Thursday, June 7, 2012

Witnessed A Melanau's Customary Wedding @ Kampung Tanam, Dalat

[NOTE] This post is not intended to explain or elaborate about the true customary wedding of Melanau's society in detail, but just wish to share what I saw, I heard and I read from my virgin experience attending this event. Hence if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies about the occasion in my write up, I bag for your forgiveness and I'll appreciate for any correction and comment.

Felt very honored to be invited to attend a Melanau friend/colleague customary wedding ceremony at Kampung Tanam, Dalat.

It was on 1st of June, the 1st day of Gawai Festival celebration in Sarawak. The weather was just nice. 3 of us in a car, Sparkish, Rojak Toh and me departed from Sibu as early as 5.30am. We had been informed the banquet would be started at 9.30am so we hoped to reach there on time.

After about 3 hours of driving, we finally reached Kampung Tanam, Dalat by following the map drawn by the bridegroom of the day, Collin. As the road inside the kampung is rather narrow, thus we had been advised to park our car near empty space opposite to S.K. Kampung Tanam. We then walked for 10 minutes to reach the bridegroom's house.

As the morning was still early, crowds were not seen yet when we reached the place. Preparation for the banquet (kenduri) was still on going. Around 10am, buffet style banquet began. Friends and relatives of the bridegroom started to fill up the place.

Nice and delicious dishes had been served, most of them were my favorite! We had Curry Chicken, beef in black sauce, young jackfruit in santan, deep fried big ikan tenggiri, salted fish fried with peanuts, acar limau (lime pickle) and watermelon as dessert. Packet drinks were free flow! The foods were truly yummy! I just couldn't help myself eating for few rounds!

The wedding ceremony started after the meal, around 11am when representative of the bridegroom family started to handover specific gifts to the elders which later were brought to the bride side.

The type of gifts very much depend on the social status of the family within their Melanau society. For your information, Melanau society is ranked in their unique way called "pikul" and they're very particular in this. It is a complicated system and if you wish to know more, you can refer to this link. The higher the pikul means the family has higher hierarchy in the society. The type of gifts to be sent over is depend on this pikul. Each gift will represent certain pikul, for example, the canon will be counted as 2 pikul and the total pikul to be brought to the bride side have to be equal to the pikul of the family.

So, if follow the tradition, Collin's family is 9 pikul so the gifts brought over to the bride side have to be equal to that value. Actually you can know how many pikul does a wedding family is by referring to the number of flags placed at the "bridge" at the entrance to the house.

After the elders checked each item and upon agreement, the representative from the bridegroom will then departed to the bride's house by bringing all the necessary gifts for negotiations. We followed the big "team" to the bride house by using the chartered bus and the negotiating process will be done only by the gentlemen.

We had been informed that the negotiation process will be done for 5 rounds, going in and out the bride's house. For the 1st negotiation, nothing much ritual was done but representative informed the bride side that the bridegroom representatives were already here and ready for the event.

Correction: The 1st round in negotiation stage is actually merisik, whereby bridegroom's representative making sure the going-to-be bride is not belongs to some other guy. Then, they'll seek permission from the elders to marry the bride on behalf of the groom and discussed the gifts required for the marriage.

On the 2nd round, portion of the gifts were brought into bride's house. If not mistaken, it was the spear's head with golden ring tied on it. The elders from the bridegroom side then negotiated with the bride's elders. The negotiation process was rather relaxing and there were some laughter involved. Too bad I couldn't get what they were negotiating about as they fully communicate in Melanau language, but it looks fun and interesting to me!

Correction: The 2nd round is actually bertunang, whereby groom's representative handled over symbolic gifts which were agreed upon such as the spear's head and a golden ring to the bride's elders as a symbol of engagement. Upon acceptance from the elders, the marriage is declared legal and official!

Upon successful negotiation, the gifts were handled to the bride's elders. The elders then carefully examined and checked if the items fulfill their requirement. When everything were agreed upon, that round's negotiation was consider completed and the bridegroom's representatives will step down from the house preparing for the next round.

After few minutes rest, the 3rd round started with more gifts been brought into the house including a sword, a copper container and a wooden container covered by a pinky cloth (with gold bracelets in it). There maybe more thing that I didn't discover, so do enlighten me if any of you know more clearly.

Negotiation went on and the gifts were handled to the bride's elders, one after another upon examination and agreement of each item by them. There were no disagreement been raised, thus the negotiation was successful and the bridegroom's representative stepped out from the house again.

The same process continued for the 4th and 5th round but different items were brought for each round. On the 4th round, the canon was brought and for the final round, it was the "pakan" - the gift (in the form of money) given to bride's parents and certain relatives.

When all these negotiations were agreed upon, mission is accomplished which means the bride side had agreed with this marriage. Bridegroom's negotiation team will then bring the good news back!

The wedding ceremony was then officially started! Bridegroom with his best man went to bride's house with the accompany of the ladies! Remember just now I said the negotiation session is done by gentlemen? So now it was ladies' turn!

The arrival of bridegroom was accompanied by the music played using traditional music instrument.

Once inside bride's house, the bride and the bridegroom "bersanding" - sitting side by side on the bridal couch called "pelamin" to be seen and blessed by the relatives and friends. I was not sure if there was any ceremony taking place during the bersanding as the bride's house was flooded by friends and relatives of both side. It was just too packed to be entered. When I finally managed to squeeze into the house, it was photography session already.

After bersanding, both bride and bridegroom were required to walk down and up the staircase (few steps) for 3 times, taking turn starting with the bride. So far I still have no idea what's the meaning behind this ritual. It'll be great if anyone can enlighten me on this! ^ ^

The bride then followed the bridegroom back to his house where another round of bersanding was taken place.

Groom's mother then fed the bride with daun sirih (betel leaf) and wore a gold bracelet on bride's wrist as a symbol of blessing (I believe). After bersanding, the bridegroom followed the bride to her place again bringing along plenty of gifts.

Our Melanau traditional wedding exposure and experience placed a full-stop at this point as time disallowed us to continue following the lengthy ceremony. It was about 4pm and about time to drive back Sibu before the sky turning dark.

Anyway, it was really a great experience and I truly enjoyed it!! I would like to express my gratitude and special thanks to:
  1. Collin and his family for the invitation and their hospitality
  2. Sparkish for sponsoring his car and drove us all they way to and fro Sibu-Dalat
  3. One of the member in bridegroom's negotiation team (which I didn't have chance to know him by name) who tried his best to explain and acknowledge us about the customary processes especially during negotiation stage. Although most of the time I couldn't catch most of the Melanau terms told by him, but at least I get some tips from there. Otherwise I'll not be able to come out with this write up.
  4. Another colleague with the name Colin (Yes... same name with bridegroom but only a single "l" in his name) we met at bridegroom's house who offered us a free ride to bride's house at the time we were deeply in need.
  5. Rojak Toh for the snacks he brought along which let us had something to "bite" and chew on during the long journey. ;)
Last but not least, a sincere congratulation to Collin, my comrade & Rinea for their new wedding and may happiness accompany both of you forever and ever!


  1. Nice writeup, kinda details. While I was blur what're they doing that day, haha.

  2. PS: Thank you for compliment, but there are some inaccurate info I am sure....

    Collin: Thank you for prompt correction on some misunderstanding and wrong perception on the ritual...


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