Courtship and Marriage

Marriage is regarded as a desirable aim in life and hence, there are relatively few unmarried people. Ideally, the Orang Suku Laut are monogamous, and marriage should last for a lifetime.

In former times, boys and girls were often married during childhood. Today, child marriage has become rare, but the marrying age is still low. For girls, it is approximately 13 years and boys marry from the age of about 15 upwards. This difference in the age between girls and boys is connected with marriage ideals, according to which cousins, either cross or parallel, are preferred spouses; also, the male partner should be older than the female. These preferences are explained by the ideal of groups of close kinsmen living together and not breaking up as a result of marriage (see "Gender-Related Social Groups"). However, the scope for choosing one's own spouse as well as when to marry has become much greater today.

Emotional bonds and love between prospective spouses have become an argument for marriage choice. Nonetheless, as in the past, skills and the capacity for hard work, and deference vis-à-vis the parents of the bride and groom are still important considerations.

However the choice of partner takes place, it is always expected that the parents of the boy and the girl agree, after a discussion with close relatives. If the parents do not accept their children's choice, the marriage either will not happen or the couple decide to flee and not to return before the girl has become pregnant, because then marriage is normally accepted. If one of the spouses dies, the widow or widower normally remarries quite soon, with the exception of very young women who return to their parents. Widowed persons prefer to marry siblings of their deceased husband or wife respectively.

Marriage is preceded by engagement, which can last for a month or a year. During this period, the husband-to-be is already responsible for his future wife's needs regarding food and clothing, but she has no reciprocal duties to fulfil. Courtship is officially asserted by the groom's mother who pays a visit to the bride's mother after her son's request has been discussed and consented to. A box containing a golden ring, bracelets, a sarong, an umbrella, a mirror, powder, lipstick, and the like is handed over to the bride. By accepting the box and inspecting the presents, the bride expresses her readiness for marriage. Sometimes the husband-to-be is expected to give bridewealth in cash and also has to bear some of the costs of the wedding ceremony. Ideally, the amount to be paid for a young girl is twice as much as that for a widow. However, in fact, bridewealth is often paid only partly, or not at all, because the groom is not able to raise the money.

The time of the wedding calls for careful consideration. Every Wednesday in the course of the waxing moon and the eighth month of the year are favourable. Also, the place where the wedding will be held has to be inspected carefully to protect the participants from the noxious influence of evil spirits. All relatives are invited to attend the ceremony. Bride and groom are decorated with floral wreathes and golden necklaces. The husband-to-be also wears a hat and a belt with a keris (Malay knife). First, he has to ask the bride's parents if there is a rival, which is of course negated. Then he expresses his intention. This is followed by a ceremony in which the spouses feed each other with chicken eggs and eggs made from rice ( pulut).

With this act, the marriage is formalized. Then the guests are entertained with food and songs and dances (pantun; see section on leisure), and sometimes also with silat performances (a kind of Malay martial arts).

Those Orang Suku Laut who have been settled for a long time have adapted their wedding ceremony to Malay traditions. This includes engaging a female expert who leads the bride through the various stages of the ceremony (nikah), which lasts much longer, is more complex, and is sometimes conducted in the presence of an Islamic authority.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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