Malay Weddings

Malay Weddings

Malay weddings are festive and grand affairs that bring together family, friends, and neighbours. Despite modernisation and urbanisation, many Malay weddings continue to be deeply rooted in cultural and religious traditions, and Malays of different heritage and ancestry celebrate their weddings in different ways.


Geographic Location

Elements of the wedding practices are shared by the Malay communities in the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Sumatra, and Borneo.

In Singapore, families can choose to conduct the solemnisation ceremony at the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM). They may also host the wedding reception at event halls or at the void decks of public housing blocks - a practice that reflects the kampong spirit of the past when weddings were held in a family’s house or compound.

Communities Involved

The Malay community in Singapore consists of various sub-ethnic groups, such as the Bugis and the Javanese. While they were rare in the past, inter-marriages between these groups have increased. Each sub-group may also incorporate certain aspects of its culture into the weddings and other festivities.


Associated Social and Cultural Practices

A typical Malay wedding has a series of five steps.  The first step is called merisik or investigating, where the parents of a man wishing to get married employs a tukang risik (matchmaker) to enquire into and assess the qualities of a future bride. Once the match is found to be favourable, they move on to the second step. This is the proposal or meminang where the two families meet to get to know one another. Though both these practices have declined over time, they are still observed as a formality and allow the man’s family to put forward a marriage proposal.

During the proposal ceremony, the families agree upon a sum of money for the wedding expenses, commonly known as duit hantaran. They also decide on the date of the engagement as well as the number of dulangs, or trays of gifts, that will have to be exchanged on that day.

The engagement or the pertunangan is the third step and is a major ceremony. The families wear formal Malay clothes, and the family of the groom comes bearing the dulang. These decorated trays typically hold an engagement ring, cakes, sweets, potpourri as well as a bouquet of flowers called sireh junjung. This is presented by the groom’s side and is supposed to be taller than the bouquet from the bride, which is called sireh dara. The bouquets have replaced an older tradition of exchanging and chewing betel leaves to symbolise that the marriage could go ahead. This practice died out since chewing betel leaves is no longer popular. Other traditions include senior male representatives carrying on a dialogue in the form of poetry using kata hiasan or ornamental language.

Couples in Singapore must apply for marriage at the ROMM and attend marriage preparation courses, if required.

The solemnisation ceremony or akad nikah is needed to legalise the marriage. An Islamic registrar or kadi officiates at this ceremony, where he delivers a sermon and checks the credentials of the couple as well as their two witnesses, who must be male and Muslim. The bride is then given away by her wali, the male guardian who is responsible for her before she is married. Other important procedures include the kadi confirming that the bride agrees to the marriage, as well as asking the groom for the mahar or mas kahwin, which is the obligatory sum paid by the groom to the bride.

Next comes the bersanding, which is considered the high point of the entire wedding. This is where the bride and groom are ceremonially seated to receive guests. A mak andam, who is a female wedding specialist, is chosen at least three months prior to the event. Mak andams have various responsibilities, including ensuring that the couple have proper wedding outfits and beautifying the bride for the big day.

On the day of the bersanding, the bride is seated on a dais when the groom arrives with his entourage and the kompang or drum ensemble. He then has to perform a series of tasks before the mak andam allows him to sit next to the bride, after which both can receive guests.

During the reception, the groom will wear the baju melayu which consists of a long-sleeved shirt and trousers, paired with a tanjak (a headgear made of woven silk fabric). The keris, a Javanese dagger, is also a common accessory for the groom and symbolises that the groom is the “King for the day”. The bride will wear a baju kurung (loose-fitting full-length dress consisting of skirt and blouse) or a baju kebaya (tighter-fitting blouse-dress) that is often coordinated with the groom’s outfit.

In Malay weddings, flowers are used in many ways. During the wedding procession, the groom will be flanked by bunga manggar (palm blossoms) as he leads his relatives and friends to the bride’s home. Family members may also take part in a part tepung tawar ceremony, a traditional practice of sprinkling rose water and rice grains on the bridal couple, following by the smearing of rice flour paste onto the couples’ palms to signify blessings and well-wishes.

To commemorate the occasion, guests are also given bunga rampai, a potpourri of finely cut pandan leaves and bunga setaman (flowers scented with rosewater or orange blossom water). The bunga rampai is traditionally wrapped in cones of sireh (betel) leaf, handkerchiefs or placed in small containers.


Experience of a Practitioner

Ms Shima Matin has followed in the footsteps of her mother to become a mak andam. The role requires her to know the traditions of Malay weddings, and adapt to clients’ changing tastes. She also uses platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to promote her services. While the duty of a mak andam may have shifted from being the traditional guardian of the bride to being more of a fashion and beauty adviser, Ms Shima believes that the mak andam is still important to the success of Malay weddings.


Viability and Future Outlook

Malay wedding customs and traditions remain central to Singapore’s Malay community. Some customs may evolve as time goes by, but many wedding couples are likely to continue practicing these rituals. A better understanding of the ceremonies can help future generations appreciate their cultural roots and the full grandeur of a Malay wedding.


References

Reference No.: ICH-018
Date of Inclusion: April 2018; Updated March 2019

References

Ahmad, Muhammad Ariff. "Adat Melayu Singapura", Sekata 1 (1): 1-8, The Malay Language Council, 1999.

Ahmad, Muhammad Ariff. Nilam: Nilai Budaya Melayu Menurut Adat. Singapore: Majlis Pusat Pertubuhan-Pertubuhan Budaya Melayu Singapura, 2007.

Asiapac Editorial. Gateway to Malay Culture. Singapore: Asiapac Books, 2003.

Koh, Jaime and Ho, Stephanie. Culture and Customs of Singapore and Malaysia. ABC-CLIO, 2009.


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