There are people who are still recovering from Amy Cheong's remarks about Malay weddings being low-cost and held at void decks.
Cheong, a former employee of the National Trades Union Congress, was fired from her job last week after posting a racist, profanity-filled remark on Facebook complaining about the noise from such weddings, among other things.
Her comments infuriated many, and sparked off contributions from those who wanted to share their experiences of Malay weddings, as a counterpoint to Cheong’s impression of them.
One writer wrote to The Straits Times Forum recalling the days when she joined in Malay wedding celebrations while growing up in Singapore, that at the sound of the kompang, she and her sisters would rush to the window to catch a glimpse of the bride and groom and even "danced" to its lively rhythm and beat.
Yes, what might be so audibly striking about the Malay culture in Singapore is probably the sound of the kompang – a tambourine-like hand-drum each beaten by a group of young men as they approach the wedding ceremony reception held at the void deck of a block of flats. The time would normally be around 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
The rolling and rhythmic beating of the kompang is meant to announce the anxiously-awaited arrival of the bride and bridegroom at the reception.
The short-distance kompang procession comprises the bride and the groom in Malay attire and a small group of “new alliance-establishing” relatives. Leading the entourage are usually two people holding the bunga-manggar (decorative flowers held on poles).
The wedding reception area is not where the nikah (matrimonial ceremony) is held. The nikah would have already been carried out in the morning or one or two days before the void-deck reception, usually at the home of the bride.
Although the nikah ceremony can be held at the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) or the mosque, traditionally it is held at the bride’s home with the groom and his entourage going there. This is a symbolism of the groom going into the bride’s family, not taking the bride out of it.
The nikah is a religious occasion during which the kadi (marriage-solemnising officer appointed by ROMM) conducts a sermon and a prayer and weds the couple. Close relatives and friends of the bride and groom are invited to witness the nikah.
The lunch reception may be held at a community centre or at other multi-function halls. But usually, the “home” is preferred and the void deck becomes the first choice.
The reception at the well-decorated void deck is a gorgeous sight to behold – the banquet of a hotel restaurant is brought right to the locality of a public housing block. Asian and western food items are neatly laid-out in buffet style, coupled with an array of desserts to serve and delight the guests who, often because of the happy occasion, would be attired in their traditional best.
A live band or DJ-assisted music entertains the guests with lively Malay and Hindi songs.
While the guests are having their lunch, the bride and the groom sit on the pelamin (decorated stage) for the bersanding (sitting-in-state) ceremony. It is during this ceremony that relatives and guests get the opportunity to see both the newly-weds together, bless them, congratulate them and take pictures with them.
The bride engages the services of the mak andam, who is not only a professional beautician but also the bride’s confidante for the day. She and her assistant would be with the bride for the nikah ceremony as well as throughout the day of the wedding reception, providing advices, AND changing her attires that include Malay, Asian and western costumes.
Guests come and go to make room for others. As they leave, they give the Islamic salam (hand touch) to the newly-weds’ parents, and offer a gift to them, usually currency notes placed in a small “wedding” envelope. In return, the guests receive a berkat (a “thank you” gift), usually a neatly-packed decorative or edible item.
The whole wedding occasion from the nikah to the reception is recorded by photographs and video for memory and posterity.
With the normal guest list comprising between 800 and 1,200 people, the Malay wedding is certainly not cheap. The total expenditure is usually from S$15,000 to S$30,000.
Indeed void-deck wedding receptions provide radiance, fragrance and melody for the delectation of the guests who include non-Muslim friends, colleagues and neighbours of the parents and their daughter or son. Together they relish in the sights, sounds and flavours of one of Singapore’s vibrant cultures.
(Shaik Kadir is a retired school teacher who has written several books in English. He has been writing for various publications since 1976 and is also a regular contributor to Berita Harian. He is also the author of ‘Islam Explained’, 2006)