This is the second instalment of my mini-series on Malay weddings.This took a long time for me to complete, mostly because of my crazy schedule, partly because the subject involved more detail (and more pics!) than I thought. Looking at the length of final version of the post, perhaps I should have split it into two parts. But what’s done is done, so brace yourself for a long read and, if your internet connection is slow, a long download of all the pics…
To pick up from where the first part left off, once the families of the happy couple have agreed on the wedding date, now comes the sticky part: the hantaran.
Hantaran comes from the root word hantar, which means ‘to send’. It refers to both the dowry (mahr in Arabic) and the gifts that will be exchanged between the bride and groom.
The dowry is something that a groom is obliged to give to his wife on their wedding day, usually, but not always, in monetary form. Based on this technical definition, this would mean the obligatory maskahwin in Malaysia, which is an amount that every groom must give to his bride, without which the wedding would not be valid. The amount varies from state to state and a detailed list can be found here.
In addition to this obligatory maskahwin, in Malaysia, there is the cultural practice of giving wang hantaran. This is a certain amount of money — a gift from the groom to the bride — which is usually fixed by the bride’s family. The amount would depend on many factors — the bride’s educational background or occupation, the social standing of both families (a famous actress, for instance, would get a huge sum), some sentimental reasons between the bride and groom, just to name a few.
Sometimes the bride’s family does not set the amount and just they just leave it to the groom’s family. In certain cases, the bride’s family might even specify the addition of a gold bracelet and/or necklace. It all depends on one’s luck, I suppose.
Trivia: There was a celebrated case of a hantaran of RM444,444.44 from a 50-year old businessman to a part-time model, who got married in 2006. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last. The couple divorced in November 2007.
In any case, the Muslim concept of dowry is different from the old European concept of dowry which is given by a father to a daughter on her marriage but thereafter becomes the husband’s property. Neither is it like the African “bride-price” which is paid by the bridegroom to the father as a form of payment or compensation. The Muslim dowry is a gift from the groom to the bride, for the bride to keep or spend as she wishes. Some Malay brides keep it in the bank as a fixed deposit. Others use it to buy gold jewelry, to keep as an investment because gold in Malaysia is of very high quality (916 or 22 carats) and easily appreciates in value through the years. Some people use part or all of the money for buying a bed for the bride’s bedroom and/or to go towards the wedding expenses.
So why do I refer to the wang hantaran as the sticky part? Well… on the one hand, the bride’s family has to think about maintaining the family’s pride and keeping the relatives from making comments like “Kenapa RMxxxx je? Pengantin perempuan kan doktor?! (Why only RMxxxx? Isn’t the bride a doctor?”). But on the other hand, the family wouldn’t want to end up looking too greedy, as if they’re selling off the girl!
And if you’re wondering at the current rate for wang hantaran, I heard RM10,000 is quite common now, a huge jump from the respectable RM5,000 in the early 90′s.
The second portion of the hantaran — the exchange of gifts — is much, much easier to deal with. The families just agree on how many trays (dulang) the groom’s family will give. It’s always an odd number and the bride’s family will reciprocate with two more trays, e.g. if the groom’s family decides on 7 trays, the bride’s family must give 9 trays.
I will now be talking in detail about the second hantaran, where the fun begins. At least, I find it fun.
First of all, the hantaran will be presented in trays. This is why the number of gifts is often referred to as the number of trays or dulang. (Hantaran berapa dulang? – How many trays of gifts will be given?) You can rent the trays from bridal shops or borrow your grandmother’s bronze trays (they’re heavy though!) or make use of your mom’s Queen Anne silverware.
Secondly, the hantaran will be decorated with ribbons and flowers, following a colour theme of the respective families’ choice. The design can be quite elaborate — a towel can be fashioned into a ‘basket of oranges’, a prayer robe can be arranged into a small house, a basket of Ferrero Rocher chocolates can take the form of a bunch of grapes.
This entire concept of gubahan has evolved into a major money-making venture. There are lots of shops specialising in the sale of ribbons, lace, foam, stryrofoam, and all sorts of decorative knick-knacks meant for the hantaran. Ironically, most of these shops are Chinese-owned and -run.
The gifts in the hantaran are not fixed, although there are certain must-have items, such as daun sirih (betel leaves) and bunga rampai, a sweet-smelling mixture of daun pandan (screwpine leaves) that have been shredded thinly, mixed with some rose water and sprinkled with some jasmine flowers here and there. Sometimes, potpourri can be used as a substitute for bunga rampai.
It’s also customary for the groom to give his bride a ring, although the bride is not obliged to reciprocate.(Ladies, take note! Just because a Malay man does not wear a ring, it does not mean that he’s single!)
And unlike in the West, where the wedding ring is a plain gold band, for the Malays, the wedding ring has a stone or some stones, even if they’re just zircons.
Part of the hantaran would also be something sweet, such as chocolates or sweets, and something that the relatives can share after the wedding reception — a cake, a basket of fruits, some cookies.
Usually, the bride and groom give each other one set of clothes or cloth (to be made into clothes) and/or shoes and hand bag. To ensure the suitability in size, colour and design, it’s quite common for the bride to buy her clothes and the groom to buy his clothes and for them to exchange with each other before the wedding, so that the presents can be arranged in trays.
It’s also quite common for the bride and groom to exchange with each other a set of toiletry items, i.e. perfume and lotion or facial wash for him, perfume and cosmetics for her.
With so much care and meticulous detail going into the presentation of the hantaran, it’s no wonder that people often take photos of the hantaran whenever they go to a wedding.
Pics taken from several different weddings, all taken by yours truly. Only now do I realise how many weddings I’ve photographed (unofficially) so far!
Disclaimer: I’m not Malay, nor am I Malaysian. This post is all based on information gleaned through my 15-year stay in Malaysia. If any of the information is incorrect, please let me know so that I can rectify it immediately. Terima kasih!