Attending a Malaysian wedding for the first time can be intimidating, that's why it's important to know Malaysian wedding etiquette so you won't be a deer in headlights when you arrive. There are many traditions and customs that make Malaysian wedding etiquette unique. However, this is nothing to stress over - Malaysian weddings are very fun when you know what to expect. Read below for 15 things about Malaysian wedding etiquette you should know before attending your first Malaysian wedding:
1. The ceremony begins the evening before the celebration with the solemnisation, or akad nikah
This is held either at the bride’s house, or at a local mosque. It is officiated by an imam or kadi, who reads verses from the Quaran and discusses with the groom his duties as a husband. The marriage is then declared solemn, and the bride and groom sign the marriage contract.
2. The husband gives his new wife a dowry, called a mas kahwin
This is done at the end of the solemnisation ceremony, and it represents the husband’s newfound responsibility to his wife. This is usually an essential (and very sweet!) part of Malaysian wedding etiquette.
3. There are multiple henna ceremonies, called berinai
Henna is a very important part of Malaysian wedding etiquette. The first henna ceremony is held before the solemnisation for the bride, with just her bridesmaids. There are then two berinai ceremonies for the bride and groom together, one before the solemnisation, and one after.
4. The celebration day starts with a procession from the groom’s home to the bride’s
After being notified by a representative of the bride that she is ready, the groom starts a procession from his house to hers. He is followed by his groomsmen as well as a Malaysian drum band, family, and friends. The procession is a fun and lively affair, and there will often be Quaran verses sung in celebration of the couple!
5. The guests try to prevent the groom from reaching the bride
As a guest, you will be expected to be an obstacle that the groom has to get to in order to reach his new bride. This part of Malaysian wedding etiquette is very similar to the door games played in traditional Chinese weddings! This is considered one of the most fun parts of the wedding for the guests so prepare to get a little goofy. The groom then usually will ‘bribe’ the guests with money to let him reach her!
6. The bride and groom are treated like royalty during the bersanding ceremony
During this part of the ceremony, the couple sits on thrones, which are decorated with traditional floral arrangements, and guests lavish them with blessings for their marriage. Guests will also throw yellow rice and flower petals on them, both of which are symbolic of fertility!
7. There may be a second bersanding the next day at the groom’s house
While this Malaysian wedding tradition is considered optional nowadays, there are still many couples who have a second celebration at the groom’s house. Some couples also may choose to go to both houses in the same day!
8. There may be Malay martial arts or other performances at this time
The bersanding traditionally lasts several hours, and there could be several different and elaborate presentations at this time!
9. The bride and groom eat together after the bersanding
This eating ceremony is called makan berdemai, and the bride serves her groom a meal for the first time. Nowadays, this is done in the presence of the bridal guests, but in the past, it took place in a bridal suite with only senior family members present!
10. The reception is traditionally held in the courtyard of the family home
It could also be held in a local community center or other communal area, anywhere that is considered to represent "home."
11. The couple will wear traditional Malay attire
In Malaysian weddings, grooms will typically wear the traditional baju melayu, which is a long sleeved shirt and trousers, and the bride will wear a baju kurung or baju kebeya, which is a sarong over a long dress. Both of these are worn in a variety of colors and are usually embroidered with beautiful gold thread. They will also wear elaborate head coverings.
12. Guests do not have to wear traditional Malay attire, but should still dress their best
Formal wear is definitely a must in Malaysian wedding etiquette, and everyone should dress modestly as well, out of respect for Muslim beliefs. You don't need to wear traditional Malay attire, however. Women should cover their shoulders and wear an appropriate length skirt, and men usually wear a suit or a formal shirt and pants.
13. Money is a traditional wedding gift
You should give this to the bride and groom before they leave. It's very similar to a red packet in Chinese weddings. You do not have to stay for the entire reception. The money is a well wish to the couple for their happiness.
14. You may get a gift back - a bunga telur!
Otherwise known as a flower egg, this gift is representative of fertility. It is a hard boiled egg on a rice base placed in a paper flower. However, many modern Malay couples opt to give their guests sweets like chocolate instead!
15. The reception will feature light entertainment, like karaoke or dancing
Although there are several aspects of Malaysian wedding etiquette that can seem quite serious, the reception is a time for the couple to have fun and be social with their guests!
Photography: Asyraf Manan