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30 Jun 2010

Malay's Traditional Engagement and Wedding Ceremonies

In the Malay culture, before the wedding ceremony, you'll have the engagement ceremony first. This is when the family of the bridegroom-to-be  comes to the house of the bride-to-be  and discuss on the preparation for the wedding (the date of the wedding, the amount of money for dowry, the number of gift trays presented by the bridegroom-to-be and bride-to-be, etc).

The Arrival of the Bridegroom-to-be's family
When the family of the Bridegroom-to-be came, they will sit cross-legged on the floor with the gift trays from both side of the family set in front of everyone to inspect. A prayer is then said and the discussion on the wedding, begins (done by the appointed elders of both families).

The Wearing of the Engagement Ring
In the Malay culture, an engagement takes place between two families, not two individuals only. Therefore, the Bridegroom-to-be's mother puts on the engagement ring on the Bride-to-be's finger watched by everyone (family & friends).

The Gift Trays Presented to the Bride-to-be and Bridegroom-to-be
There will be an exchage of gift trays from the Bride-to-be and the Bridegroom-to-be which include: from the Bridegroom-to-be; the engagement ring, a basket of fruits, a dress, a pair of shoes, etc. From the Bride-to-be; a pair of shoes, a shirt & a pair of pants, a basket of fruits, etc.
Another term for henna artwork is Mehndi where henna is applied as a temporary form of skin decoration particularly during weddings to signify fertility and love. Hmmm to me, this is very romantic. This marriage custom is also practised in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan and Morocco where elaborate designs are drawn on hands and feet. Why hands and feet? Because these are the parts of the body where the dye lasts longer.

Wedding Ceremony
 "Adat Berinai" in Malay wedding, carried out in three stages. The groom takes part only in the final stage. Traditionally, the first stage is three nights before the wedding in which only families participate. The next night, come other relatives, riends and neighbours for the second stage and on the wedding day itself, all the guests take part.

Adat Berinai
Imagine yourself as a guest at a Malay wedding. The bride is sitting on a dais with hands on her lap. Now it is your turn to bless her, what should you do? First of all, look for a pedestal tray in front of her. At the centre, You see an octagonal container with fine henna paste, around it there are plates of yellow-coloured tumeric rice ( beras kunyit ), fried rice grains ( bertih ) and tepung tawar water.With your fingertips, take some beras kunyit and scatter to the left and right of the bride, followed by some bertih and then pat some tepung tawar water on her hands. Finally take a pinch of henna and smudge on her palms.

Menfolk start the berinai ritual, beginning with the oldest in the family: grandfather, father, uncle etc. The number of men who participate must be odd i.e. three, five or seven. Then it is the womenfolk's turn.

A Complicated Process in the Malay Wedding
You dried the henna leaves, finely ground them and filter with a cloth at least twice to remove any coarse fibre. Mix with oil and water to produce a paste. Apply to hands and feet according the chosen designs. By the way, this is a job for a...Inai artist.

Its seems there are different techniques to dry the paste, you can either wrap the dyed area with tissue, plastic, medical tape or apply a solution of lemon juice and sugar. Wait 2-12 hours. ( Quite a long time ) The result could range from light orange to deep brownish black. I found this lovely henna artwork on Wikipedia. No wonder it is fashionable since 1990's!

Nowadays it is rare to enquire about the availability of an intended bride. Still, a couple has to go through the processes of formal proposal and engagement before the adat berinai.

For the engagement, the future groom presents to his bride-to-be mainly a container for betel, a ring and other gifts. If the future bride has an unmarried older sister, he has to send her gifts as well. The number of gifts are again in odd numbers, as even numbers are considered inauspicious in a Malay wedding. The bride reciprocates with more gifts for the groom. Usually the groom's mother puts a ring to the bride's finger to complete the engagement.

What happens if things don't work out well for the couple and they have to call off the engagement? If it is the man who initiates the annulment, he forfeits all the gifts given earlier. On the other hand, the woman who chooses to end the engagement has to compensate double the amount of her gifts.

Being devoted moslems, Malays of couse, solemnize their marriages according to the Islamic laws. A Kadi and two witnesses of the bride inspect the expenses, dowry and gifts from the groom. The Kadi also gives a sermont on marital responsibilities before shaking the groom's hand and utters:
" Aku nikahkan dikau( bride's name ) dengan mas kahwin ( the amount according to the state ) tunai"
To which the groom is expected to respond:
"Aku terima nikahnya...( repeats after the Kadi )"
The witnesses have to be satisfied that the groom said it loud and clear. Otherwise, the groom has to repeat his line. ( I can imagine how nervous a groom can be under such circumstances )

This is followed by a prayer, then groom puts a ring on his bride's finger and they shake hands ( not the western style ) but the Malay style, bersalaman. Hurray! They are officially, husband and wife. But...they are still spending the nights separately in different houses. They have to wait until the marriage ceremony, hari bersanding.

Climax of Malay Wedding
The marriage ceremony is actually held twice, first at the bride's residence then the groom's. The former occasion is grander because this is where the new couple sits together on a dais.

A proper Malay wedding is a community project done in the gotong-royong spirit of Malays. A lot of work has to be done before the grand feast such as setting up temporary camps, kitchen shed, nuptial chamber, bunga telur, the dais, decorations etc.

The groom arrives with his throng beating kompang drums and parading bunga manggar. He is welcomed by a shower of beras kunyit and a performance of Malay martial art ,Silat. The groom does not forget his main intention - to claim his bride. However, he has to bargain with with the ladies of the house to let her go. After paying a price , the groom is allowed to sit on the dais, pelamin, with his bride. At the end of the feast, the couple bersalaman ( I feel this is better than saying shake hands ) with their parents, relatives and guests. Instead of cakes, the guests to a Malay wedding receive bunga telur.

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