Indonesian Couples Incorporating Tree Planting Into Their Weddings

During Catholic wedding ceremonies in Indonesia, families traditionally bring gifts meant for the church up to the altar. On the day of their nuptials, Erlyn Lasar and Dion Lamanepa, a couple living in Indonesia’s southernmost province of East Nusa Tenggara, approached the altar bearing flowers as well as another plant that, while not traditional, is increasingly being incorporated into wedding customs across the archipelago nation: a tree sapling.

It was a sapling of a golden trumpet (Handroanthus chrysotrichus) that Erlyn carried to the altar of the Cathedral of Saint Yosef in Maumere, a city on the island of Flores, on June 18. After the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom planted the seedling in the church’s east courtyard as their guests looked on.

That was just the first of many trees that would be planted due to Dion and Erlyn’s nuptials. The couple prepared 1,400 seedlings to give away as living souvenirs of their special day, including 400 more golden trumpet saplings, as well as a wide variety of flowers and fruiting plants.

The couple didn’t simply buy all those seedlings. After they decided on the ecological theme for their wedding, Dion, 28, and Erlyn, 27, spent six months carefully gathering and cultivating the plants they would eventually give to their guests.

Guests at Erlyn and Dion’s wedding received tree saplings in polybags to take home and plant. | Ebed de Rosary for Mongabay

Reforestation via weddings

Indonesia contains vast swaths of rainforest that are incalculably valuable to Earth’s biodiversity and climate, but deforestation caused by development continues to decimate them. Per government figures, the country lost 115,459 hectares (285,305 acres) of forest cover in 2020, an area the size of Los Angeles.

While that may seem alarming, that number was actually down 75% from the previous year, according to the nation’s environment ministry. In fact, Indonesia’s deforestation rate hit a historic low in 2020, with the government crediting its various policies limiting forest clearance (though environmentalists say other factors contributed, including an unusually wet year with few wildfires, declining palm oil prices, and an economic slump leading to a slowdown in forest-clearing activities such as plantation expansion and logging).

President Joko Widodo has an ambitious goal of not just halving the deforestation rate over the next three decades, but also reforesting 10.6 million hectares (26.2 million acres) of land by 2050. The central government’s reforestation efforts have seen regional authorities come up with a wide variety of unique schemes to get more trees planted. Among them are local regulations that have arisen throughout the country requiring couples who want to get married to plant trees.

For example, for the past three years in Pasung village, Central Java province, marrying couples have been required to plant two fruit trees alongside one of the village’s roads; local officials say they hope the program will help the village develop an agritourism industry.

A regulation passed this year in Ploso village, East Java province, requires brides and grooms to plant 10 trembesi (Samanea saman) trees. The village head said he hoped the initiative would bear fruit in 10 years when the wealth of new trees would help the village better withstand drought. “My big hope is that every married couple-to-be becomes an agent of change, so that what is planted now will be reaped by their children and grandchildren,” said Agus Cahyono, the village chief.

Similar tree-planting requirements for brides and grooms can be found in areas ranging from South Kalimantan to Central Sulawesi. Many are a result of a 2015 memorandum of understanding between the ministries of religion and environment that suggested tree planting be encouraged by making it into an official marriage requirement.

Erlyn and Dion plant a tree in the courtyard next to the mosque in which they were married. | Ebed de Rosary for Mongabay
Erlyn Lasar, left, and Dion Lamanepa. | Ebed de Rosary for Mongabay

Ecologically conscious couples

Dion and Erlyn didn’t require a government obligation to give away hundreds of trees and plants to their guests. A love of nature is one of the things that bonded the couple, who both work as teachers in Flores.

The two met while they were both attending Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta, a city on the island of Java. Even while they were dating, they talked about how they wanted to incorporate ecology into their wedding. Around six years ago, when a university friend who was planning their own wedding asked Erlyn and Dion for souvenir ideas, the pair came up with the concept of giving away tree saplings, resulting in about 1,000 trees being planted around the Sanata Dharma campus. That success convinced Erlyn and Dion to give away saplings at their own wedding in June in the hopes that it would inspire even more couples to do the same.

Other ecologically minded couples have been similarly motivated to make their marriage ceremonies into a force to promote reforestation in Indonesia. In February 2020, a bride and groom in Pontianak, West Kalimantan province, gave their wedding guests 1,500 tree saplings that had been donated by a local nature conservancy. In April 2019, the mayor of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan province gave two mango tree saplings to his son-in-law’s family as part of his daughter’s dowry.

Some experts believe it’s unlikely that Indonesia can meet its ambitious goals to rein in deforestation and transform its forests into a net carbon sink by 2030, given the current pace of deforestation and the fact that prevailing government policies still allow for a substantial amount of forest clearing for agriculture. Regulations requiring couples to plant a tree, or even 10, when they get married are unlikely to overcome those policies, but their symbolic power may prove to be great.

Couples like Dion and Erlyn show that there is a passion among the Indonesian public to protect and regrow their forests, a sentiment that may continue to grow with each generation.

Dion said he did have one slight regret from his wedding day. “Actually, I wanted to plant a lot of trees at the church. But we thought, it’s better if we plant just one,” the newlywed told Mongabay. They decided that they should leave room for other couples to plant trees there on their wedding days.

Balikpapan Mayor Rizal Effendi helps his son-in-law plant the mango trees as part of their wedding ceremony at a local mosque. | Image courtesy of Rizal Effendi via Instagram

This story was partly reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team in an article published here on our Indonesian site on July 10, 2021.

This story was originally published in Mongabay on November 4, 2021. NowThis has published this story with permission.