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Indonesia Banget #10: The Act of Kissing Someone’s hand

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It’s time for another edition of Indonesia Banget. This time, I want to share something that totally different to western world (as far as I know). This won’t be along post, this is probably the shortest IB post ever.


Have you ever see this image on the right? (Copyright belongs to Inmagine)

A man kissing a woman’s hand as a way to respect the woman. If you ever seen such act in Indonesia, it is no doubt that the man has been influenced by western movies.

I am not saying we don’t have kissing hand’s tradition in Indonesia, we do have it but not like the picture shown above.

In Indonesia, the act of kissing someone’s hand is a way to say we respect that person, but not in away shown above. Here are the orders of who will kiss whose hand:

  • Picture belongs to susansudarwin.wordpress.com

    Children will kiss their parents’ hand every time they leave the house and when they come back home. It is both to show respect and ask for blessing.

  • Children will also kiss their aunt and uncle’s hand as well as their grandparents.
  • Younger brother or/and sister will kiss the hand of their older brother or/and sister. This act mostly takes place once they’re no longer living in the same house.
  • Students will kiss their teachers’ hand. It is their way to show they respect the teachers. However, you will not see this act in any international school.
  • Wife will kiss her husband’s hand.

As you can see…the hierarchy of kissing hand is from the younger ones to the older ones.

The president and his wife

Javanese even has a tradition called sungkeman, where the younger ones not only kissed the hand of the older ones but they also did it with a position that looked like kissing the knees of the older ones (See the picture).

I saw a funny scene once, an Indonesian celebrity was marrying a western man (I didn’t know the nationality of that man), when the ceremony was over, the wife immediately kissed the man’s hand…and thinking that was our tradition, the man kissed the wife’s hand in return. The woman was laughing because that was not how it was supposed to be.

Unfortunately, this act to show respect has decreased in some parts of my country. My family tries to maintain this act of respect till today (and many years to come).

Updated on May 18,

I realized I have forgotten to say some important things, I have to set it right so that I won’t give wrong information.

  1. When I said Western Movie, it doesn’t mean cowboy movie. We, Indonesian, often refer Asian as East people whereas American and European as West People. Therefore,what I meant by western movie is movies  made by both American and European.
  2. This act of kissing hand is not LITERALL kissing the hand like in Mafia Movies where they kissed the Mafia boss’ ring.  We often put the hand on forehead or give  a little ouch with our nose or lip.
  3. Sungkeman only takes place during special event,such as Idhul Fitri (Islamic Holiday where we forgive each other) and Wedding (from the children toward their parents)

Sorry for this missing information.

Previous Indonesia Banget Post:

  1. 17 Agustusan (Independence Day’s Celebration )
  2. Mudik (Going back to the Village)
  3. Bedong (The art of wrapping the infant)
  4. Malam Bainai (a Minang tradition on the  night before the wedding)
  5. Kerokan (One of many Indonesian traditional folk-cures)
  6. Topeng Monyet (Traditional Monkey Circus)
  7. Death Ceremonies
  8. Traditional Houses
  9. Sangkuriang, a Folklore From Indonesia

About Novroz

I actively maintained 2 blogs. My personal blog is about things that I love: Turtles, Books, Movies, Music, Larc en Ciel, Muse, Cillian Murphy, The Mighty Boosh and many more. I also help my 3 super cute turtles, Kroten, Papoe and Kurome, to maintain their own blog: http://kamekroten.wordpress.com

39 comments on “Indonesia Banget #10: The Act of Kissing Someone’s hand

  1. Mel u
    May 17, 2011

    In the Philippines as a gesture of respect people take the hand of an older or higher status person and touch it to their forehead-a very nice tradition.

    • Novroz
      May 17, 2011

      Sometime,we also do that instead of kissing…mostly happen at school.
      I guess being neighbor makes us have similar tradition 😉
      I agree,it is a nice tradition and I am glad my family is keeping the tradition.

    • Nina
      May 17, 2011

      Many Indonesians do that instead of kissing hand. I take my husband’s hand and touch it to my forehead every morning when he’s about to leave for work 🙂

  2. Custard
    May 17, 2011

    I find this type of post really interesting Nov. I love learning about different cultures, thanks so much for sharing.

    To be Honest the kissing of hands isn’t that common here either. European values have taken over and it is more the kiss on the cheek and a small hug now. I miss the Ladies and Gentlemen days…


    • Novroz
      May 17, 2011

      Your welcome, C … glad you like it.

      I didn’t know that, I thought the kissing of hands is still common, I see it quite a lot in movies. I guess we could never trust movie completely.

      • Custard
        May 17, 2011

        Oh it still happens, but not so much with my generation. We just go straight for the cheek.

        It is seen as very polite to kiss the hand, almost over the top.

        • Novroz
          May 17, 2011

          I see…we have such a big difference in our culture, you cannot kiss someone you first met on the cheek unless you are in the same gender, if you were in my country.

          I kinda imagine that kissing hand happened a lot in the era where women are still ashamed wearing skimpy dress 😉

  3. kelly
    May 17, 2011

    Love this post 😀 This is so interesting, thank you

    • Novroz
      May 17, 2011

      Thank you for reading this, Kelly.
      It’s a nice feeling to be able to share a piece of my country to the world out there.

  4. si_ulil
    May 17, 2011

    I think the most likely event for this type of gesture is during Iedul Adha or Iedul Fitri, don’t you think?

    You should have mentioned how the younger ones place the elder’s hand on their foreheads instead 🙂
    Indeed, this special gesture mostly happens at school. But I hardly remember giving you that kind of gesture every time we met! It’s usually,”Miss! What’d you think of last night’s Idol?!” with no introduction or greetings whatsoever 😛
    Or maybe near the end of graduation ceremony, where we pretty much had to place our foreheads on the hands of ALL the teachers *flashback moment

    • Novroz
      May 17, 2011

      Not in my family case. We kiss our mom and dad’s hand every day…tho it is more like placing my nose and lip on top of my parents hands, don’t imagine it to be like the picture of that man kissing the woman’s hand.

      whuahahaha…so, whose fault is that?
      honestly, I don’t really like being treated like that by students 😉
      I don’t mind at all when it is done by family members. I like my students to respect me but still regard me as friend.

  5. lifewith4cats
    May 18, 2011

    I think this is a beautiful tradition that also serves a good purpose to show respect. I would not mind at all if America did that. The hand kissing in western movies is something that only happens to a very few lucky pretty girls and only if the guy is really a ‘ladies man.’ Then he will do this type of thing to impress them and make them feel special. But most women in America have never had their hand kissed and they get jealous if I tell them that I have had my hand kissed a lot.

    My husbands hand is really a lot bigger than my face. I love to put my forehead under his hand sometimes when we sleep or watch tv. It feels comforting and warm and safe.

    • Novroz
      May 18, 2011

      Thank you for sharing that information, Sara. I didn’t know kissing hand could give such special feeling toward the woman.

      I can imagine the comfort you feel from your husband, tho I don’t have a husband yet 😉

  6. Castor
    May 18, 2011

    Always interesting to read this kind of post Novroz! Yea this has nothing to do with you are doing in Indonesia, the kissing of hand in the US is a much more intimate thing some guys do for their wife/girlfriend, very much akin to a normal kiss.

    • Novroz
      May 18, 2011

      Thank you saying that Castor 🙂
      Can I assume that the intention has shifted from the time the European did it with what the American do nowadays ?
      I see respect not affection when they did it in years where horse and carriage were still used as mean of transportation. Here, kissing the forehead is the act of affection, apart from normal kiss.

    May 18, 2011

    you would really kiss the hand of your older sister or brother?
    I’d never do that to my older brother, we fought too many wars between each other for me to do that 🙂

    • Novroz
      May 18, 2011

      Yes I did 🙂
      My older brother has married and live on his own, when he came to visit us (me and my parents), I kissed his hand and his wife’s hand. We don’t always have great relationship but once we lived apart of each other,we sort of respect each other. My younger brother also kissed my hand every time he came home.

  8. Caroline
    May 18, 2011

    Another interesting post, Novroz. Basically one could say that anybody’s hand could be kissed apart from the hand of a woman by her husband. What is the norm in Western culture is the exception in Indonesia.
    In Europe this tradition still exists but many people don’t know that the hand should actually never be touched by the lips! Traditional European upbringing will teach you that. My mother would have frowned upon any man who would actually have kissed her, my or someone else’s hand. You do as if… Austria is particularly well known for this tradition.
    The “kissing of hands to show respect does exits in the Catholic tradition, in a variation. You kiss the bishop’s or the Pope’s ring…

    • Novroz
      May 18, 2011

      You can sum it up like that, Caroline. Usually, the wife will kiss the husband hand while husband will kiss the wife’s forehead. The wife shows that she respect the husband while the husband shows that he cares about the wife.

      Not all people really kiss the hand…we also do it AS IF kissing it. Basically,only touching the hand with either forehead, nose or lip.
      I have seen that image before and pretty much aware that Christian kiss the ring of the Pope and the Bishop. Here, I have seen Christian kiss their priest’s hand as well as Muslim kiss their Uztad’s hand (Uztad is same like priest in Islam)

  9. Victor
    July 17, 2011

    I was pleasantly surprised (and quite flattered) when my Indonesian neighbor asked his 3-year old son to kiss my hand. In the Philippines we were taught this tradition as a sign of respect for our elders, and I still do this with my older relatives. What surprised me was that in all this time when I thought we had acquired this tradition from the Spaniards, it was actually from our Indonesian ancestors!

    • Novroz
      July 18, 2011

      Hi Victor…welcome to my blog and thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

      The first time Mel (he is also from Philpipine) told me that Philippine people also kiss their elder’s hand was quite surprising, I never knew such same tradition existed. I don’t know where is the origin of that tradition, maybe we both acquired it at the same time. It’s a nice way to respect our elders

  10. kangaroo984
    August 23, 2011

    Interesting post, Novi! We have nothing like that here.Kissing is not so popular in Germany 😉

    • Novroz
      August 23, 2011

      Thank you Claudia 🙂
      Hahaha are you sure kissing is not popular in Germany?

      • kangaroo984
        August 30, 2011

        I meant kissing on the cheeks for example-this is popular in France.Germans don’t kiss each other normally when they meet.Some do and others not so.It is not like the kissing you’ve described 😉

        • Novroz
          August 30, 2011

          Hehehe…I know that, I was just joking 😉

  11. Omzyr
    August 6, 2012

    Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United amazed with this tradition when children line up and kiss his hand at meet n greet in Indonesia. Said he want to teach the custom to his kids as well. 😀

    • Novroz
      August 6, 2012

      Oh wow!! really? Thank you for sharing that. I don’t watch football so I know nothing about this.
      I really think that this tradition should be done forever, it shows lots of respect toward older people.

      • Omzyr
        August 7, 2012

        Yep.. I remember that one well since I am a football fan :). He found the custom amazing when they (panitia) explained to him that is how younger people show respect to the older people in Indonesia.
        I myself still do the same to my older relatives when I meet them though I just touch their hand with my nose and forehead, not my lip. In return, I got the same treatment from my younger relatives. 😀

        • Novroz
          August 8, 2012

          I don’t think anyone really kiss with lips, it’s always with nose of forehead 😉

  12. Derya Atilgan
    January 20, 2016

    may someone answer me please , i need this question’s answer ,
    above it is written younger kiss older’s hand , young brother or sister kiss older brother and sister hand , it is ok ,
    But what happen , if your older brother married and if his wife is younger then you?
    who should kiss whose hand ?
    Your sister law should kiss your hand or
    you should kiss hand of sister in law hawever she is younger than you

    • Novroz
      January 20, 2016

      That is depend on the culture of the province and the way they respect others.
      All my in laws are younger than me, because my husband is younger than me…but I still called them Sis (or kakak) and sometimes kiss their hand because they are, though younger than me, still my husband’s brother and sisters.

      But some people think other way, like my brother, he doesn’t want to kiss my husband’s hand nor call him Bro (or kaka) because my husband is much younger than him.

      • Derya Atilgan
        January 21, 2016

        Actually , i did not understand ,
        i mean , i am 27 and my brother 32 and my brother wife is 24 ,
        normally i am older than my brother wife but she is wife of my older brother
        in this way who should kiss hand ?

        i asked if your older brother wife is younger than you , what happen

        which is correct in your culture ?

        culture of the province

        i am turkish and in turkey in family youngers kiss olders hand everytime and condition , priorit is always on olders ,
        i mean is it same in indonesia

        • Novroz
          January 23, 2016

          I think I have made it clear enough…It depends on the culture of the province and on the person him/herself.

          In Java…order in the family is more important than age. Then they kiss hands of the one with higher order…that includes a much younger in law.

          But here in Jakarta where I live, people have mixed from many cultures so it depend on the person, Like I said in my previous comment how I and my brother do different things

          • Derya Atilgan
            January 24, 2016

            you say there is not a certain rule,
            order of person in family differ from culture to culture , in turkey order does not come with mariage , order depend age ,
            i asked about all indonesia , and you say there is no certain rule it depends person

          • Novroz
            January 25, 2016

            If you ask about ALL Indonesia then my only answer is Indonesia is a multi-culture country so there’s no fixed rule. Each culture has different rules…Just like what I said, in Java the order is what matter but in my origin (West Sumatra) order is not that matter. Where I live in Jakarta…it fills with people from many province, hence it’s a mixed culture and in the end it depends on the person

  13. Derya Atilgan
    January 26, 2016

    thanks so much , i just want to know all culture , i supposed it is like turkey ,
    in turkey rule is constant younger should kiss younger hand even she is wife of of older one . But in east the rule is different for brides . if a girl is bride , even she is older than member of family , she should kiss hands of members of family
    because members are original member but bride came laterly ,

    see you thanksssss

  14. Derya Atilgan
    January 26, 2016

    i mean younger should kiss older hand it is constant 🙂

  15. Derya Atilgan
    January 29, 2016

    i thank you

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