Not so long ago, it was quite common in Malaysia for parents to look for suitable partners for their children, a practice which the Western world refers to as ‘arranged marriages’. Contrary to popular belief, however, the children have the choice to either accept or turn down their parents’ suggested candidates. And the ‘arranging’ process goes on until such time that a suitable match is found. This tradition is still being practised among the Malaysian Indians  but among the Malays, this practice is slowly dying down as more and more young people have started finding their matches on their own.

In the past, once a suitable match was identified, it was customary for the boy’s family to send a group of representatives (rombongan meminang) to formally ask for the girl’s hand in marriage. Even though both families already know the answer, the girl’s family would wait for a day or two — sometimes even up to a week — before sending their own rombongan to formally accept the offer. I find the old way rather long and ’roundabout’ kalau mengikut adat (if following the old customs), details of which this site talks about. [NB: That site is entirely in Malay.]

These days, in the same way that arranged marriages are no longer the norm, a lot of the old Malay adat is no longer being followed or have been modified somewhere along the way. For instance, it’s still customary for the boy’s family to go to the girl’s house to ask for her hand in marriage but the meeting can be rather informal — just like any other discussion over lunch or tea or dinner — usually without the boy in attendance and with the girl often hiding in her room.

But sometimes, some of the old practices are still being followed and that’s when the process gets a bit more interesting. There may be, like in the olden days, some clever exchange of pantun, a Malay poetic form that has been recorded from as far back as the 15th century. A representative from the boy’s family will say something like this pantun that I found at Mesra.net, which I’ve translated (very roughly) into English:

Cantik memanjat pohon ara,
(It’s nice to climb a fig tree)
Nampaknya cantik berseri laman.
(Making it possible to see the beautiful garden)
Besar hajat kami tidak terkira,
(We come today with a big wish)
Hendak memetik bunga ditaman.
(Longing to pick the flower in the garden)

Bak kata orang..
(As people would say)
Tuan menyimpan sekuntum bunga,
(You, Sir, are keeping a flower)
Bak intan di dalam peti.
(Like a jewel in a treasure chest)

Kami menyimpan seekor kumbang,
(We, on the other hand, keep a beetle)
Sudah terpikat ke bunga tuan,
(That has fallen for your flower)
Hendak menyunting intan tuan,
(We’d like to take your jewel)
Hendak bernaung di rumah ini,
(We’d like to take shelter in this house)
Hendak menyambung tali darah,
(We’d like to join together our blood lines)
Hendak mengikat tali keluarga.
(We’d like to join together our two families)

Minta diterima hajat kami…
(And we hope that our wish will be fulfilled)

The girl’s family will have to answer in similar manner, all very poetic and quite amusing. It’s a shame that this art is slowly dying down, with less and less people capable of doing it.

With the main formalities over, the two families then start talking about a suitable date for the wedding. This process is quite straightforward — they just pick out which weekend or school holiday will work. You see, most weddings are scheduled during school holidays and/or weekends to make it easier for relatives and friends to attend, especially for those who are from out of town.

The akad nikah (solemnisation ceremony) and bride’s reception will take place first, to be followed by the groom’s reception usually a week after. Some people also combine the reception but generally, people still make separate receptions. With separate receptions often come separate wedding invitation cards but, again, some people mention both receptions in one invitation and it’s up to the recipient which reception to attend.

Once the dates are set, the two families then discuss on the issue of the hantaran, which I shall write about in another post.

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DISCLAIMER: I’m not an expert on this subject. I am merely writing based on information that I’ve gathered from friends through the years, as well as from some reading material over the internet. If any fact/translation in this post is incorrect, please let me know so that I can rectify it. Thank you!

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