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 Four: Weddings and Divorces

Imam performing marriage ceremony

Imam (with hands raised) performing marriage ceremony with groom. The bride is out of sight.

The Wedding

The length of the "engagement" is greatly variable. In some cases, usually second marriage, the formal marriage ceremony may proceed a few days later. It is longest when the girl is under age and has not yet menstruated, although it is possible to "marry in a handker­chief" (kawin ha saputangan) in which the ceremony with the underage girl proceeds, the boy goes to live with his parents-in-law but does not have intercourse with the girl until she has come of age. The Tausug practice a form of bride service in which the young man does minor chores (fetching water, caring for animals, etc.) for his parents-in-law, during which they can observe his conduct, While bride service is not always required, it does constitute an ob­ligation on the young man which is strong enough to be a possible motive for choosing the alternate means of abduction, in which prior bride service is obviously not expected.

The formal marriage ceremony takes place at the house of the woman, and is framed according to Islamic law as a sacred contract between the young man and the girl's father. The marriage festivities involve a large number of kith and kin from both sides and are generally an all-day affair. On the day prior to the wedding, the groom's side delivers the entire bridewealth; any deviation from the formal demands is grounds to break off the engagement. Preparations for the marriage begin very early the next morning in both houses. Kinsmen, friends, and guests of the couple will gather during the morning at the respective houses. A cow or water buffalo will usually be slaughtered; there will be xylophone or gong music performed by professional musicians, with considerable merrymaking, conversation, and eating. A feast is prepared, consisting of curried meat, rice, fruits, sweets and coffee. Men and women, of course, eat separately. Guests include not only the immediate kinsmen and neighbors of the couple, but also distant political or military allies.

Bringing the bridewealth

Bringing the bridewealth to the bride's house.

In the late afternoon the groom is carried on the shoulders of his friends, or rides by horse, to the house of the girl in a large procession consisting of all the guests who had previously assembled at his house, amid raucous yelling and shooting of guns. The marriage ceremony, consisting of prayers and ritual in both Arabic and Tausug, takes place later in the afternoon. The girl is secluded while the ritual is conducted between the young man and the girl's father. Following the ceremony, the groom is led to the bride where he symbolically touches her on the forehead. Later, during the feast entertainment the newly married couple will sit together stone-faced with no expression of emotion.

Bride and groom looking glum

Bride and groom after the ceremony. Whatever their private feelings, they are expected to look glum.

The initial residence of the couple is almost always with the parent's of the girl, and the Tausug say that the bond between a man and his father-in-law should be as strong as with his own father. After the birth of a child, when the marriage has stabilized ands the girl is presumably more self reliant, the couple may build their own independent house, or move back with the boy's parents. Sometimes, however, they remain with the father in law. Much of the decision about where to live depends on economic considerations such as the availability of land.

Cooking for the wedding feast

Cooking curried beef for wedding feast.


The bond between husbands and wives, especially after the birth of a child, is extremely close in both ideal and fact. The rate of divorce is probably less than 10%. The strength of the relationship is related to the high emphasis which is placed upon the solidarity between father-in-law and son-in-law, a bond which is said to be second only to the bond between father and son. It must be stressed that a low divorce rate does not necessarily indicate a high degree of happiness in marriage; rather, it may indicate a low level of expectation from marriage. While many couples have considerable affection toward each other, a marriage will usually only break up for the non-fulfillment of other more practical obligations: failure to support, quarreling over money, barrenness, excessive gambling, disagreement over treatment of chil­dren, refusal of the woman to accept a co-wife, and others.

One of the most common factors in marital quarreling is excessive gambling by the husband. Almost all men who regularly gamble will sooner or later quarrel with their wives over this issue. A typical pattern is for the wife to scold her husband, perhaps also hitting him. Sometimes he may strike her in return, and she will go running to the headman screaming that she wishes a divorce. Tausug regard divorce quite seriously. A primary role of the headman (or his wife) is to mediate marital disputes and "look for goodness" (karayawan). The husband will often be encouraged to swear on the Holy Qur'an to stop gambling; this usually satisfies his wife. Juljani, a man who lived in my community, quarreled with his wife many times over his gambling. Even when he won she was angry; once she tore up all his winnings in anger. Women dislike gambling because it squanders household resources, leads to stealing and fighting, and may result in the death of their husbands. Juljani once pawned his father's water buffalo to pay gambling debts, and when his wife heard about it, she went after him in the public market with a knife. She emphatically threatened to divorce him unless he swore on the Qur'an to stop gambling.

Coin toss gambling

Coin toss gambling – a common source of marital friction and divorce.

Another source of serious marital disputes is disagreement over the treatment of children. Fathers are said to be emotionally closer to their children than mothers; children are thought to have more love and respect for their fathers. Small children often sit with their fathers at public gatherings, and public affection between them is common. Mothers seem much less likely to publicly express affection for their children. A husband may argue with his wife if he feels that she has imposed too harsh a punishment on their child.

The greatest range of rights in divorce lies with the husband. A divorce which is desired by the woman and opposed by the man usually requires the double return of certain parts of the bridewealth. Even then the husband may refuse the divorce, although in practice this seldom happens. One way in which a wife can force a divorce, however, is to swear on the Qur'an that she will no longer live with her husband. If he still insists on his rights, he will risk contaminating himself and his children with her curse. In general it may be observed that while the formal legal rights in divorce belong to the husband, the wife has a variety of informal means at her disposal which are effective in practice. The quickest means of divorce for the husband is the Islamic device of the threefold repudiation of the wife, or talak, in which a man merely states three times in front of the headman that he divorces his wife. The property settlement is usually quite favorable to the woman, and such cases are relatively rare. A more common method of divorce is called pagbugit, literally "to discard something unwanted," in which it is necessary for the man to specify his reason. Usually an attempt will be made to reconcile the couple; if the divorce is unavoidable, the headman will issue a formal written certificate( in Tausug but written with Arabic script) of the divorce which is intended to protect the woman from charges of bigamy by her former husband if she wishes to remarry. In some cases the headman may merely agree to a separation without a legally binding divorce. This does not inconvenience the husband who can always remarry if he wishes; if the wife wishes to remarry, she will to go the sara (law) and obtain the statement upon payment of the necessary fees to the headman.

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