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A Peranakan Legacy: Pre-weddings

Intan Nadia Amalina binti Baharudin


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For the Straits Peranakans, weddings are absolutely imperative events and are intricate.
The Peranakans practice the wedding customs from the province of origin for the majority of the
Babas which is from Fujian in China. Even though the customs has become obsolescent in
Fujian, they still continue this customs in todays weddings within their community. The
ceremony lasts for 12 days and includes a lot of meaningful and colorful rituals. The observance
is a symbol of status of the families involved and it is also to demonstrate the kinship system in
which the Peranakans follow.
Although the Baba weddings are mixed with a little bit of Malays customs and traditions,
the origin and content of Baba weddings are Chinese. Just like the Chinese old customs, the
weddings started when a certain minam or matchmaker is appointed by a family. A minams
function is to serve as a mediator for eligible men and women of marriageable age. She was
usually socially well-connected within the society and would search many households to find a
fitting groom or bride for the family and it was usually done by joining cheki, a popular card
game with the Peranakans. The minam would ask questions and do her investigations while
playing the game to pick the potential candidates.
When the minam had found the appropriate candidate, the two families would arrange a
matchmaking session to determine whether the couple is compatible to be married. In order to
find out their compatibility, according to the Chinese customs, both of the families would refer
with the sinseh pokwa or astrologer, who would refer to his almanac to check the couples
compatibility according to their horoscopes. If the couple was suitable, a lucky day and hour
would be selected for the bride and groom to meet. The first meeting was a part of the chiu tau or
hair-combing ceremony, a ceremony for both bride and groom are ritually initiated into
maturity. The minam will be given an ang pow in even number to reward her for her effort.
Two weeks before the wedding, engagement gifts would be presented to seal the
engagement. The gifts are extravagant and would be in bakul siah, a lacquered bamboo
container. A convoy of an even number of elderly women from the grooms side, which signifies
longevity, would bring gifts to the brides home. The gifts would include kuih ih which is the
propitious rice balls in syrup, ham hocks, wedding dresses, jewelry and two pairs of red candles
for the bride.

Six days before the wedding, the groom, accompanied by the Pak Chindek, a master-of
ceremonies, would personally distribute the invitations to male wedding guests. This is known as
sang ih day, sang means to present while ih means a symbol of marital bliss. The invitation
cards are usually in pink or red, with the red envelopes. The attendants would follow sometimes,
carrying bakul siah, that contained red and white kuih ih that is placed in containers that are
called kamcheng. As for the female guests, the mother-in-law would personally invite them.
Sang ih day also indicates the start of the official wedding preparations. A red chye kee (bunting)
would be draped over the main door of the house and the ji seh teng or the family lanterns,
carrying the family surnames, would be hung at the front door. Both of these are a signal for the
guests to send their wedding gifts to the family.
Then, the family would decorate the bridal chamber, with the bridal bed as the focus. The
bed would be decorated with beaded and embroidered hangings with symbols of fertility and
good fortune. After decoration had completed, a lucky time and date would be chosen to perform
the ann chng ceremony, the spiritual cleansing and blessing of the bridal bed.
Before preparations for the wedding feasts, the women of the brides family would have
to observer a few rituals. Hari kupas bawang, an event where family and friends gather at the
house to help peeling the onions, garlic, and other spices that are needed for the wedding feast, is
also one of the rituals. This also conducted on the same day as sang ih day.
The groom and a group of representatives from his family would go to the bride-to-be
house and they would give gifts to the brides family. One of the gifts is an ang pow that the
brides family would take the money and give the rest of the money to the grooms family,
indicating that they are not exchanging their daughter for material. In return, the brides family
may also give gifts to the groom. The gifts included a money pouch, embroidered slippers, a
silver belt, a scholars fan for the wedding ceremony and an even number of oranges.
A chia lang keh or banquet for guests would be held at home on the eve of the wedding
day. The female guests would be attended lunch, served in tok panjang style, where the food was
laid out on a long table and they would play cheki or mahjong as a social affair. Meanwhile, the
male guests would attend dinner that is more formal, it would be served in Chinese-style, courseby-course and at circular dining table. Guests usually came with ang pow, a pair of red candles
and other gifts.

PREFERANCES
Wee, P. (2009). A Peranakan Legacy: The Heritage of the Straits Chinese. Singapore:
Marshall Cavendish Editions.