Adat merisik ("Spying" custom)
A Malay wedding begins with the adat merisik - the traditional Malay way for arranging marriages. Whether it is a love match, or a match made by family members who look around to identify a number of potential brides, the merisik, or investigation process, needs to take place.
Watching old movies and listening to love tales from the past, there would usually be pantuns (idiomatic expressions) as the 'opening act' or 'ice-breaker' to ask whether the girl has been spoken for or otherwise. Full of flowery expressions, it goes something like this:
"Membawa jamung terbakar hangit,
Bara melenting jatuh ke laman,
Hajat menggunung harapan melangit,
Ingin menyunting bunga di taman".
Though it is still practiced at some places, most folks would just skip all the ornate languages; getting straight down to business is much preferred nowadays.
For the merisik, one or more representatives (wakil) of the man's family would visit to the woman's family. In the past, the visit is purely for the purpose of further investigation, and gives the visitors the chance to see and assess the woman's suitability as the man's future wife.
Now, it is more of a formality for the families to get to know one another and to fix a proper date for the engagement. However, following the visit, both sides can begin to think more seriously about the possibility of a marriage.
Once agreement for the marriage has been reached between the families of the potential bride and the potential bridegroom, preparations for meminang (engagement) take place. Representatives from the young man's side will 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, among them are - the date and time for the meminang ceremony, the amount of money to be paid by the young man for wang belanja (expenses), details regarding the hantaran (gift) items and others. You may compare the process to football - there's a "penalty" should one of the parties break the agreement for the marriage. This just goes to show that marriage is serious business.
On the day of the engagement, the young man's party will bring the items agreed upon. The couple will be represented not by their parents but by other carefully selected persons, often senior relatives.
Here, the date for the akad nikah (wedding ceremony) and various other conditions and requirements will be also confirmed by both parties. Once all such matters have been resolved, the man's representatives will hand over all the hantaran (gift) items, except for 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 be in her chamber while this is all happening.
"Marriage is a wonderful invention; but then again so is a bicycle repair kit," so says British comedian Billy Connely.
But weddings are certainly no laughing matter, and the preparations for the wedding are often hectic at best.
A Malay wedding is often being compared to a community project done in the spirit of gotong-royong (community). Without a doubt, there's a lot of work to be done before the grand feast - setting up temporary camps, kitchen shed, nuptial chamber, the dais, decorations and the list seems endless.
The Big Day
Upon the big day, in the midst of everybody running around attending to the business, the couple will solemnise their marriage according to Islamic laws. A Kadi (religious man) and two witnesses, along with families and relatives are present for the solemnisation. The Kadi will also give a brief talk on marital responsibilities before marrying the couple.
Followed by a prayer, the groom then puts a ring on his bride's finger and go through the membatal air sembahyang session. After that, the groom will be allowed to touch the bride's hands as it is now rightful and legal for the man to touch the woman who has become his wife.
Pay Up Before Entering
In states like Pahang and Johor, the groom has to bargain with the womenfolk of the house before they agree to release his bride. After paying the 'toll' (a certain amount of money to let him pass), the groom is then allowed to sit on the pelamin (dais) with his bride.
For those who don't have a clue on what to do at the menepung tawar (blessing of the couple with rose water and other substances) ceremony, look for a pedestal tray in front of the couple, which contains plates of beras kunyit, bertih (fried rice grains) and rose water, and follow the instructions by the helpful Mak Andam on how to bless the couple with those materials.