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Why Malay weddings are held in void decks

By Terry Xu/Jamal Ismail

One reader dropped us a screenshot on Facebook, asking if it was too much for the person in the screenshot to have written such a comment. Frankly it seems that people has not learnt from the Amy Cheong saga, earlier this year.

malaywedding

Though we might say this is an awfully uncalled for comment and while the screenshot might have been spreading around, we don't believe that we can improve our society by lynching those who utter hurting comments. Instead we should believe that we can learn from such incidents by educating the uninformed and that they should make comments with more substance in them.

Therefore we have attached the blurred screenshot and a write up by our friend, Jamal Ismail, explaining why Malay weddings are held in void decks.

Why are Malay weddings in Singapore usually held under a HDB block?

Image from http://www.kampungnet.com.sg/

It is common for Malay weddings to have a guest list of at least 1,000 guests per venue.

The reason for this is cultural as well as historical. In Malay culture, a wedding is a grand celebration hosted by usually the parents of the bride and groom. The bride and groom will usually hold separate wedding receptions, so if you are friends with both, you might have to attend both events!

In the past, a Malay wedding is hosted at the home or in a tent near the house compound. But as the size of a HDB unit is insufficient to accommodate so many guests, the next best thing is to host it as close to the home as possible, which is at the void deck or in a large tent in an open field.

Another reason why it is usually held in a HDB void deck is the astronomical cost of a Malay wedding prohibits many, except for a privileged few, to hold it at an immense hotel ballroom or a restaurant that is able to fit more than 1,000 guests.

The Malays believe that the bride and groom are the ‘King and Queen’ for a day, and are literally treated like royalty. The elaborate wedding rituals and décor affirm this tradition. At the front of the dining guests, you will invariably find a decorated ‘throne’ for the King and Queen.

The ceremony where the bride and groom sits on the throne (‘Pelamin’) is called the ‘Bersanding,’ It is to show that the two are united before all, and their union is held in high regard. Guests are then invited to come on stage to greet the royal couple. In more traditional Malay weddings, a ceremonial protocol is enforced for guests coming on stage to greet the bride and groom - which is too elaborate to be listed here.

The union of two persons in marriage is symbolic of an alliance between two families, and by extension, village communities. In a Malay wedding, the whole community is involved. Traditionally, everyone in the village is expected to help with organizing the event. It is an exhausting marathon of ceremonies, covering the whole weekend.

On the morning of the wedding day, the groom and entourage comprising of family members and friends, will visit the bride’s home, bearing lavish gifts on gilded trays for her and family. The bride’s family is expected to welcome the groom’s entourage with an elaborate ceremony and set of gifts in return.

At the void deck of the bride’s HDB unit, the first ‘Bersanding’ ceremony will take place, for guests of the bride’s family. This also explains why if you have been invited by the groom to his wedding, you will not see him until much later in the afternoon. After the first ‘Bersanding’ at the bride’s home, the bride and groom will make their way to the groom’s wedding reception to participate in a second ‘Bersanding.’ In Singapore today, it is still uncommon to have a combined wedding reception for the couple.

With such elaborate pomp and ceremony, it is no wonder that the Malay community consider not being invited to such an event a firm rejection, amounting to an insult. It is with this assumption of community that non-Malay friends are also invited to attend a Malay wedding. To be invited to a Malay wedding is acceptance that you are regarded as a member of their ‘village’ community.

The costs involved in staging a Malay wedding are astounding; decorations, elaborate costumes, entertainment, photography, lavish gifts, dowry, table seating and a feast for at least 1,000 guests per venue. Hence, it is customary for guests to present a gift of cash in a green envelope.

Here are just 2 simple tips if you are invited to attend a Malay wedding daytime reception:

  1. Dress conservatively – For men, a batik shirt is always appreciated as respect for the Malay culture but a proper shirt will do. For women, long dress or pants covering below the knee and shoulders.
  2. Do not be alarmed if you are unable to spot the bride or groom when you are there. Enter the reception, find the parents who are the hosts, locate an empty seat and help yourselves to the food served. When you are done feasting, present your gift to the parents of the bride or groom, remember to thank them and leave after collecting your door gift – which is traditionally a wrapped hard-boiled egg.

Lastly, remember to immerse yourself in the delicious foods and enjoy being part of the community.

We hope this has been educational to the other races on the wedding culture of our fellow Malay Singaporeans. The more we learn about one another, the better it is for society as harmony between the races can only be achieved by understanding and not just mere tolerance.