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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Cast From the Herd: Excerpt #51: Menyerah And Other Weddings

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #51:  Menyerah (Surrender) And Other Weddings

My cousin Azizzah’s sudden personality transformation after her unexpected and late rejection to nursing school was a prelude to even greater changes in her life. She knew what her fate would be when they withdrew her admission, and she did her part to prepare for that harsh reality. Life would be no end of miseries if she were not to accept the cruel fate that had been handed to her. When her world was shaken and turned upside down, she, like a mimosa leaf, wilted, not as a prelude to death but as a protective mechanism. 

The natural sequence would now be to have her married. 

Malay marriages are elaborate expensive affairs, with the entire extended family, if not the whole village, involved in multiple ceremonies. After the war our extended family just could not afford such luxuries. Our Adat Perpatih however, provided a graceful way out. 

After the two families had agreed informally for such a union, it was arranged for the young man to stray after dusk into the compound of my cousin Azizzah’s house. Meanwhile her family had prepared what had been billed earlier as a family kenduri (feast). Then my uncle Tahir shouted out a warning of a prowler in the dark. Knowing that in the house resided a young marriageable maiden, the able-bodied men scrambled out to confront the presumptuous intruder. This choreographed affair dragged on for a good part of the evening. 

Sure enough, soon they apprehended the young man. He professed his innocence, insisting that he was just lost. The verbal jostling between the young man’s claim of innocence and the family’s worse suspicion dragged on. Soon an “independent” counsel of a village elder was sought. After hearing both sides, he intoned that the matter should be pursued. So the young man was detained while a delegation was sent to his family to ascertain the truth of his version. It just so happened that they were waiting a few hundred yards away. They were brought into the house and a big conference ensued. Both sides professed their willingness to look at the bright side of things and to interpret events in the best possible light. Negotiation at its best! 

This ritualized, highly-scripted banter dragged on, with frequent references to the fragrance of a blossoming flower attracting bees, ready to be pollinated, or the aroma of a ripening jackfruit beckoning many a young man to pluck it. The question was who should have that privilege. This formalistic stylized exchange, liberally sprinkled with proverbs and aphorisms, was expressed in pantuns (poetic quatrains). There were also frequent oblique references to suggestive imageries. To the uninitiated, it was more a poetry reading contest, with everyone serious or appeared to be so. 

In the end it was agreed to view the evening’s “incident” in the most charitable light. The young man admitted that indeed he had his eyes on the young maiden and thus “surrendered” himself to the mercy of her family. With that the evening’s gathering morphed into an impromptu wedding ceremony, menyerah (surrender) wedding, solemnized by the imam who just happened to be among the guests. Thus was my cousin Azizzah married to a corporal in the British army! Ujud became a fine, hardworking mechanic on his retirement from the force. 

A few years earlier when times were even tougher, my father’s older brother Pak Naim followed in my father’s footsteps in marrying into Adat Perpatih. A widower, Pak Naim simply moved into the house of a widow. This was agreed upon beforehand by her family. Word soon spread through the village that there was an unmarried couple in the house, and a “moral” raiding party organized. After ascertaining that the couple was indeed unmarried, the imam was dispatched to marry them, and a kahwin terkurung (lit. trapped wedding) ensued. The bride-to-be had also earlier cooked a larger-than-usual dinner for the many “unexpected” guests. 

That was the first and only time I met my Pak Naim. I recognized the resemblance to my father right away, even though Pak Naim was much bigger and more solid in build. He did not smile or in any way acknowledge us when my father introduced my brother Sharif and me to him; a nervous groom, perhaps. 

Noticing that, my father later advised my brother and me that when we grow up we cannot just claim to be an uncle to our nieces and nephews. We have to demonstrate that fact, as with remembering their names and birthdays as well as handing out gifts during Eid celebrations. Today I try to follow my father’s wise advice, but I too have many lapses. 

Years later with the country independent and economy brighter, it was the turn of my brother’s friend and colleague, Tajul, to get married. Tajul met his fiancé́ at teachers’ college. Their families could have afforded a formal wedding but the families could not agree on anything especially the mas kahwin (lit. wedding gold; fig. dowry) from the groom. It was, as Tajul later related to justify his action, as if they were negotiating the price of a heifer. In the end, frustrated, the couple eloped; a kahwin lari (lit. runaway marriage). No expensive weeding; no exorbitant dowry!

Excerpt # 52:  Attempted Weddings


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