Malay Traditional Ceremonies

Apart from the ceremonies related to marriage and death (described elsewhere), the most important ceremonies in Malay society are those connected with the following events:

a) Piercing of the Ear-Lobes (Bertindek Telinga)
b) Circumcision (Bersunat)
c) Birth or Delivery of a Child (Beranak)
d) Khatam al-Quran
Bertindek Telinga

The ceremony of piercing of the ear-lobes has no religious significance whatsoever, and is thus one of the traditional customary practices (adat). The ceremony is done to girls between the ages of about five and ten years. With the arrival of close relatives, guests and relatives, who may bring gifts, food is served, the standard fare being specially prepared rice (nasi minyak) and chicken or beef curry, and a syrup drink. Upon the completion of the feast, supplications (doa selamat) are read by a religious official, such as a lebai, if one is present or by any one else who may be able to do so. Following the feast the invited guests depart.
The actual ear-piercing is done either before or after the feast. Traditionally a woman pierced the ears of the young girl using a type of thorn, and the actual process taking no more than a few seconds. With modernisation, the traditional manner of doing the Bertindik Telinga is rare, and in most instances the piercing of the years is done at jewellery shops or at commercial complexes.


When a boy is approximately between five and ten years old, his parents fix the date for his circumcision. Invitations are sent out to near relatives, friends and neighbours. In the past the attendance at a circumcision could be quite large, and group circumcision ceremonies were not uncommon, so that the atmosphere in a kampung would be that of a mini festival. Such grand scale circumcision ceremonies still take place occasionally in the Malay villages.
On the day before the actual circumcision takes place the boy is prepared for the ceremony in the manner of a bridegroom. His hair is trimmed (berandam), he is appropriately dressed, usually in embroidered silk, or baju Melayu with a sungkit sampin or short sarung. He is then in some instances taken in procession through the village, before being finally placed upon a specially constructed dias (pelamin).

The actual circumcision takes place the following day, usually early in the morning. The boy to be circumcised takes a bath and then await the arrival of the tok mudin, the expert who is to perform the ceremony. Several items are made ready. These are

(a) a length of white cloth.
(b) One live cock.
(c) A jar of water.
(d) A banana stem.
(e) A sirih box (tepak sirih) or a tray containing sirih and all the relevant ingredients.
Money (wang pengkeras) usually a symbolic small amount intended for the services of the Tok Mudin, and placed either in the tepak sirih or on a plate.
The Tok mudin, upon arrival, symbolically bathes the boy with water from the jar after reciting some spell (jampi) over it, the boy standing on the top rung of a short ladder. Then following the Tok mudin, the boy goes to the banana stem, on which he sits astride, wearing a sarung. Here he is prepared for the actual circumcision, which is done with the speed of lightning by the Tok mudin, often after distracting the boy attention so as to reduce the pain. The live cock is used at this to predict the boy’s potential sex life, and whether or not he will marry more than once. With the dressing of the wound the circumcision ceremony comes to an end. The Tok mudin, will however, visit the boy for several days to check the wound until its heals.

The length of white cloth, the cock and the sirih-box containing the money are given to the Tok Mudin as gifts for services rendered (pengkeras).

Like the Bertindek ceremony, the traditional style of conducting the Bersunat ceremony is also becoming rare, as circumcisions increasingly take place in hospitals or private clinics rather than at home. Even in such circumstances, however, some of the peripheral ceremonies may still take place. In more elaborate situations, maulud or berzanji recitals may be done on the eve of the actual circumcision.

Birth and Delivery of a Child

The customary practices connected with childbirth and delivery may be classified into six different stages beginning from the completion of the seventh montn of pregnancy. They are:
a. Lenggang or kirim perut
b. Delivery
c. Shaving and naming the baby.
d. The period of taboo
e. Bathing the mother aon the completion of the taboo period.
f. The Ceremonial feast (kenduri) upon the completion of the taboo period.
Lenggang Perut or Kirim Perut

The term lenggang perut (rocking the abdomen) or kirim perut as it is known in the greater part of the Malay peninsula. The term denotes the ceremonies carried out for a prospective mother who has completed her seventh month of pregnancy.
A midwife( bidan) who has been identified as a suitable one, is called upon to examine the mother-to-be, and when it is ascertained that she has in fact competed her seventh month of pregnancy, the midwife is then officially engaged (ditempah) to perform the forthcoming delivery. The materials to be made ready for the lenggang perut are prepared. These are:

a) Seven sarung, preferably of seven different colours.

b) One gantang f rice.

c) One ripe coconut with its husk completely peeled off.

d) Some raw cotton yarn.

e) One stick of resin or gum (damar).

f) Candles.

g) A sirih-box or tray complete will all ingredients.

h) The amount of RM 1.25 sen as free for services rendered.

i) Some coconut oil or some other oil suitable for massage.
When these items are prepared, the bidan begins the lenggang perut. . The seven lengths of sarung are first laid out one on top of the other on a mattress and the pregnant wife lies down on them. The midwife then slowly massages the woman’s abdomen with the oil from below the chest downwards for a while. Following this the bidan takes the peeled coconut and placing it on the abdomen, lets it slowly roll down on to the floor. The position at which the coconut stops is noted. If it stops with its “eyes” pointing upward indications are that the child will be a boy, and if the eyes point downwards then the child will be a girl. This is the traditional belief.

The actual lenggang perut now takes place. The bidan grasps the two ends of the topmost sarung from the pile of seven on which the mother-to-be lies, and then lifts the sarung a little and with it, the woman’s body, gently rocking the sarung from side to side once or twice, following which she pulls the sarung out from under the body of the mother-to-be. It is this rocking act that gives the lenggang perut ceremony its name. In similar manner the remaining six lengths of sarung are rocked and removed. The last of these will, following the completion if the ceremony, be given to the bidan, together with the other items already listed above.

On the day of the lenggang perut ceremony a small feast (kenduri) is customarily held either before or upon the completion of the lenggang perut. To this ceremony close relatives and friends, in particular the women are invited. A lebai or an imam may be invited to say the prayers (doa selamat).

The Delivery of the Child

Upon the completion of the nine months and joine days of the pregnancy, and the birth of the child is imminent, all the materials –the same as those required for the lenggang perut—are prepared, withtheexception of thes even sarung,m which are not included. The amount of the wang pengkeras is also this time raised, and the amount depends upon whether the child is the first,the second or the third, anf so on to be born to the mother-to-be, with RM 5.00 being placed foe the first and lesser amounts for the subsequent children.
Traditionally before the birth of the child, kampung Malays would hang a bunch of pandanus (mengkuang) leaves directly under that part of the house where the delivery is to take place, and where the new mother would sleep during the her taboo period following the birth of her child. This was due to a widely held belief that a certain type of evil spirit appears during the delivery of a child to drink the blood from childbirth, and to cause harm to both the new mother and her child. The mengkuang leaves were said to have the power to prevent the evil spirit from reaching the place where the delivery of the child is to take place. Customarily a cross was also inscribed, using a mixture of lime and water, on the door of the room where the delivery was to take place, and where the mother and child would stay during the taboo period. Similarly a cross was also marked at the centre of the child’s forehead between the eyebrows, with a mixture of oil and charcoal. In both instances, the markings were done following the utterance of certain charms by the bidan or by a bomoh (traditional medicine man), with the intention of chasing away evil spirits and negatjve influences. In traditional rural villages these rituals continue to be practiced to this day.

Khatam al-Quran
If the boy to be circumcised has completed his course in the reading of the Holy Quran, something which may have taken several years, the circumcision ceremony is preceded by a separate ceremony known as Khatam al-Quran (The completion of the whole of the Holy Quran). This takes place after the procession for the Bersunat ceremony. It is altogether legitimate, however, to have the Khatam al-Quran as an altogether separate ceremony long before the circumcision ceremony or even after it, depending upon when the boy actually completes the Holy Quran.

Seated on the carpeted floor in front of the pelamin, the boy reads verses from the final, thirtieth section, of the Holy Quran before his parents, his Quran teacher and invited guests. Upon completion of the reading the boy kisses first the hand of his Quran teacher, then those of his parents, and finally the hands of each of the other guests by turn. The boy then sits on the pelamin for a while, before descending for the feast (jamuan). All present join in. Following the jamuan each of the guests receive a bunga telor. This a boiled egg, sometimes dyed, and attached to a stick, with leaf or floral decorations. The guests then leave.