I had the opportunity of attending some Malay weddings during my younger days when I followed grandma to these events. Some of these weddings were held at my great grandmother’s house in Parit Bakar. I remember the wedding of my cousin Che Cha and Ungku Hamid sometime in the late fifties but the one I remember most was the wedding of my auntie Mak Chu sometime in the early sixties. What made this wedding even more memorable was it was held at the house where I grew. Although I may not be able to recollect all the details but I do remember many activities that were conducted two to three months before the wedding was held.
Fatimah Abdul Hamid is the youngest woman among her siblings hence she is called Mak Chu among her nephews and nieces. Much as I can remember of my Mak Chu during the time she was still a young woman, she was such a lovable and adorable person always seen smiling and an obedient child to her parents. After completing her secondary school, she did not pursue for higher education and would spent most of the time helping grandma at home. At one time she had a companion, a female orphan her age who was adopted by grandma we all called Jah Piji. Later Jah Piji left for London and got married to an English man and since then she became known as Jah London.
Grandma was fond of adopting orphans and I remember besides Jah Piji were two other boys she adopted. One was a young man whose named was Arshad and we called him Wak Resad and the other was called Ibrahim and because he walked rather slow, we called him Wak Yem Slow. When they both got married, they never failed to pay grandma a visit at least twice a year. Another one in grandma’s adoption list was a woman who came from Indonesia known among us as Mak Wor. According to grandma, Wak Wor came to Malaya in the mid-forties as a ‘slave’ woman and to get her freedom, she must be adopted by a family and it was grandma who chose to adopt her. Later she got married and was blessed with two girls named Nina and Rafe’ah. The family stayed in Tangkak but almost every weekend, Mak Wor would bring along their two daughters and stayed with us. Nina and Rafe’ah became a part of our family until today. When grandma passed away, Mak Wor stayed with auntie Mak Jah who was then staying in Tangkak. She died in the mid-eighties of old age. Grandma later adopted her own granddaughter Kursiah when she was a baby but she preferred the name ‘Raha’, named after the wife of our second Prime Minister.
Mak Chu’s marriage was very much arranged by both families. Her future husband is a relative and lived about a hundred meters behind our house. His name is Ismail Abdul Rahman and was a Sergent Major in the Malay Regiment stationed in Kluang, Johor.
When both families agreed to have both their children into matrimony, a date was fixed and preparation for the wedding began. I can’t remember the actual month but I do remember the year was 1960. I was about ten over years old.
The first agenda was to list down the names of relatives to be invited and that was one hell of a job. Getting married those days was a very big event and my grandparents made sure that every relative must be invited, otherwise relationship may be strained or even jeopardized. It began with both grandpa’s and grandma’s siblings and their spouses as well as all their children. Next were their first cousins and only those very close could bring along their children. The immediate neighbours and their familes, close friends and their spouses and finally friends of my uncles and aunties who stayed in Muar town. Uncle Wak Yem and Wak Jis did the writing and would be frequently checked by both grandpa and grandma. In the meantime, grandpa had gone to town looking for a suitable company to do the printing for the invitation cards. There wasn’t many printing companies those days, maybe one or two. It was just a simple wedding card. Most of these cards were distributed by hand and some through postal services.
Those regarded as seniors among my grandparents’ close kin, they must meet them in person to extend the invitation. During my time, grandpa was the eldest as his older siblings had passed away and so there wasn’t any need for him to visit his younger siblings. For grandma, she had to visit and inform her mother and my grandmother (father’s side) Mak Enggor. Apparently, Mak Enggor was not only her senior but an auntie as well. If we failed to meet them in person, chances of them not coming would be great and they would ‘merajuk’ for quite sometime and to reconcile need some proper ‘planning’ and ‘strategy’.
Pak Adam the ‘singing chef’ was booked to do the cooking and it was obviously the ‘nasi biryani gam’. The ghazal troupe was booked as well and since the ghazal would start only after the wedding ceremony, a local live band would be performing during the arrival of guests and during dinner. I remember the name of the band was “Pemuda Jaya” while the band playing at the groom’s was one belonged to my uncle (father’s side) Bakar Salim called “The Teenage Blues”. For the ghazal troupe, it was obviously the Sri Maharani Ghazal.
The preparation continued with the production of the “bakul telur”. It was made of small ice cream boxes, pasted around each of it with colourful papers. For the holder, it was a thin metal wire mesh wrapped with colourful papers as well. As the quantity was quite high, it took weeks to finish them all. Everyone in the house gave a helping hand, even grandpa too did quite a lot and I did some as well and not forgetting my three ‘sisters’ and their eldest sister Bulat. I can’t figure our why she is called Bulat because as much as I can remember, she has always been so slim. Of course as the eldest in the family, she referred herself as ‘abang’.
These ‘bakul telur’ were completed a few days before the wedding date. It was quite a lot, maybe about a thousand over and obviously during the wedding day, a thousand over ‘telur pindang’ would be distributed. ‘Telur Pindang’ is boiled with some herbs until the colour of its shell becomes brownish and is very tasty.
In the meantime, grandma went to see few of her relatives to borrow some of the items to be used during the ‘bersanding’ ceremony. Most of these items would be placed at the ‘pelamin’ where both the groom and the bride would be sitting for the whole family members and close friends to view.
Few curtain windows were replaced with new ones and even some parts of the house would need some painting touch up. At the back yard, grandpa and Wak Jis did some clearing and to determine the right place for Pak Adam to do his cooking. The house compound was quite spacious to put up the tent and could fit in many guests.
The bride’s wedding dresses were of Mak Chu’s own choice and it was not so elaborate. It was just a simple baju Melayu knitted with some ‘manik’.
The ‘pelamin’ was set up a week before the day and occasionally decorated everyday, including the ‘bunga pahar’. The ‘bunga pahar’ would be in pair, to be placed at the right and left sides of the groom and his bride. During my time it was made of pulut (glutinous rice) which had been mixed with kunyit (saffron) and cooked. You will then have the pulut yellow in colour. The pulut would be stuffed inside a ‘bekas’ made of brass which is actually known as ‘pahar’. Then poke some ‘bunga telor’ and flowers into the cooked pulut and the whole thing is known as ‘bunga pahar’. Modern Malay weddings do not use the pulut any longer.
A day before the wedding day, the ‘bunga rampai’ would begin production. It consisted of mainly daun pandan cut into lots of long and small pieces mixed with some other flowers such as roses and would produce a lovely smell. These ‘bunga rampai’ would be stuffed inside the ‘bakul telur’ and the ‘telur pindah’. In most cases, only the house of the bride would have these ‘bakul telur’.
Likewise the ‘bunga manggar’, a man-made flowers attached to a long pole would be ready. These ‘bunga manggar’ would accompany the groom before entering the house of the bride. In most cases, there would be four ‘bunga manggar’, two at the front and the other two behind the groom’s congregation which included the ‘kompang’ troupe.
A day before, the womenfolk and some neighbours would be busy cutting the cucumbers and onions which would be the main ingredients for making ‘acar rampai’. They would also cut many pineapples into small pieces and some would be preparing the ‘sambal lada’. These three dishes are known as ‘lauk piring’. Finally lots of ‘pisang emas’ would be washed to be served together with the whole meal.
THE BIG DAY
Malay weddings of my time were mostly conducted on Fridays as the state of Johor once observed Fridays and Saturdays as weekends.
Most of my uncles and aunties staying outstation had by now returned home and the house was truly overcrowded. We had only five bedrooms and so many would sleep at the ambin. I can safely assume there were about sixty to seventy people staying at the house during this wedding.
6.00am: Almost everyone woke up and we had the most intricate problem…to ease ourselves because there was only one toilet. Those days, most houses had bathrooms separated from the toilet. In our case, the toilet was situated behind our house. Whenever I watched the P.Ramlee movie of ‘Pendekar Bujang Lapok’, the morning scene when everyone lined up for their turn to ease themselves, it would surely remind me of my days when we had our toilet identical that of the movie scene. So everyone lined up for their turn and once your turn was up, you had better be fast.
By 7.00am breakfast was served and we had plenty of boiled tapioca served with grated coconut mixed with fine sugar, sambal ikan bilis and ikan kering. We had a small tapioca ‘plantation’ behind our house. It was an idea mooted by grandma and now the harvest served us very well.
The tent was set up yesterday and today the tables and chairs need to be arranged. This would be done by a group of people we called ‘penanggah’. They consisted of close neighbours, friends and they worked for free. This is what we called ‘gotong royong’. Plain white papers were used to cover the tables and the thumb pins were used to make sure these papers would stick nicely on the tables. During my time, we invited the guests on three occasions. The first invitees came after the noon prayer, the next invitees came after the asar prayer and finally after the maghrib prayer. The first invitees were mostly very close friends and neighbours as well as all members of the family. Some of these close friends were also invited for dinner.
The cooking began around 11.00am and Pak Adam had all the necessary ingredients in place. There were three big cooking pots for the nasi biryani gam. This dish is believed to have its origin from northern India and Pakistan. The cooking oil would be filled first and followed by the rice. After few minutes, the meat (either beef or mutton) which had been marinated together with the ‘rempah biryani’ were added into the rice. During the early stage, the fire must be strong and its heating degree would slowly decreased in stages. Then the boiled ‘telur pindang’ were put and mixed with the cooking rice and the meat. When the cooking was almost done, a white cloth would be used to wrap the cover of the cooking pot and would remain so until the cooking was done. By now, the fire would be very much reduced. Simultaneously the ‘dalcar’ were also cooked. Pak Adam would begin his cooking while singing some Hindi songs and sometime he would dance just like the belly dancing dancers.
The ‘akad nikah’ began around 11.00am and it was conducted by an Imam from the town mosque. For the benefit of my non-Malay readers, the ‘akad nikah’ is the most important event in all Muslim weddings. It is the solemnizing of the two male and female declaring them officially as husband and wife. However, most Malay weddings have incorporated many Hindu cultures into the fabrics and that made Malay weddings very colourful.
During the ‘akad nikah’ the groom would present to the bride a wedding ring and some presents known as the ‘hantaran’. The bride likewise would give some presents to the groom.
The ‘pelamin’ had been decorated complete with all the necessary items to be performed during the ‘bersanding’. (See picture above). Mak Enggor my grandmother (father’s side) was the ‘Mak Andam’. In fact this was her full time job.
Before the Friday prayer, the ‘penanggah’ would begin to place all the ‘lauk piring’ on the tables. Pak Adam had his cooking done and was ready to serve. He was singing a Hindi song he remembered most from the filem “Mother India’, a 1957 production. The drinks too were on standby.
Young girls mostly from the neighbourhood and some close friends volunteered to give away the ‘bakul telur’ to the guests.
In the house it was a ‘traffic jam’ in every corner. All of my relatives were present, my great grandmother Tok Jilah, grandma’s siblings, all my uncles and aunties and their children and all of grandma’s adopted children and their children too. Almost everyone had visited the little toilet at the back of the house.
When all the menfolk had gone to the town mosque for the Friday congregation, the womenfolk and all those in the house would help themselves with lunch. Pak Adam excused himself from going to the mosque and he certainly had a very good excuse.
By 2.00pm, the invitees for the noon session began. Most of them were from the town mosque and they all came cycling and so the road just across the house was full of bicycles. The ‘penanggah’ began their serving and they did it systematically. The ‘nasi biryani’ was hot while the ‘dalcar’ was deliciously cooked. The guests had few helpings to fill their empty stomach. Those attending the noon session were mostly very close friends, neighbours and friends of my uncles and aunties and they would gladly drop by for the 4.30pm session. For my close friend Maniam, I had a table reserved for his family. My very close Chinese friend Eddie came alone because he was shy to bring his whole family.
Each guest was given the ‘bakul telur’ as a gift of thanks.
The invitees for the 4.30pm session were mostly grandpa’s office colleagues, some people grandpa knew who were mostly government servants, some of my classmates and the classmates of my cousins next door. As for my two close friends Halim and Yem, they were always part of the scene.
When nightfall, my house was the brightest house along Jalan Omri. The tent was lighted with small twinkling bulbs of various colours, the band had arrived and was preparing their instruments and members of the Ghazal troupe too came for dinner.
The bride was still in the room looked after by the ‘Mak Andam’, the make-up artist and all those who would be accompanying her to the ‘pelamin’.
By 8.00pm, the invitees arrived and this time most of them were considered important to my grandparents as well as the bride’s friends. The non-Malay friends of my grandparents were likewise included in this session. The band began to play some Malay latest (oldies now) songs and even the Nat King Cole’s number. The famous Saloma’s song of “Selamat Pengantin Baru’ was not in production yet and so they played the song by Jasni Ahmad called “Pengantin Bersanding’. In front of our house, there was a traffic jam, a scene most uncommon during my days. The Malays and their female accomplices wore the Baju Melayu while the non-Malays came with their tiny ties.
The groom and his entourage arrived and they stopped for awhile about few yards away from the house. The ‘kompang’ troupe began their beatings of the drums and the groom began to walk slowly. By now Mak Chu was already seated at the ‘pelamin’ waiting for the groom to sit besides her. At the front door, the ‘Mak Andam’ was waiting for the groom to arrive at the doorstep. The band kept on playing the song ‘pengantin bersanding’.
When the groom arrived at the doorstep, he was stopped by the ‘mak andam’. This is a typical Johorean custom, a negotiation to allow the groom enter the house and eventually to be seated besides his bride. The negotiation was between the ‘Mak Andam’ and a representative of the groom. It was just a short humourous conversation that finally ended with the ‘Mak Andam’ receiving a small monetary gift from the groom’s representative.
The ‘Mak Andam’ then escorted the groom to his rightful seat besides his bride. Once both were seated, the blessing ceremony began. This is known in Malay as ‘adat menepung tawar’. Only the elders were given the honour to do this simple ritual ceremony and finally both parents of the groom and the bride. After this simple ceremony, both couple proceeded to the dining table and the grand dinner began.
After dinner, both couple took their position at the entrance of the house to extend their gratitude to the guests for coming to their wedding ceremony. When all the guests had left, the groom and his bride returned to their ‘pelamin’ for a final ceremony. This is known among Johoreans as ‘ambor ambor’. The ‘Mak Andam’ took a bunch of coins of ten, twenty and fifty cents and threw them at the guests seated in front of the ‘pelamin’. The guests (comprising mostly close relatives) then scrambled to pick these coins as many as they could. With this, the wedding ceremony ended.
Outside the house, the band stopped playing and the ghazal troupe took their turn. The ‘penanggah’ began their dinner and they could eat as much as they liked. At the back of the house, Pak Adam began to wrap some nasi biryani to be given to those who had volunteered, to the neighbours and relatives as well.
The music of the ghazal continued until as late as one in the morning. The legendary ‘Rosiah Chik sang ‘Sri Mersing’ beautifully and Zainurin Mohd. Dom did his original version of ‘Pak Ngah Balek’.
It was a wonderful wedding I will always remember.