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 Two: Arranged Marriages

Reciting the Qur'an

Graduation from Islamic school. Ability to read the Qur'an is highly valued in marriageable girls.

Arranged Marriages

Marriage by negotiation between the parents is the ideal, in the sense that it is the most legally proper, least likely to lead to violent conflict, and most prestigious to the families involved. But it is also the most time-consuming and expensive means for the groom. Usually the boy will privately suggest the name of a likely girl to his parents; in any event they will usually ask his opinion before proceeding further. If they dislike his choice, he can threaten to abduct her. If they insist that he marry an undesirable girl, he can threaten to run away from home, or run amuck, or become an outlaw. About half of all arranged marriages are contracted between close kin, usually first or second cousins. A marriage with a first cousin is considered ideal for several reasons. First, there is the ease of negotiation when the transaction is arranged between the parents (who would be siblings) of first cousins. Quite often a very high bridewealth can be publicly announced, which looks good and enhances the prestige of the parties when in fact they have privately agreed to a lesser sum. Second, marriage between close kinsmen simplifies the inheritance of land. Third, it is said that the parents can jointly exert a stabilizing influence on the marriage.

A regular arranged marriage ( pagpangasawa) occurs when the parents of the young man decide that a particular woman is desirable for their son. Often, although not always, they will consult with him prior to the opening of negotiations. Sometimes he will suggest the name of a desirable girl to his parents. In any event, the young man always has an effective veto power over his parents' choice in that he can always threaten to abduct someone else, and it is considered quite inappropriate to insist that a young man marry against his wishes. Islamic marriage ritual is framed as a contract between the young man and the girl's father (second marriages are an exception); this masculine emphasis runs throughout all phases leading up to marriage as well. It is almost impossible for parents to arrange a marriage completely against the will of their son, but daughters are often persuaded into undesired unions. But girls do have strategies and devices to manipulate desirable outcomes.

A maxim that is sometimes heard in Jolo is that a young man should get married once he has been farming for three years on his own; otherwise, it is said, he may encounter trouble in gambling, fighting, or engaging in secret affairs with girls (which are not condemned so much in themselves, but because they are likely to lead to feuds). Young men usually marry a few years after puberty, often around age 18, if the necessary bridewealth can be raised. Girls marry from age 16 to 18, or even earlier, although there is much individual variation. Uyung, one of my best informants and friends, was a very handsome fellow of 25 who managed to succeed in several clandestine affairs. Although he wanted to marry, he had few prospects for supporting a family, and his parents were unable to raise the bridewealth. While girls admired him, their parents rejected him. Some of the considerations which a girl's parents take into account in a young man include his wealth, the status of his parents, his reputation as a worker, whether he is a gambler, and his general demeanor and ability to get along with people. His fighting ability may also be a consideration, but an equivocal one, because an extremely brave man, especially if he is hot-tempered, is likely to drag them into more trouble than they wish.

A Typical Arranged Marriage

Here is a description of a typical arranged marriage:

When Bulayla decided to ask for the hand of Adjibun's daughter for her son Abdul, she was assisted by about 25 close kin who gathered in her house one evening. It was necessary to put the public negotiations in the hand of a male kinsmen of Abdul's dead father, since it is a legal fiction in the law that negotiations should be between the girl's father and the boy's father. Early in the evening the group left for Adjibun's house amid much yelling and merrymaking. Although Adjibun had heard rumors that they were coming, he pretended to be surprised. After the entire group had crowded into the house, the negotiator for Abdul threw a gold coin on the floor and announced, "We are here to ask for the hand of Sittikarma on behalf of Abdul, and this coin will indicate our sincerity." It was later decided to have a formal isun, or conference, the following week to hear Adjibun's demands for the bridewealth.

The following Thursday the isun was held at Adjibun's house to present the demands. By this time he and the other close kin of the girl had time to discuss the proposed match. Adjibun later told me that he did not want his daughter to marry Abdul because he was very distantly related to one of his enemies. Adjibun wondered whether he could trust his new son-in-law if there was ever a fight. Nevertheless, the formal negotiations must be carried through; not to do so would be an insult to Abdul's kinsmen (Tausug have fought over less). But Adjibun deliberately demanded a very high bridewealth which he knew Abdul and his kin would not be able to raise.

The bridewealth, or ungsud, literally means "that which is given in payment." Ideally it is a transfer from the usba (patrilineal kin) of the boy to the usba of the girl. In practice, the mother's kindred (waris) are also involved, although Tausug like to emphasize the primacy of the usba because it can be more closely derived from orthodox Islamic doctrine. Any kinsman of the girl can also demand some part of the bridewealth, although it is considered bad form to make a demand if one has not contributed in some way to the upbringing of the girl. The bridewealth is given from the savings of the young man himself, as well as that of his parents. Other kinsmen and friends contribute amounts proportionate to their relationship, their capacity to give, and specific ties of reciprocity which bind them to the man's family. In a typical marriage, twenty or thirty persons, usually representing nuclear families, may contribute. In the marriage of a higher status person or political leader the number may be much greater. Contributors related to both sides usually make their contributions to the young man, unless they are close relations (first cousins or closer) of the bride.

The bride­wealth has several constituent parts, which are often negotiated separately, and have different meanings:

  1. Dalaham pagapusan (`valuables for the offspring"). Money or an animal intended for use of the couple, which must not be slaughtered at the marriage feast. It will not be returned on divorce if children have been born.
  2. Dalaham hug a tawid ("valuables dropped in the ocean"). Valuables intended for the girl's father.
  3. Basingan. Intended as an explicit payment for the transference of kin­ship rights to the male side (usba) Preferably an antique gold or silver Spanish or American coin.
  4. Sikawin Baytal-mal ("payment to the treasury"). A payment to the legal officials and religious leaders who sanction the marriage. In the past a part was delivered to the Sultan.
  5. Specific demands for particular members of the girl's kindred. In richer and less traditional families this may involve modern items such as radios, televisions, guns, jeeps, appliances, etc.
  6. Musicians and entertainers for the wedding. Sometimes specific performers are requested.
  7. Costs of the wedding feast: rice, animals for slaughter, cooking oil, cigarettes, candy, etc.

Adjibun made the following demands as the bridewealth of his daughter: 400 pesos to purchase gifts for the couple; 3 cows, 10 sacks of rice, 25 cartons of cigarettes, 8 boxes of matches, and the services of 4 professional xylophone players and singers, to be used at the feast; a water buffalo as payment for the rights in the children; a gold ring for the girl's mother; 50 rounds of carbine ammunition for Adjibun; 10 pesos for the guru who taught the girl to read the Qur'an; large frying pans for the girl's maternal aunt; a tray of food with a 5­ peso flag attached for the girl's maternal grandmother; a kris (sword) for Adjibun; a kris for the girl's uncle; and a flashlight for a friend of the father. The last demand was made because when the girl was born, Adjibun could not find his flashlight to fetch the midwife and borrowed one from a friend. He made a sacred promise that when the girl was married he would demand a new flashlight for his friend. The making of sacred promises to God in this manner in situations of stress is very common; if the situation turns out satisfactorily, the promise must be kept. Although this amount was too high. Abdul had intimated to the headman that if refused he might very well abduct the girl anyway. The headman then prevailed upon Adjubun to lower his demands.

An arranged marriage can also proceed through the institution of "surrendering to the parents of the woman" (maglillah pa maas sing babai). The young man himself goes to the house of his intended bride and announces his intention to marry, saying he will not leave until permission is granted. Negotiations pro­ceed as in a regular marriage, although in a shortened form. In some regions, the boy brings with him a quantity of money, presenting it to the girl's parents. If they refuse the marriage they must pay a fine, or sometimes double the amount he has brought.

Part Three: Abduction and Elopement
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