Malay Wedding Customs in Singapore

Malay weddings in Singapore are traditionally one of the grandest celebrations in the Malay culture. It normally lasts for several days, during which the wedded couple are treated like royalty and their union is celebrated by all their family and friends. Malay weddings follow Islamic marriage rites, but they may also observe some Hindu wedding practices. The wedding follows different stages of the wedding, starting from the proposal until the final wedding celebration.

Adat Bertunang (or Engagement)

If a couple decides to marry, senior members of the bridegroom’s family will visit the bride’s family to ask for her hand in marriage. This meeting is normally arranged between the two families, with the groom’s family presenting the bride’s family with gifts such as food, clothes and accessories. The groom is customarily absent during this, but the bride should be present. An elder female relative of the groom would also present the engagement ring to the bride and her family, and then the two families would commence discussion on plans for the wedding.

Preparatory Celebrations

Three days before the wedding day, the bride’s family holds a small celebration where she displays her wedding garb to her relatives and friends. It is part of the tradition for her to change clothes five to six times throughout the day for good luck. On the next day, the couple will take part in a henna-staining ceremony called the berinai besar. Here, their families and friends will paint the couple’s fingertips with a yellowish oil as a sign of their forthcoming union. A beautician called mak andam, often an elder female relative, will then help the bride to prepare for her wedding.

Akad Nikah (or Marriage Contract)

The wedding proper starts with the akad nikah or marriage contract (also called the solemnization ceremony). This is officiated by a kadhi, a man schooled in Islamic laws, and attended only by the couple and their closest relatives. It is during this part that the groom signs a marriage contract and promises to provide his bride with a mas kahwin or mahar, which may be in the form of money or gold. The kadhi will also approach the bride and ascertain that she is entering the marriage on her free will. The ceremony is finalized with the groom declaring his promises in a clear, audible voice.

Bersanding (or Enthronement)

The actual wedding day is called the bersanding. This part of the wedding lasts for hours and is participated by the couples’ friends and family. At an agreed time, the groom goes to the bride’s house escorted by a band of male musicians called a hadrah. Upon arriving, he will sit with the bride at the pelamin, a couch that is the centerpiece of the ceremony. There, they will share their first meal as husband and wife, and guests may approach them to give their well-wishes and have photos taken with the couple. There will also be a feast prepared by the family and guests are invited to make merry.

Modern Changes

Due to Western influences and the need to reduce cost, some Malay couples reduce the scale of their weddings. There have also been changes throughout the years, such as the groom’s parents presenting the engagement ring and gifts instead of elder relatives. Despite these, Malay weddings remain a highly celebrated affair among friends and family.

Malay wedding cake

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