be asking, as the more confident of the matrons roll up their million rupiah sleeves and dive into yet another twelve-course meal of delectable Solonese tit-bits.

* * *

Arrangements for the car convoy to the Istana are intense: delicate forms slide into the waiting black SUV with feline grace.
We arrive in record time palace at the pavilion entrance. An exquisite Bedoyo Suryo Sumirat (bedil) Abdi Dalem Langen Projo Putri Mangkunegaran is in progress, bordered by a row of VIP guests and, from above, framed by a set of chandeliers weeping pink jali jasmine strips.
I am lifted an inch out of my selop priya by this scene of heart-wrenching beauty: the wail of the tembang bedoyo plus female chorus; the clouds of incense de l'Orient; the flutter of canary yellow selendang all make for a vision of paradise.
The course brown necks of the men from Makassar?all in bright Mandar sarong?strain to get an eyeful of Ibu Yani Arifin sitting front row centre, like Audrey Hepburn at a Givenchy show the bride and groom and family continue to look alert despite days of this, and nights of football and massage.
At the post-reception photo shoot in the princesses’ private apartments?in Solo, even the princes are princesses (one even screams. “Emily !!!” in a Tourette’s Syndrome way when introduced to any tall, light stranger)?the Ibu-Ibu Gaya have swamped the marble dais in the innermost sanctum santori and are posing in long line-ups?like svelte, sophisticated, regal Rockettes.
Even Megawati and her husband, Taufik Kemas, dressed in a stuning caramel ‘highland three piece’ are swept aside by this phalanx of the fashionable.

* * *

Midnight : At a nasi liwet lesehan in Solo’s street-theatre district
The ladies are having their feet massaged as they sample the latest local delicacies.
“Local !” is really their battle cry : no-where else but Java could such a battalion of be-batik-ed beauties survive; they are defenders of the fancy frocks; champions of the chemise; Ladies that launch...and Java would be a much quieter place without them.


Made Wijaya is the nom de plume of Bali-based Australian writer and landscape designer Michael White.

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