Bidayuh Literature

Title : Some Aspect of Marriage According to Bidayuh Tradition

by: Mr Robert Jacob Ridu

In most communities, marriage is an important and sacred affair. It is important because through marriage one's family can establish a new web of kinship network. Marriage is also a life-long contract between a man and a women. Ridu (1997) describes marriage as business partnership for the purpose of providing labour in the farm, producing children, and through these children the welfare of the older generation are being taken care of. Marriage is sacred, because certain aspects of the Bidayuh traditions (adat) has to be adhered to before and after the matrimony. A married person has numerous of responsibilities. He or she must not only be able to look after the welfare of his family, but must have qualities such as industrious, kind, trustworthy, hospitable, and most of all loving. A person who lacks all these qualities will ultimately find it difficult to give a wife or a husband, and if this happens he or she may become a confirmed bachelor or spinster (bujang nyamba). He or she is referred as bouh, a title given to one which is sometime unpleasant to hear and sometime can cause one to be ridiculed. In this paper some aspects of traditional marriage among the Bidayuh communities in Sarawak which will covers aspects such as; court ships, engagement, marriage ceremony, rules of residence, and some general aspects of Bidayuh marriage.

The Courtship.
Basically the Bidayuh is an agrarian society were most of their activities at the kampongs evolves around farming and various festivals are connected with these activities. It is through working together in the farm (pingiris) that young men and women often acquainted with each other. As time passes, they fall in love i.e. a young man is interested with another young woman, he develops a relationship through the tradition commonly known among the Bidayuhs of Serian as "maasu". Maasu literally means to visit a girl at night. It is a decent way of establishing relationship between a young man and a woman in the traditional style.

The maasu or mewah is always carried out during the night, usually after the dinner and is always in the presence of the girl's parents and other members of the girl's family. The young man however is permitted to stay awake with the young lady until the family goes to bed. If the parent of the young lady objects to the maasu or mewah, they would politely advise the young man to keep away from their daughter. However if he insists on visiting or abuse the tradition, he is brought to the Tua Kampong. If it is established that he has breached the adat,, the young man is than required to provide a restitution known as takud.

After a series of visits the girl indicate her willingness to marry the man, and he is satisfied with the way she carries herself, the young man will ask his parents for advice. If the young man's parents agree to their son's choice, they will appoint someone as a go-between, who in most cases as intelligent uncle or a close relative to see the young lady's parents to find out whether the agree to give consent to their daughter to accept the young man's proposal. This applies to a person who is below the age of 21. A woman or a man who has reached the age of 21 and above does not require permission from their parent. Nevertheless, as a matter of respect for both parents and adat the couple should inform their parents of their intention if they want to get married.

When the go-between goes to the girl's house, his duties are not only to find out if the family accepts the proposal, but to negotiate on other related issues. He may begin by giving an outline of the boy's modest family background and also the young man's family tree. The reason for this is to make sure that the both of them are not closely related. According to the Bidayuh adat it is a taboo to marry close relative. The go-between will also ask the girl's parent whether they agree to let their daughter move (nyusu or tunda) to the man's family. If the reply from the girl's parent is positive, the go-between will inform the young man's parent. He than return to his house as soon as possible to avoid hearing or noticing bad omen within the vicinity of their house. If their is no incident on the way home, the go-between may consider that his mission is successful. The next night, he conveys the good news to the young man and his parents.

If the answer from the girl's parent is negative and the young man's parents are not satisfied with the reply, they either abandon their mission or get the go-between to make another negotiation. Sometimes, a new go-between is appointed and sent for the second time. If he is unable to accomplish the mission then the whole idea of the proposal will have to be abandoned. But there is still hope for the couple in love. When a proposal is rejected by the girl's parents, and both the young man and girl insisted in getting married, the only option for them is to elope. However, this seldom happens, and it is also rare that a marriage proposal from the young man's side is rejected by the girl's parents.

When the proposal is accepted, the go-between is asked by the young man's parent to send the engagement gifts (tanda betunang) to the girl's family as a token for their engagement. The tanda betunang given to the girl's family differs from family to family to another family. For an average family it is usually in the form of:

  • a black sarong locally known as jamuh singot
  • a gold ring; and
  • some cash

A well-to-do family will give the following :
  • a silver belt (gimba)
  • a black sarong or jamuh singot
  • a gold ring; and
  • some cash.
In the old days, the young man normally present his betrothed (tunang) with:
  • a set of three small boxes (nakan) made of bamboo, in which are placed tobacco, gambir and lime;
  • a bundle of hand-picked sirih leaves as big as a head;
  • a black sarong; and
  • a ring

The sirih leaves (duon biid) and the areca nuts (bua bai) must be hand-picked by the boys himself from the top of the tree. They must be of good quality. The sirih leaves must be properly and nicely bundled (merun) according to the adat.

On one night, usually after one or two weeks after sending to go-between, the young man accompanied by his parents and a few relatives proceed to the girl's house with the go-between leading the party. On the journey, they must avoid from falling down, or stepping on pigís dung or ants. They also beat musical instruments to prevent them from hearing sounds of bad omen from the kusah or kriak. When the party arrives at the girl's house, they are sprinkled will yellow rice (beras siya), a traditional way of welcoming the young main and his party to the house. After that they are taken to the verandah of the girl's hose for them to sit down. The engaged couple sit next to their parents. When all are seated the go-between will address the gathering by telling all present the purpose of their visit. This is followed by a speech from the young man's father, and than a reply from the girl's father. After these speeches, the arang will then give the tanda tunang on behalf of the girl's parent as a final token of the girl being engaged to the boy. After the presentation of the gifts, the couple are advised to be faithful to each other. Any breach of the adat concerning engagement will mean that they guilty party will have to provide a restitution to the aggrieved party. The engagement period should not exceed a year, and the couple may choose anytime within that period to get their marriages solemnized. If they decide to extend the period of engagement, the headman should be informed according.

Wedding Ceremony
In most Bidayuh kampongs, wedding ceremony begins in the evening. The bride together with their parents proceed to the young man's house in a procession accompanied by a music from the gong. The bride may wear a skull cap made of ancient beads, if she is from a well-to-do family. Her blouse and skirt are lined at the edges with silver laces and lower part of her black skirt is decorated with hawk bells and ancient coins. The bridegroom wears traditional Bidayuh costumes, with a typical Bidayuh head gear. He adorns himself with necklace of an ancient beads, teeth of bears or leopard. His coat is lined at the edges with silver laces. The procession bringing the bride is met on arrival by the bridegroom, his parents, the go-between uncle, and relatives at the top of the staircase of the longhouse. While the guests are asked to take their seats on the verandah (tanju) of the bridegroom's living room. The couple take their seats side by side near the wedding jar.

When the couple is seated, the wedding ceremony begins with the tua gawai sprinkling yellow rice over the couple. As he does this he invokes this prayer. After the prayer, the tua gawai will brush a white cockerel over their heads, and at the same time he invokes another prayer.

The ceremony is followed by the sprinkling of beads over the couple. This is done by the tua gawai. While doing this he invokes a short prayer asking God (Tepa) to bless, guide and guard the couple in their daily life. He also asks that the couple be blessed with lots of children.

As soon as the ceremony is over, food, and drinks which has been prepared earlier are served. The host may invite any number of guests he wants depending on his means. If he is poor. If he is poor he may only invite his close relatives and few friends. If he is rich he may invite the entire long house as well from the nearby kampongs. While the guests are being served or eating, the ceremony of feeding the married couple is carried out. Normally the person who is assigned to the job must be well versed in the Bidayuh custom. He or she must be fertile. A person who is barren or who keeps divorcing his spouses are also not allowed to perform this ceremony. While performing this ceremony, the dayung bris or priest will invoke a prayer.

On the wedding night the newly married couple is considered by the adat to have acquired parental status and as such they are given a sobriquet name (adon jajang). After the name is announced the married couple is from then onward called father of so and so (sama sinuh or sindu sinuh for the bride. In most cases, they take the name of a child from the elder brother or the sister, Their parents and their kindred of the same or senior generations may continue to call them by their personal names but other person especially those generation younger than them and their parent-in-laws, as a matter of respects will no longer called them by their personal names but by their jajang instead. Once the jajang name is given, everyone in the kampong calls them by that name rather than their personal names. The novel feature of the naming system in the Bidayuh community provides a basis a basis for kinship network which further consolidates further their kinship ties.

A marriage ceremony is not complete if the newly married couple is not given words of advises from the village elders. It is customary for an endless list of speakers to stand up to give their word of advise to the newly married couple. The first to speak are the parents of both the bridegroom and the bride. This is followed by their uncles, aunts, grandparents, brothers, sisters and relatives.

Their advises range form asking the couple to be kind to one another, avoid quarreling, respecting their in-laws, not to listen to rumours and to remain faithful. After this is over entertainment follows, entertainment sometimes are in the form of traditional Bidayuh dance like berejang or birayun or even begendang. These activities will continue until morning, with lots of tuak or rice wine.