A Taste of Malaysiana in Central Valley, California
M. Bakri Musa
Thousands of Malaysians who have visited or studied in California
over the years know of or have met “Kim” Ahmad Sabian (Pak Mat) and his wife
Rose Mohamad. Typically they know the
couple through Rose’s signature Malay cooking.
They have catered to former Prime Minister Mahathir who on a visit to
Silicon Valley during one Ramadan many years ago suddenly felt the craving for
Malay food for his suhor (predawn)
dinner. They have also hosted countless
touring diplomats and ministers who discovered that being away beyond a few
days from their favorite sambal belacan
and nasi lemak was too much to endure.
Saturday before Ramadan this year, Pak Mat and Rose were once again gracious
hosts, this time for their California friends, families and neighbors. There were also guests from far away – Malaysia
– Rose’s sisters and brother, and their families. The occasion was the wedding of their
daughter Rosanna to her high school sweetheart, Kosal. My wife Karen and I have known Rosanna since
she was a little girl, so the occasion was special for us.
It was a
traditional Malay wedding in all aspects, from the food and decorations to the akad nikah (exchange of vows) and bersanding ceremony, embellished with
elements of Americana. You would be hard
pressed to savor a similar experience even in Malaysia today. Rosanna, being American born and raised, is very
much the girl next door: poised,
confident, elegant, and working her way through college! The occasion was a creative and exquisite blending
of traditional Malay wedding, to highlight Rosanna’s heritage, with elements of
Americana to reflect the couple’s upbringing.
It is this artful fusion of the two that elevated the ceremony to new
heights and made it so much more memorable.
The day began in the morning with a small akad nikah
in the living room of the
family’s Stockton home.
The room was
made to resemble a serambi
of a traditional Malay house, with a lush carpet substituting for tikar nipah
In deference to comfort and modernity, there
were two chairs for the bride and groom, flanked by another chair on each side
for the official witnesses.
On the floor
were trays bearing gifts the couple had for each other.
were family members and friends standing at the back or sitting bersela on the carpet. The ceremony began with the family’s Imam Yusoof
invoking a dua to bless the
gathering. Then he explained in English the
meaning of marriage in Islam, a divinely sanctioned contract between a man and
a woman. It is entered upon freely and
willingly by both parties. As such, he
emphasized, the relationship of wife and husband is complementary and
drew liberally from the seerahs
(practices of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.) to illustrate his point. He recalled how the Last Prophet of Allah, even
though he was an acknowledged leader adored by millions, yet at home he was the
humble husband readily sharing in the household chores. No household task was beneath this great man. The Imam was clearly addressing not only the
young couple but also the many who were already married or contemplating
Imam asked Rosanna whether she freely consented to be the bride of Kosal. When she replied in her clear voice in the affirmative,
the Imam duly noted this and directed the two witnesses, one of whom was me, to
also acknowledge this fact. Likewise,
the Imam posed a similar question to Kosal.
the Imam solemnized the marriage and recited some duas both in English and Arabic, invoking Allah’s blessings upon
the young couple. I did not know what it
was, perhaps it was the dua being
recited in English so we could actually understand the prayers and what the
Imam was saying, but there was not a single dry eye in the room. The Imam touched everyone with his dua.
thought was after all the true meaning and purpose of duas and prayers, to touch us emotionally and not merely the
meaningless incantations of foreign phrases that no one could comprehend.
followed the giving of dowry from the groom and the exchange of rings and gifts;
those too, were simple. After the ceremony,
my wife told Rosanna that after factoring for inflation, devaluation and
conversion rate, her dowry was approximately the same amount what she (my wife)
received from me (RM49) at our wedding over 42 years earlier! Yes, the greenbacks were creatively folded
origami-style into a bird, an American eagle no less!
her family are mindful that the dowry is but a token and symbol of the love and
commitment the young couple has of each other. It is not, as it has now degenerated into, a
culturally sanctioned extortion by the bride’s family to the groom’s.
The bersanding ceremony that evening was
truly a Malay event, specifically a Minang tradition, reflecting Rose’s Rembau
origin. Although held in a hall rather than
at the family home, the event was far from being one of those sterile modern
catered ones. Rose and her family had done
all the decorations and cooking. The pengantin dais was duly decorated with bunga mawar floral arrangements. The only thing missing was a live kompang troupe. The digital taped audios more than made up
for that deficit.
family’s male members were the orang
pangkar, the hosts, serving the guests, including the head table which was
served by the bride’s younger brother, Hisham, just as in the village of yore.
The Bride and Groom
traditional Malay wedding, the bride and groom are indulged as raja sehari
, royal couple for the
Just as we pay tribute to the king
and queen, so too the assembled guests paid tribute to the bride and groom on
That is the essence of the bersanding
It began with the parents of the bride and groom,
followed by other family members and then friends and guests.
It was also a chance for them to bless and express
their best wishes to the young couple.
otherwise would have been a strange ceremony in an equally strange land went
off smoothly. Yes, a few of the guests
took a while getting into the swing of things especially with the berinai and rice sprinkling rituals, but
with Rose’s sister Norlela doing a splendid job as the Mistress of Ceremony,
everyone quickly and smoothly became Malay that evening. At the end, the bride and groom went around each
table meeting all the guests and to have photo opportunities with them.
ambience was definitely traditional Malay, this was after all a wedding in California.
The couple’s first dance, to the tune of Right
Here Waiting after the bersanding,
was an Americana element.
and intimacy of the celebration was such that the guests lingered long after
the event. That after all is what events like weddings are for, apart from celebrating
the joining of a man and woman as husband and wife, to renew the bonds of
family and friendship.
Late in the
evening when the last guests had departed, there was the groom and bride minus their
earlier elaborate wedding attire, rolling up their sleeves and helping with the
clean up. Rose and Pak Mat’s new
son-in-law Kosal had quickly adapted into his new Malay family, now becoming the
orang pangkar. That more than
anything brought back fond memories of the traditional weddings in my old
kampong in Negri Sembilan.