Muslim Matrimonials and More

Wedding Customs Around the Muslim World
Tausug Marriages:
Introduction: The Tausug People
Part One: Courtship
Part Two: Arranged Mariages
Part Three: Abduction and Elopement
Part Four: Weddings and Divorces

Philippine Muslim (Tausug) Marriages
on Jolo Island

Part One: Courtship

Masjid in rural Jolo

Mosque in Rural Jolo. Recent buildings in the towns sometimes show Middle Eastern architecture.

Marriages on Jolo proceed almost entirely according to Tausug customary and Islamic law. The influence of Philippine national law is negligible. Although the right of Muslim minorities to utilize their own procedures in matters of marriage and divorce is recognized by Philippine statute, it is impossible for the government to effectively police anything in rural areas. Occasionally, however, individual Tausug will utilize the conflict between the two legal systems to their own advantage, as when a father cynically files charges of kidnapping against his daughter's abductor, or an unhappy first wife charges her polygynous husband with bigamy. But such situations are rare.

Tausug recognize three distinct transactions leading to a legally binding marriage: arranged marriage by negotiation (pagpangasawa), marriage by abduction (pagsaggau), and elopement (pagdakup). In the rural community where I lived for two years, about 70% of marriages were arranged, 25% were abductions, and less than 5% elopements. The distinction between an arranged marriage, an abduction, and an elopement revolves around the question of who is said to desire the marriage. An arranged marriage is said to be the desire of the parents who negotiate it. An abduction, either by actual force or through legal fiction, said to be the desire of the groom. Elopement is always said to be the desire of the woman. Things get complicated though, because it often happens that a couple actually elope, but make it look like an abduction to avoid "shaming" the girl.


The separation of the sexes, especially the unmarried, is quite marked in Tausug society, although the status of women is very high and there is no seclusion of women. At feasts and festive gatherings there is little mixing; women and young children usually sit together inside the house chatting about feminine topics, while men and older boys sit outside on the porch discussing politics and feuding. This separation is the product both of indigenous patterns common to many parts of the Philippines as well as of ideas incorporated from Muslim ritual and belief. The key concept in social relations between men and women is shame (sipug), which adheres in all situations of a sexual nature where a third party is present. It is said to be shameful to discuss the particulars of one's own sexual activities in front of a third person, although Tausug often joke about sex in public and discuss many sexual matters as long as the reference is general and not to any person present. It is shameful for any hint of sexuality between married persons to be publicly at view, for a young man and woman to be caught together, or for a girl merely to be touched by a man. Tausug are not bothered by guilt about sex, but only with the public expression of sexuality. Most women, however, are supposed to hide sexual feelings, although it is recognized that they exist. If a woman elopes, it is assumed that she is more amorous than a man, and this is thought to be shameful.

In Tausug society there is no regularly approved means by which a man can court a prospective bride; no sanctioned sequence of courtship events leading to marriage which can be freely initiated by the couple themselves. The ideal is that courtship (pagmaya-maya, literally flirting or "fooling around") is improper, inevitably leading to premarital sex, and that only a total prohibition of any contact between unmarried persons of the opposite sex can prevent the normal human tendency to engage in sexual relations if given the opportunity. Tausug assume that people do not have the inner controls which would prevent them from violating the law regarding sexual conduct if given the opportunity. While there are opportunities for young marriageable people to meet each other within the everyday life of the community, as well as during inter-community public gatherings, none of these occasions are conceptualized as having courtship as a manifest purpose. A young man cannot - and in practice does not - publicly confront an unmarried girl. His knowledge of her must be indirect, based upon reputation, parental background, and external appearance and demeanor.

While unmarried women in Tausug society are by no means secluded, public contact or even conversation between marriageable young people is considered unseemly. Nevertheless, the opportunities for premarital sexual play are greater than they superficially appear. While secret opportunities for private pre-marital sexual adventures are available, any public physical contact between unmarried persons of the opposite sex is forbidden. Touching an un­married woman (kublit-kublit) is a finable offence at law, varying - in the typical game-like spirit in which Tausug approach these matters - with the time of the day (the fine is higher at night) and the part of the body touched. In effect these rules are almost made to be broken for while there is legal censure of the boy who is asked to pay the fine, there does not seem to be much moral censure, and a young man may attempt to touch a particular woman for little reason other than to see if he can get away with it.

Mere touching the opposite sex is regarded as a prelude to sexual relations and is said to be extremely erotic. It is, of course, a good question whether the prohibition against touching exists because it is erotic or whether it is erotic because it is prohibited. In performances of pagsindil (a musical performance at weddings of love ballads sung by two male and two female singers with xylophone accompaniment), one male singer may reach across and touch one of the women. The audience will laughs riotously at this expression of the normally forbidden.

Musicians at a wedding

Performance of courtship and love songs at a wedding (pagsindil).

A variety of kublit-kublit called "groping in the dark" (kap-kap) occurs when a young man staying overnight in the one-roomed Tausug house, makes an advance for an unmarried woman of the household. If she likes him nothing will happen so long as they are not discovered and she not become pregnant (in which case marriage would be obligatory), Occasionally parents may pretend to be asleep in to avoid a public scandal. On the other hand, if the girl screams or otherwise refuses, he will be fined if he does not wish to marry her. It is considered shameful for a girl to be touched in this way, even if sexual intercourse did not occur, although only if the act is discovered.

There is no publicly recognized courtship between unmarried young people; ideally marriages are arranged by parents. In the absence of publicly recognized outlets for premarital sexual expression, a young man still has a number of choices open to him. He can go to a prospective girl's house and ingratiate him­self with the parents. Possibly he could then ask his sister to invite the girl on a ruse to spend the night at her house, and in the evening he would attempt the kap-kap. An older trusted woman might arrange to take the girl to the forest on a ruse, or to a waterhole, and he might approach her there. Most of my male friends maintained that unmarried girls would like to have sexual relations if they could be sure it was kept secret, although there is so much shame which sur­rounds the subject that I was unable to verify this with the women. A young man might also seek out a younger widow, who unlike unmarried girls can travel alone. But widows often want to remarry and may complain to the headman afterwards, so a hot-blooded young man would prefer an unmarried girl who may be reluctant to complain.

Part Two: Arranged Marriages
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