THE MALAY WEDDING
The Malay marriage is a regal affair. The bride and groom are treated as king and queen for a day.
The pre-wedding meeting between the bride's and the groom's parents will determine the dowry that is to be given to the bride as well as the date of the solemnization. This may be as early as a year before the wedding itself so that arrangements could be made in advance. Often the wedding is held on one convenient weekend so as to accommodate relatives who live far away and to reduce costs. The berinai (henna application) ceremony is held prior to the wedding. The bride's palms and feet are 'decorated' with the dye from the henna leaves. Sometimes this is followed by the tukar pakaian (costume changes) and the bride and, less often, the groom will don different clothes for photography. The pelamin (raised dais) will be beautifully decorated for the purpose.
Marriage is a contract, and the akad nikah effectively forges the union. The solmnization is normally presided by a kadhi, a religious official of the Syariat (Shariat) Court. In olden days, it was customary for the bride's biological father to perform this function. The akad nikah ceremony is in effect a verbal contract between the bride's father or his representative (in this case the kadhi) and the groom. A small sum of money called the mas kahwin (in Singapore, it is S$22.50 as of 1998) seals the contract. The dialogue is as follows, and must be articulated clearly as to be heard by three witnesses:
Kadhi: I marry thee to (so-and-so) with the mas kahwin of S$22.50
Groom: I accept this marriage with (so-and-so) with the mas kahwin of S$22.50
The simplicity of this ritual belies the tremendous responsibilities of the groom to care for his bride, and this is reinforced in a brief lecture on marriage and its responsibilities delivered later by the kadhi. The groom is also reminded that, should he fail to provide both spiritual and physical sustenance for his wife, the marriage may be dissolved if a complaint is made to the Syariat Court.
One needs to distinguish the mas kahwin and the hantaran (dowry). The small sum of the mas kahwin is to ensure that even poor people could marry, for marriage is encouraged for all healthy Muslims. The hantaran, on the other hand, is more customary and may go into thousands of dollars. Often, the hantaran takes the form of both cash and jewelry or clothing.
The istiadat hantar belanja (sending of dowry and gifts) and upacara akad nikah (solemnization) often take place at the bride's place. The recent trend, though, is to hold the solemnization in the mosque as was performed during the Prophet Muhammad's (saws) time. The solemnization is usually conducted by the kadhi (marriage official) in front of witnesses after both partners are asked separately if they consent to the marriage. Gifts are then exchanged and there may be a recitation of the Quran.
Gifts from the groom are checked to ensure that they are as promised. They will then be displayed in the bridal chamber. Gifts of clothes, toiletries and even prayer mats (to signify their adherence to the religion) are presented in intricate boxes or forms known as gubahan.
Guests are invited to partake of a meal on Sunday. This is usually held in the void deck of a housing board flat so as to accommodate the large number of guests invited. Besides cutting down on costs, holding the feast in the void deck also enables the guests to view the bridal chamber and the bersanding (sitting in state) ceremony often held in the pengantin's (bride/groom) home. The wedding preparation is often based on the gotong-royong (cooperation) among friends and relatives, for which the Malays are most well known for. Again in Singapore, simplicity has given way to tradition and requires that such tasks be undertaken by caterers.
Guests are presented with a bunga telur each. Literally, this means 'flower and egg'. Previously, the gifts were eggs dyed red placed in a cup or container with some glutinous rice at the base. Sometimes a paper flower is added to decorate the gift. The egg symbolises a fertile union and the hope that the marriage will produce many children. Indeed, the Prophet (saws) had once said, "Marry and produce many children so that I may be proud of my many followers on Judgement Day". Today, most gifts are commercially prepared and may take the form of chocolates, jelly or even a cake of soap.
The feast is often a noisy, lively and informal affair. This is further enhanced by the colourful costumes worn by the guests themselves. A Malay band group may be hired to add to the gay atmosphere. The arrival of the groom is heralded by the hadrah troupe. This group, of mostly teenagers, will beat the kompang (hand drums) and sing Quranic verses and good wishes. The groom is often flanked by bunga manggar (palm blossoms) carriers and a busload of relatives and friends.
The mak andam (beautician) as well as members of the bride's family will waylay the groom and ask for an 'entrance fee'. Only when they are satisfied with the amount would they allow the groom to see his bride. After successfully overcoming the 'obstacles', the ceremony takes place. Relatives will sprinkle petals and rice (fertility symbols) on the couple seated on the 'throne'.
Today, most of these customs are dispensed with. Indeed the more conservative adherents of the Muslim faith will shun any practice deemed unIslamic. This includes the wanton display of the bride to members of the opposite sex who are not her family members, playing of loud music and intermingling of the different sexes during the meal.
Contributed by Rozita Mohd Said