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.