Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Wedding: The Dower and Dowry

I know it's been months, I just haven't had the energy, but now, we'll continue with my instalments about my wedding! Ha ha! More cultural lessons...

In an Islamic marriage, one of the requirement is the dower, groom giving to the bride. In the Malay culture, we have the mas kahwin and the belanja angus or belanja dapur as the dower, the mas kahwin goes straight to the bride herself where as belanja angus is to help pay for the wedding expenses on the bride side. There is no fixed amount, but there is a minimum, it's negotiable and depending on current market situation. This sum is normally asked during the engagement proceedings.

The dower consisting of mas kahwin and belanja dapur

This was the dower I received, my mum-in-law and her sister decorated it. The mas kahwin is the brown notes rolled up on the lower right of the arrangement and the belanja dapur is the greenish notes cradling the crystal flowers MIL made. The red box tucked around back is the jewellery, necklace with pendant and bracelet.

Male members of the bride family inspecting the hantaran received from the groom side

The dower is part of the hantar berian or hantaran, loosely translated as gifts given. Traditionally these gifts consists of items that are to help the bride prepare for her wedding and new life as a wife. In the olden days one of the items were material to make her wedding outfit as well as a complete sewing basket set. This wasn't that far back, maybe about two generations ago.

Nowadays, the hantaran can consists from anything from the latest Ipod to a brand new car, depending on the wants of the family. Usually the bride and groom prior to the wedding would get their own stuff for the hantaran, and families can contribute to add on.

Part of the hantaran I received, my beaded wedding shoes

The hantaran is normally arranged and decorated on an elaborate tray which has a stand (click here for picture) or baskets. Depending on the number of items will depend on the number of trays required. The fun part, or headache, is decorating.

Normal practice is the family members will do the decorating, it is a time for family bonding. For his hantaran to me, it was my mother-in-law, the sister, and several female cousins who did the decorating. I wasn't allowed to enter the room where they did it.

People can get real creative with decorating the hantaran, some of the length of cloth given to me got turned into flowers using paper and wires as backbones. Others can be a disaster, like my aunt's white goldfish when her son got married (it looked like a white ghost to us cousins) Then there are those who use hantaran decorating and the hantaran themselves to really show off, sort of like keeping up with the Joneses.

Some soon-to-be-married-couples would send their stuff for the hantaran to the shops to have them 'professionally' decorated, you get charged an arm and a leg per tray or basket!

The balasan hantaran for him from me

Traditional practice was receiving the hantaran from the groom, nowadays the bride would give which is known as balasan hantaran, exchange of gifts. The amount can be the same or less as the hantaran from the groom side and most of the items would consists of food. I'm speculating on various reasons why this practice is becoming more common, maybe because the guys didn't want to be left out, or the girls just like to get stuff for the guys, or the girls just want to have fun decorating the gifts too. So it's a dowry, only it's optional *hehehe*

I remembered helping my cousins who got married with their hantaran and it was always a family affair, each person would decorate at least one item and I have done quite a few.

When it was my turn, I was quite surprised that nobody helped me with arranging and decorating my trays. Turned out all my aunts and cousins figured I could handle it while they were busy decorating the rest of the house.

I spent a week doing the balasan hantaran, one or two tray per night with very minimal tools and items. The trays and tray covers were rented, and I was determind to spend as little as possible on the decoration yet pretty happy with the outcome. I realised several lessons about decorating and arranging hantaran, cellotape, double sided tape and pins are your best friends because I don't believe in using a glue gun and I wanted for the ribbons and roses to be reused again without damaging them when they get taken apart.

Us after our solemnization looking at my handywork

I stuck with the wedding colour theme of red, black and white. Since the tray covers were already white all I used were red, black and silver ribbons in various sizes (which I already have), styrofoam circles (which I had to get, they're costly! about $20 in total), and four bunches of fake red roses (less than $10). Other tools I needed were scissors and wire cutter, double sided tape, cellotape (which I already own) and two containers of darning pins (which were only 20 cents per container). I like clean lines and non fussy, simple and elegant.

I 'm proud of the dastar I made (on tray behind shoes), I learnt it during the adat istiadat, royal protocol, workshop I attended. My DH was well impressed, he didn't want to take it apart *big grin*

By the end of it, I quite enjoyed decorating my balasan hantaran. But I'm not sure if it's something I want to do again. It's a lot of pressure especially when people know you're capable of such things, it has to come out looking really good.

All the decoration pieces I used, his aunt from out of state took them all! The ones they used for mine, my MIL loves her glue gun, I salvaged what I could :-p


  1. Yours looks gorgeous. My husband's parents are from India... they had a hard time understanding that we didn't do dowry here. They presented us with their list of instructions of what my parents were to buy for them (diamond ring, value no less than something-or-other, etc.) -- the response was, in effect, "you've got to be kidding, you have three times as much money as we do, we're paying for the wedding itself, and we don't think people need to be paid to marry our daughter -- who's not living with you anyhow" (the original rationale behind the Indian dowry -- payment for upkeep of the daughter in the husband's family). They even do ads for prenatal sex testing in India -- get an abortion now for Rs. 500 or wait and pay Rs. 50,000 when she's grown up. Yours sounds like it's a much more woman-friendly tradition!

  2. Thanks Marguerite. The islamic religion is very respectful of women, it's just the unfortunate interpretation of religious zealots that takes advantage of the teachings and which school of Islam they are from. And of course, it's the extreamist point of view that always end up on the news... how did you get around yours then? Did they still insisted on getting a dowry? Or you all met somewhere in the middle?

    That's a pretty good ad, heh, makes me wonder what the graphic version is like ;-)

  3. The husband kindly explained to his parents that one of the reasons he was having a love match was that he disapproved strongly of much of his parents' traditions (they met at their wedding, she immediately went off to a different country to live with a man she'd never met, and was miserable... just for a start on the marriage traditions!), and if they kept up the pressure we wouldn't have the Hindu wedding ceremony at all, just the Christian one. (He said it in all the right ways, nicely, etc.) (And it's not like he's rejecting it wholesale -- I was a Sanskrit major, for starters! -- just the bits he either finds incompatible with his worldview (the sexism etc.) or groundless superstition (he's gotten a haircut on a Tuesday without losing his job, and cut his nails after 6pm without fighting with family members, so doesn't believe it'll lead to death and destruction if he doesn't follow all of that -- which none of his parents' family does either, just his super-traditional father).)

    I can't find an image online (although I can find a bunch of references to it) for the ad, but I know it was there when I lived in India in 2000, plastered up on lampposts and the like. Had a miserable photo of a bride at a wedding -- where the whole thing looked dismal, rather than joyful. Don't recall seeing it the past few times I've been, though, so perhaps the law's cracked down on it. Girls are generally still seen as a burden, though. I know several Indian women, with all-boy families, who have had abortions (but "was it because it was a girl?" isn't exactly something one can ask in polite conversation), and the in-laws have told me how it would be very good indeed if when we have kids they were boys...

    And I know what you mean about Islam -- my mother's best friend when we lived in London was a lovely Pakistani woman, and my advisor in college was Iranian (had left Iran when -- as you say -- the zealots got too much for her to deal with, but still with love for the way her country once was), and they both provided me with good living examples that you can quite easily be both Islamic and a respected and independent, wholesome woman. They've both said that they appreciate things like our President affirming the rights of Islamic women to wear a headscarf (or full abayya/niqab), but do wish that statement would also be followed by an affirmation of their rights not to wear it as well :)

  4. Heh - forgot to add - I'm also aware how much of it is regional rather than religious. India in general (specific locations like Kerala excepted) isn't very woman-friendly regardless of religion; some very devout Islamic countries have no history of cruelty towards women; and, incidentally, the only complaint I've ever heard about Brunei was from a British tourist miffed that people weren't as impoverished there (and therefore souvenirs weren't as cheap there) as other places she'd been! (I'd love to come visit you some day.)

  5. Beautiful Rozi! My engagement ring boxes were wire framed frosted glasses jewellery boxes that Awangku and me decorated with royal purple velvet, now the centrepiece of my vanity. Who knows simple DIYs can be so meaningful and memorable. :D


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