Malay wedding


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.

The cash in this photo is for the maskahwin, while the banker’s cheque is for the wang 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.

I’m not an expert on this subject, hence, I refer you to other sites such as this, this and this for further information on the issue.

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.

A prayer garment fashioned into the shape of a house.

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.

This is not your ordinary bouquet — note the heart-shaped betel leaves (daun sirih) interspersed among the flowers!

Bunga rampai wrapped in organza, tied up with ribbons and embellished with butterflies and flowers.

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.

Diamonds — a girl’s best friend? 🙂

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.

Chocolates…in an equally edible heart-shaped chocolate container! I almost fainted when I saw this 😀

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.

Cloth for the bride, decorated with butterflies and flowers.

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!

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.


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!

I had the honour of being the unofficial back-up photographer for a wedding last weekend.

It was no easy task fighting my way through the crowd to get a good shot, jostling my way through the uncountable point-and-shoot digital cameras and camera phones of relatives and guests, to the amusement (I surmise) of the two official photographers. [Note to self: Do NOT wear high heels to a wedding when you are lugging around heavy photographic gear!] Now I understand why most wedding photographers are men — one needs stamina to last the entire wedding, strength and endurance to carry around all that gear, and thick skin in order to be where you need to be to get the perfect shot.

Here is a shot of the king and queen for the day, taken just after the akad nikah (wedding solemnisation):

In the next few days, over several instalments, I shall be writing about the intricacies of Malay weddings, as I’ve always found them so fascinating. I hope that you’ll all enjoy sharing the experience with me.

Selamat Pengantin Baru, Muja and Nela! May God bless your marriage and give you offspring that will be the comfort of your eyes. But delay the offspring part, okay? Make sure you get your degrees first 😉