Monday, March 07, 2005

A Wedding

At the weekend I went to this big wedding feast of one of my wife’s girl cousion. In the village. It was a grand feast, about 2,000 guests attended. The cooking took about 2 days, to get through the whole feast. And to get everything almost perfected. That was only the cooking, but the others - decorations for example - took about 1 month to get it perfected or to the hosts satisfaction. The curtains have got to be changed and the dais to be ready. Getting the make up people for the bride - in fact to get everything ready. The Malays have this attitude of ‘saving face’ that is whatever you do you do so in such a way that you do not bring shame to yourself and to the family and even to the extended family as well. Especially if you are a well respected person in the village and your daughter is University qualified, and especially so if she is qualified from overseas. Anyone if anyone having watched a Hindi or an Indian movie will see what I mean when someone is marrying a highly qualified overseas graduated daughter in a respected family in a village.

Anyone interested to know more about Malay wedding may visit this URL.

The house is a big house in the village, one of the bigger brick house, 2-storey, a big lounge, a big kitchen, a big hall and more that 3 bedrooms upstairs and all rooms air conditioned. That is grand by village standard. For the wedding feast they have to erect 7 canvas tents to cater for the guests and the tents built encroached into the neighbouring house which happened to be a nieces house.

For the feast they cooked special rice, 2 lamb slaughtered for the first day and fresh meat equivalent to 2 buffaloes for the final day. The meat cooked in curry form. In addition some sort of vegetable was also cooked and a special vegetable of young coconut shoot, sweet and succulent cooked in coconut milk. All beautiful dishes, to the expectations of the invited guests. And guests arriving from the night before with the main throng in the mid morning of the actual day until late afternoon, guests just walking in (and out) and all have to be fed. Not only guests have to be fed but also the workers helping to make the feast successful, the water boys and those waiting on the guest. And the food table had to be arranged properly, food all self serviced, but the table arranged in such a way that guests do not crowd just on to one table or else there would be long Q for food. And the food finished very quickly and services had to be very quick for refill. Delays had to be minimised, to maintain ‘face’.

And the preparation for the feast it was beyond belief. And the cost which was all borne by the brides family, the dowry is not enough to cover all the expenses. Actually dowry is not even supposed to cover such grand feast, its just for the girl - a sort of measure how much the girl is worth on the ‘market, I might say it as a sort of market value really. So the family have to have a lot of ready cash to make the feast successful. You might get some credit but again it will be a sort of loosing ‘face’ if you take too much credit for what you want to use during the feast. I really do not know how much it costed the family to have the feast but from my rough estimate its no less than RM 30,000.00 (USD 1 = RM 3.80). Maybe that was on the estimate side or it correct quite cheap as it was done in the village and nobody made profit out of you. They all came more to help or more or less on a voluntary basis, a sort of helping each other in the village. But you are expected to give the food and drink while they work. No hard liquor of course, these are Muslim folks. If this feast had been done in the town the cost may even be inflated up to RM 100,000.00. In the town you have to pay for almost everything, and food catering is not cheap. Imagine if you food cater to feed about 2000 guests, say at RM 15.00 each that will already cost you RM 30,000.00, not to mention all the decorations and what not. And you do not get return on expenses unless you manage to catch a millionaire son-in-law and your guest are all rich people who give you expensive presents and a lot of cash gifts. But in reality how much can you get back in return for such an expensive feast?

All in all the feast has to be made and to go on whatever the cost is. It is the tradition, everyone does it. If you do not do it then people may talk, you are stingy or there is something wrong with your daughter (in this case). There is this and that and all the negative aspects, you become a friendless person in the village. So you spend like everyone else, whether you can afford it or not. Most people save for such feast. You have to have a lot of money or lot of saving. And if you do not have it then you have to turn some solid asset into money.

On the day of the feast, the weather had been quite kind. It was cool in the early part of the morning, then came the sweltering heat by late morning but that soon went by late afternoon when it became a bit windy, with some cold wind blowing. But under canvas tents it was still hot though. All in all it was a pleasant tropical day, especially at this time of the year when at time the temperature can climb up to about 35 deg C.
A big feast like such a wedding feast has a lot of good aspects to it. All relatives are invited, far and near, and they all make attempts to come. And friends are also invited, some lost ones appears. The children and the grandmothers all come. It is truly a get together occasion, family and friends. And good will all around the village and all and everyone enjoy themselves. But the negative aspects have to be realised as well. It drains off your energy and your assets. It will take you a long time to get your cash flow back to normal, if ever it comes at all.

After the feast, all is not over yet. There is the cleaning aspects and the recounting of plates and dishes borrowed and the furniture taken from the common store in the village. And in the case of this feast, with so many guests invited, tables and chairs had to be borrowed from all over the places. Luckily these in this case could be borrowed, practically on trust but if you have to hire them then it makes more holes in your pockets. Even though these are borrowed you still need to give tips, to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Now come the other feast, his time at the grooms house. And again many will have to go to this other feast, a sort of reciprocating. It will look very bad if the bride’s sides do not attend the grooms homecoming to his own home. So a trip have to be made. If the just married couple are from the same village it will be quite cheap but if they are from different part of the country it can be quite an expensive affairs in traveling and lodging. And you do not really want to bother the other side with your lodging and travel expenses unless you are dead poor. And you do not want to show that you are dead poor, again another ‘face’ saving strategy. There is the good aspect to this. An introduction in a sense to the other side, a sort of family get together, now that you have a bigger family through marriage.

The tradition of grand wedding feast is very closely guarded by the Malays. I suppose not only by the Malays, but also by all communities all over the world. Different part of the world have different ways of celebrating weddings, maybe some with grand feast and some others a quiet affair.

What about knowing whether the bride is still a virgin? The Malays now (at least the community I know of ) does not really bother that much, its all a matter of trust.

To Shout Back