Postcard from Zaharah: Malay wedding in English setting

The peace and quiet of a late summer afternoon in the small northern English village of Bardon Mill, about an hour's drive from Newcastle, was broken by an unmistakably "Malay" melody.

It could mean only one thing. Yes, it was a Malay wedding, as traditional as they could manage, held in a very English setting in Northumberland.

The kompang sounds accompanied the young bride and groom, who were resplendent in their songket attire.

The groom, donning a tanjak and holding a keris, was a sight to behold as he led his new bride down a village lane to the venue, a sprawling park where guests sat on rugs and mats strewn with cushions.

A group of ladies from the Gema Paluan group of Coventry, dressed in traditional Malay costumes complete with batik sarung over their heads, sat demurely waiting for the arrival of the newlyweds before getting their cues to belt out familiar Malay wedding songs.

This was the wedding of Umar and Aisyah, two youngsters who grew up in the United Kingdom.

Video clips of the traditional ceremony in a very English surrounding had caused a lot of excitement.

It drew reactions not only from people in Malaysia who are still in the grips of a lockdown, but also Malaysians in the United Kingdom who have been missing home.

The welcoming sounds and sights brought back wonderful memories of home.

Umar and Aisyah's wedding reminded me of my son's wedding eight years ago. We wanted a traditional Malay wedding that would showcase and give glimpses of Malay culture and tradition.

So we had the Al Qiblah kompang performance and a nasyid group to start off the ceremony, followed by a silat performance by my youngest son, and a surprise finale, the traditional Asyik dance by the sister of the groom.

The experience was made even more memorable with nasi minyak, serbat (rose) drinks and Malay kuih.

Being away from the homeland made us do things that could remind us of home. We proudly show our traditions to local friends while reminding ourselves of whom we are.

I had never made bunga telur, an essential decoration in a Malay wedding that signifies fertility. For my children's weddings, these were conveniently bought from Nilai, Negri Sembilan, a convenient one-stop shopping area for the wedding industry.

The pandemic and lockdown had made it a little difficult to purchase them this time. But with time in our hands that the lockdown gave us last July, we were able to industriously produce bunga telur, crafty door gifts as well bunga manggar, and eventually hold a wedding for a big crowd.

Thanks to YouTube and a group aptly named Geng Bunga Telur, we produced a retro bunga telur nylon for Umar and Aisyah's reception, to be held in Reading this weekend.

The Malaysian community has a robust community spirit. It was evident during Umar and Ai-syah's wedding and other Malay weddings I had attended. I remembered my late mother, Umar's late grandmother who was my grand aunty, and other elders as I was sitting with the other women preparing bunga rampai with pandan leaves and roses.

There was plenty of banter that would follow with laughter. At the same time, we hope to teach our young ones, born and brought up here, about our culture and traditions.

A Malay wedding with couples from different cultures gives an added bonus of having a meeting of two cultures. I remember the marriage of a friend's daughter to a Scottish lad. When a busload of guests from the Scottish groom's side walked to the bride's front garden, he was led by a bagpiper, before meeting a group of Malay kompang drummers that continued with a salawat (praising the Prophet). It was certainly an Insta story moment.

After a silat performance and a traditional Malay dance by the ladies of the Sri Bulan Cultural troupe based in London, the East meets West theme continued with the bagpiper accompanying several renditions of nasyid songs.

Sometimes, we like to throw in something different. It was such a delight to see 13-year-old Ehsan from Manchester emceeing the whole ceremony at Umar and Aisyah's big day at the Bardon Mill village hall.

Weddings usually bring out the community spirit, not unlike the gotong royong spirit back home. Someone will always come up with the much-needed keris or a chaise lounge for the bridal dais.

During my children's weddings, we had friends coming over to do the henna, tepak sireh and much more.

There were friends who we could cater authentic Malay wedding food and kuih too.

Umar and Aisyah's wedding ceremony reflected all that — the community spirit is still alive wherever we are, strengthened by the traditional and cultural values that we still treasure in us.

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