Invitations to a Malay Wedding
The next morning he finds the bride posing for photographs in wedding costumes of other nations for her wedding album, the number of garments indicative of the family means.
The mechanics for prenuptial arrangements closely parallels those of other cultures, both east and west. All expenses are borne by the father of the bride. Close relatives and friends are advised of the date of the wedding and reception, chores are assigned and the entire community takes part. One sharp departure from tradition is that immediate relatives of the mating pair are required to withdraw once formalities are finalized and remain on the sidelines to permit collateral organization to be made by other members of society. As in the Middle East, their inclusion insures emotional support and guarantees potential refuge should the marriage fail.
On the night preceding services, the bride's fingers, palms and edges of her soles are stained with henna, a practice observed by several Islamic cultures not prescribed by The Shariah (Islam Law). This may be a derivative of The Indian Mendi, less disfiguring removable tattoos, which are painted on rather than engraved on the skin. A rather persistent dye, it takes days of repeated washing for it to fade. It is likewise a warning that the woman is spoken for. Then, a Tukang Andam (Bridal Attendant) or more literally, hair trimmer, clips forelocks from the bride's coiffure as further acquiescence to the marriage.
With the discarded hair trimmings, she would be discarding her past and committing herself totally to her husband. Prior to the wedding, she would be guarded at all times by chaperones. Some communities include a bathing ceremony with both bride and groom taking turns purifying their bodies, followed by the application of Tepung Tawar (liquefied pounded rice) to attract good fortune. On the following day, the ritual commences.
It begins with an Akad Nikkkah (contract signing), presided upon by an Imam (Moslem priest) at the neighborhood mosque, which in concert with Malay Islamic tradition, emphasizes male primacy and excludes the intended bride. The prospective groom joins a group of husbands who have come to share their experiences and offer moral support.
The Imam invites the groom into their circle and then begins to admonish him on the heavy responsibilities of married life. In the course of fifteen minutes, it appeared to me, he was attempting to discourage the union, but then, I was an outsider whose presence was tolerated in premises normally prescribed to those outside the Islamic faith. I watched the young man refute every argument against it, point by point. To everyone's relief, he prevails and affixes his signature on the marriage contract. The Imam, his blessing implicit, dutifully records it in his registry and witnesses it. The groom takes his leave and rising, walks out of the mosque to claim his bride at her parent's home. After she symbolically accepts him, they both assume seats in the foyer to receive well-wishers through the night.
Close to midnight, he departs for his lodging in town, leaving her a final night alone. The next morning he finds the bride posing for photographs in wedding costumes of other nations for her wedding album, the number of garments indicative of the family means. On this joyful occasion, she shares a special kinship with the rest of the world. Then, she is driven to town to fetch her groom and though this act, reaffirms her acceptance of her estate. They return on a boat that glides through Malacca River to a jetty, adjacent to her home.
Leading an entourage back to the house, they assume positions on a newly erected palomin (Dais) to greet guests to their wedding feast as Raja-Ranee Sehar (King and Queen for a day). Frantic activity seethes around them.
In the backyard, cooks stir huge vats of spicy dishes of goat and chicken prepared in a variety of ways. Inside, colorful desserts are concocted by the mother of the bride. Guests parade past to congratulate the couple in rotation of the banquet tables laid out on the patio, constantly changing faces breaking bread, sharing the intimacy of the moment.
Although the marriage was arranged by their respective parents, an easy affection is evident in their mutual glances. As the festivities draw to a close, the bride must make her reluctant farewell to her own family, which is somewhat unsettling since she is moving to a new home in a larger city, while not too distant, is not as accessible. She has come from a household, where an A'ala (Extended Family) offered comfort and support.
In her new home, she must administer her own affairs for the first time. Yet, there are no regrets as both The Qu'oran and Hadith Literature have repeated references to the quiescence, emotional fulfillment and protective nature of the marriage bond. Bride and groom are said to be so close as to be garments to one another.
Given this tone, I felt my intrusion had to end. I thank the couple, wish them well and take my leave, grateful to have witnessed a private incident in another culture. I have excised a number of long held misconceptions and given me a greater understanding of another land and its diverse people.