The activities that take place during a Malay wedding come from the diverse cultural traditions –indigenous, Hindu and Islamic–that have together served to shape traditional Malay culture. The numerous activities constitute a Malay wedding may be conveniently be divided into three groups representing three stages.
The first group of activities, all of which precede the actual wedding ceremony, consist of (a) the investigation (merisik), (b) the engagement or approach to formalise the arrangement (meminang), and (c) the hantaran or the sending of gifts and part of the amount of money (wang belanja) for expenses (wang belanja) which the boy’s family give to the girl’s side that will be incurred by the girl’s family. The wang belanja is usually an amount of several thousand ringgit. It is different from the dowry (mas kahwin) which is also paid by the man to his future wife. The amount of the mas kahwin is usually fixed by the Islamic Religious Council in each state, but a potential bridegroom may give any amount above the official figure.
The second group of activities consists of the actual marriage ceremony (akad nikah) and berinai, while the third group of activities consists of berarak or arriving in procession, sitting on a decorated dias ( bersanding and the welcoming of the married couple to the bride’s house ( sambut menantu).
Despite overall similarities in the respective ceremonies as done in various parts of the country, there are certain regional differences. Here only the general characteristics of the ceremonies have been highlighted.
When it is time for a young man to get married his family will look around to identify a number of potential candidates. Having decided upon one particular young lady, then, the merisik of investigation process takes place. For this ceremony one or more representatives (wakil) of the young man’s family will pay a friendly visit to the family of the young woman whom they have in mind as his potential bride. The visit is purely for the purpose of further investigation. Its allows the visitors to see the young lady. A hint will be given to her parents regarding the purpose of the visit, and their reaction will be assessed. The girl’s parents may also give the visitors some idea as to whether or not their daughter will be interested in the match. The merisik does not constitute a formal proposal. Following the visit both sides can begin to think more seriously about the possibility or otherwise of the union. It is possible that no progress may take place, and the young man’s parents or representatives will then look for another possible candidate.
Once agreement for the marriage has been reached between the families of the potential bride and the potential bridegroom, preparations for engagement (meminang) take place. Representatives from the young man’s side once again visit the house of the young woman, following the confirmation of a date and time for such a visit. On the side of the potential bride, a consensus is obtained regarding the following:
(a) The date and time for the meminang ceremony.
(b) The amount of money to be paid by the young man for expenses ( wang belanja).
(c) Details regarding the gift (hantaran) items.
(d) The date and time for the actual wedding ceremony and feast.
Details regarding the penalty should one of the parties break the agreement for the marriage.
When the young man’s representatives arrive at the young woman’s house, these matters are discussed and settled. Agreement is also reached on certain details regarding the engagement ceremony, including:
(a) The number of persons who will constitute the bride-groom’s party.
(b) The number of trays (dulang) of gifts that will be brought in addition to the traditional betel-leaf containers (tepak sirih).
Whether or not a part of the money for expenses (belanja) is to be paid by the potential bridegroom at the time of the engagement (meminang) ceremony.
Following this settlement, the potential bridegroom’s side will prepare the various items to be presented to the potential bride. Similarly on the side of the young lady, gift items to the presented to the young man are prepared. Customarily, the potential bride groom will send the following items to the potential bride on the day of their engagement:
(a) A gold or diamond ring.
(b) A betel-leaf container (tepak sirih) complete with betel leaves (sirih) and other ingredients. This is known as sirih meminang.
(c) A complete set of clothes.
(d) A scarf or shawl (kain tudung).
(e) Fruits or other gifts.
(f) A handbag.
(g) A pair of shoes.
The total number of gift-trays and the number of items returned as gifts by the potential bride must be in odd numbers, usually 7 or more.
On the day of the engagement the young man’s party brings the items agreed upon. For the meminang ceremony the young man and the young woman will be represented not by their parents but by other carefully selected persons.
On this day the date for the wedding ceremony (akad nikah) and the various other conditions and requirements will be also confirmed by both parties. Once all such matters have been resolved, the bridegroom’s representatives will hand over all the gifts (hantaran) items with the exception of the engagement ring. The ring will be placed on the finger of the potential bride by an elder sister or aunt of the potential bridegroom. The potential bride will all this while be in her chamber.
The gifts from the family of the potential bride meant for the potential bridegroom are now handed to his representatives. The gift items may include a velvet cap (songkok), a prayer mat (sejadah) a pair of clothes and so on. The gifts must also be placed in an add number of trays, the number of trays being higher than those received from the potential bridegroom’s party. This completes the meminang ceremony.
Following the exchange of gifts a feast is given to the bridegroom’s party, before they leave for home.
The Akad Nikah is the actual religious solemnisation of the marriage. While all the other ceremonies performed in a Malay wedding before the Akad Nikah and after it may be considered as derived from the traditional culture of the Malays, and may even be omitted the Akad Nikah is an Islamic ceremony without which no marriage is valid. Consent of both the bride and the bridegroom must be obtained, and the religious official (usually a kadhi) conducting the marriage must make sure the marriage is entered into willingly by both the parties. At times the marriage solemnization is in fact done by the girl’s father in the presence of religious officials. In a brief sermon given by the officials, the bridegroom and the bride will receive a briefing on their rights and responsibilities as a married couple, particularly from the Islamic perspective. There must be two official witnesses at the Akad Nikah. A marriage certificate will be issued by the kadhi or State Religious Council representatives following the ceremony, and this is to be signed by the bridegroom, the bride as well as the witnesses.
The ceremony of Berinai involves the staining of the couple’s hands with henna. Lesser or greater berinai ceremonies are held three times as follows:
a. Berinai Curi takes place three nights before the actual wedding ceremony (akad nikah) with the participation of close relatives and friends only.
b. Berinai Kecil. Takes place two nights before the wedding ceremony with the participation of family members, neighbours and close friends.
c. Berinai Besar is usually held after the completion of the religious ceremony (Akad Nikah).
Of the above three ceremonies, the berinai besar is the major one. The lesser ones may take place in private, usually with the participation of women only. For the berinai besar the newly married couple sit on the specially decorated dias (pelamin). Family members from both sides take turns to apply henna to the hands of the seated couple. Rice and a mixture of flour may also be applied to the palms and foreheads of the couple, as a sign of blessing.
The Adat Berinai is intended to cleanse both the young persons now married to each other. Henna is regarded as a blessed item, that is, it is used as a means of cleansing and protection from evil or malicious influences.
The Bersanding or Hari Langsung
The hari langsung, literally “the day of completion” , which also involves the bersanding or ceremonial seating on the dias, is considered the high point of a Malay wedding.
In the morning before the bersanding ceremony the bride will change into new clothes, and various fashions may be tried out in selecting the dress to be worn for the bersanding. Popular bersanding fashions include those of from the Minangkabau tradition, Kelantanese styles as well as styles derived from the West.
The bridegroom is not allowed to enter the bride’s house before the bride sends him a prepared betel leaf known as sirih latlat or sirih genggam. This is a sign that the bride now awaits the arrival of the bridegroom. The bridegroom walks slowly towards the house of the bride, his party is led by womenfolk. This is the ceremony of berarak, or walking in procession. Behind them come the group of musicians beating various types of drums, especially the hand-held kompang, as well as bearers of decorative flowers (bunga manggar).
The arriving party take their seats in a special area of the house for the martial arts ( pencak silat) performance which is held as a sign of welcome and paying respects to the bridegroom as the king for the day. Then both the bride and the bridegroom are invited for the bersanding ceremony. This is the sitting in state ceremony and theoretically the first time that a bride and her groom meet. Seated on their chairs on the platform (pelamin) the couple are blessed with scented water, henna, sandalwood paste and rice flour paste. The bersanding publicly ratifies the union.
Following the bersanding the newly-married couple will come down to the halaman rumah for lunch or dinner (kenduri), to which guests will be invited. Further activities including light entertainment or joget dance sessions may take place in the evening to conclude the Malay wedding
The adat of sambut menyambut or ceremony of welcome is usually done at the bridegrooms’s house to welcome the bride. This may take place a day or two following the bersanding. Sometimes a second bersanding ceremony is held in the bridegroom’s house to give the opportunity to the women of that household who did not have the opportunity to be present at the first bersanding ceremony to bless the newly married couple.