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April 29, 2009

Malaysian Wedding Part 3

Tom McLaughlin

Seremban, Malaysia – I returned to the groom’s home after a refreshing sleep. To my surprise, a ceremony was in progress. I thought I had it down about Malay weddings, but this part was not in my file.


In what we would call the living room, a group of Malay ladies dressed in blue and white, prayed and chanted the Qu’ran, hands folded in a cup. Christians worship with their hands placed together to form a cross. Muslims form a cup to receive God’s blessing.


I inquired and was informed it was the ceremony of Potong Jambol (Malay) with prayer of Zikir (Arabic). A child, usually about 40 days old, receives a blessing and has a small segment of hair cut from the head. An ancient tradition in many religions, it gives thanks for the birth of a child.


Three tent tops had been erected over the road with fans swirling from the center. Underneath, two rows of tables with accompanying chairs extended about 15 meters. Maroon table cloths covered each one.


I had worried about my batik shirt as I wanted to make a good impression. In the old days, each kampong produced their own unique design. With modernity and the art gradually being lost, the batik is roughly segmented into three types, Kuantan and Trengganu, two states on the east coast of the peninsula, and Sarawak, where I live.


I had wandered from fabric shop to fabric shop searching for a color that would match my blue eyes and white hair. Frustrated with indecision, I finally asked a Malay lady to choose a piece for me. Bemused at this white man after I explained about the wedding and wishing to match my eyes and hair, she insisted on selecting a three meter segment that matched my skin.


I had the cloth crafted into a shirt by a tailor for about US$10. I still wasn’t sure and wore it with misgivings. It has a maroon background with yellow and black elongated diamond shapes. I certainly did stand out.


The band started playing and the people began to arrive around noon. My friend Anuar greeted the guests. Word had spread that I would be there, and many, many people wanted to meet me. They had all heard of the infamous white man that had returned after 35 years and was welcomed back into the family. I don’t know how many hands I shook or pictures I stood for. I was, and still am, so humbled.


The bride and groom appeared dressed in Malay royal finery. In the tradition, they are the King and Queen on their wedding day. Special foods are cooked. They sat on thrones to greet their guests and receive gifts.


Tray after tray after tray of food appeared and was consumed. Exclamations of delight rose above the din as people were reunited. Children, like children everywhere, darted in and out of the crowd. The band played both traditional and western music.


The bride and groom would stay at his mother’s house until the home they both selected goes to settlement. She, a registered nurse, and he, a lab technician, met in the hospital where they worked. Arranged marriages of a generation ago have mostly passed from the scene.


Malaysia has undergone a remarkable transformation. I have been very lucky to witness a “before and after” 35-year sequence. Modern hospitals occupy most towns. Ribbons of roads unite, allowing for commerce. Primary schools, located every four kilometers, provide a beginning education. Secondary schools, colleges and universities provide for further education. A modern airport serves tourists and business travelers


One need only to observe other nations in the region. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, and to some extent Thailand, have not matched the explosion to modernity that Malaysia has experienced.


The people are open, honest, friendly and hospitable. The family unit, despite members studying in England, the United States and Australia, remains strong. Every Hari Raya (a celebration to end the fasting month) thousands return to their parents home to celebrate.


Recognizing the need for eco-preservation, over a million hectares in Sarawak have been set aside. Orang Hutan habitats are secure. Endangered plants have been placed in a reserve to ensure their survival. A seed bank protects the future. The list runs into the hundreds of projects.


The future of this young couple a generation ago would be rubber tapping or working the rice fields. Now, anything is possible.


Life is good!


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