Wang Hantaran in Malay weddings
(Photo courtesy of https://thedoublefsproject.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/presentation-of-duit-hantaran/)
The increasing awareness of wang hantaran which is not strictly required in Islam may lead to its absence in all future Malay weddings.
The issue of wang hantaran has taken a huge place in the Malay society for quite some time. Due to the rising amount of wang hantaran, there is an increasing number of Malays who have expressed their desire to do away with it. Would the practice of giving wang hantaran from the groom to his wife in Malay weddings disappear forever?
Hantaran – money and items such as food, shoes and bags – are additional gifts and it is not an obligation for the groom to give these to his bride. If he is not agreeable in giving hantaran, he should not be forced into doing so. Mas kahwin on the other hand, is compulsory and it is given by the groom to his bride as a symbol of their marriage. The bride can request what she wants as it wholly belongs to her.
Function of wang hantaran
In the past, the men would stay with their wives in the matrimonial homes. As such, wang hantaran was given to the bride and her family to be shared and spent on furniture and other necessities in these new living arrangements. The money could also be used to pay off the expenses incurred during the wedding ceremonies.
However, this has changed in contemporary times where the young couples would already have their new flats by the time they are married. The Build-To-Order (BTO) Scheme makes it easier for them and gives more choices in terms of location, size of their homes and better estimation of when they need to place the down payment for their new flats. Even if they live with their parents – usually the husbands would stay with their wives’ families, it would not be very long before they move into their new homes.
The function of wang hantaran has changed over time. What wang hantaran means differs from one family to another. As the amount is fairly fixed to women’s academic qualifications, this is used as a reflection of the women’s “value”. In view of this, Siti Nurhizah, who is a 28 year-old teacher happily married for 7 years emphasised, “What is more important is to go back to the real intention and the priority in the use of wang hantaran. The intention must be clear and sincere.”
There is also a common view that the ability of he men to support their future wives and children is measured through this willingness to provide the desired amount of wang hantaran requested by the brides’ families. A stir was created recently in a Berita Minggu article (the Sunday edition of the Malay language daily Berita Harian) when one man was reported to give “$0 wang hantaran” to his future bride. Farid Hamzah, the journalist articulated his feelings of respect and awe when he heard of a man who took up two jobs in order to save money and fulfil the decided amount of wang hantaran.
However, he was doubtful in using wang hantaran as a yardstick to measure men’s ability in taking care of their future families. He explained, “Money is not only needed during the wedding but also after that, which is the marriage life. The sacrifice of time, energy and money to achieve the afreed wang hantaran is good. But would this determination to sacrifice for his family last long through the marriage after his savings are used up to pat for wang hantaran?”
Frugality or lavishness
Nurul Syafiqah, a 23-year old freelance model in the Malay bridal industry and an undergraduate Sociology major posted two tweets about her feelings on the article. Her tweets were as such: “I read the BM article about a Malay guy marrying with $0 dowry money. Why? Do not want to waste money, the girl side also agrees. Very problematic! The value of the woman you’re marrying should at least be defined in some ways. You’re marrying her, you’re taking her out of her family for goodness!”
Syafiqah or preferably known as Fiqah, declared herself as someone who takes pride in Malay Adat and expressed her discomfort at the idea of doing away with wang hantaran. Nevertheless, she questioned the meaning of frugality. “Where does one cross the line between frugality and lavishness? Is it frugality when the groom does not even fork out a cent for wang hantaran or is it merely an extreme act of selfishness?”
Fiqah also raised her own questions about the Malays’ “obsession” with wang hantaran´when it comes to the perceived simplicity. She gave the situation where people claim that not giving wang hantaran reflects frugality but they spend more money on barang hantaran. Hence, there are cases of double standard towards the issue of hantaran.
As often being understood, frugality means acting within one’s limits or economic capacity. The views from Siti Nurhizah are similar to this. She added, “The concept of simplicity cannot be seen as the same for every individual. In principle, not giving any wang hantaran is not right. If the goods are provided, then it’s alright. But if not, then it is not frugality. That’s running away from responsibility.”
“Market rate” for wang hantaran
Singapore is a meritocratic society which puts a high emphasis on grades and achievements. Thus the act of ascertaining someone’s value based on academic achievements (especially for the women in this case) can be observed during the negotiation on the amount of wang hantaran for Malay weddings.
In the newspaper article, Farid discovered from some wedding industry sources of a “market rate” for wang hantaran in Malay society. For example, women who have GCE ‘O’ level education or below are under the category of $6000-$8000. Those who have GCE ‘A’ level and Diploma education fall under $8000-$10000 while the higher-educated women who have degrees are entitled to $10,000 and above.
Indeed, the issue of the rising amount of wang hantaran cannot be divorced from other economic and social factors. Farid Hamzah said: “Higher inflation rate, increasing cost of living and wedding expenses, salary increments – all these developments are in line with the increasing amount of wang hantaran.”
The amount of wang hantaran pegged to women’s education level is one possible factor that contributes to an increase in the number of singles among the Malay population. According to a report released by Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) based on the demographic study of Singapore Malays, singles made up 35% of the Malay population in 2010m up from 29% in 2000. This figure surpassed the national level which stood at 31%.
The action of fixing wang hantaran based on women’s education level is an interesting phenomenon but it is not a new one. Siti Nurhizah who was married in 2005 admitted that her wang hantaran which amounted $6000 was considered low. “Many people regard that it should read up to $10,000. If wang hantaran is less than that amount, they assume the girl has only GCE ‘O’ level education or only ITE qualification.”
Interestingly, Nurul Syafiqah had acted in the theatre play Kawen Kawen 2.0 produced by CELIK (Malay Cultural Society at Milennia Institute). Playing the role of Alia, her stage mother Tipah, strongly wanted her future son-in-law, hafiz to give a high amount of wang hantaran of $10,000 instead of $7000.
When Ibrahim asked his wife why she was adamant about this, Tipah answered “Anak jiran kita yang lulus ITE dapat lebih tinggi dari $7000. Apa kata orang kalau si Alia yang berpelajaran tinggi ni hanya dapat $7000.” This shows that pressure to conform to a certain set of assumed ‘norms’ and the fear of being a source of gossip can lead to some Malays demanding for more wang hantaran.
Islam and wang hantaran
Unlike mas kahwin, wang hantaran is not compulsory under Islam. However, it is also not prohibited as gifts are certainly encouraged to be exchanged between both families. What is not encouraged is wastage or pembaziran that comes out from grand weddings and gifts. Due to increased religious awareness, people tend to attribute the waning of wang hantaran to its ‘un-Islamic’ status.
When asked Associate Prof Noor Aisha who is the lecturer for NUS module titles Law and Malay society if there was a real dichotomy between religion and adat, she did not see the issue of wang hantaran as a religious one. She claimed, “when people refuse to give wang hantaran, it is said that they want to follow the religion. But in this case, Islam has nothing to do with is. The adat of giving wang hantaran has declined because its function no longer serves the needs of the people.”
Her views tie in closely with the question of whether the practice of giving wang hantaran from the groom to his future wife would disappear in the future. Prof Aisha affirmed this but added, “It takes time for an adat practice to completely disappear, as can be seen with adat bertunang and adat bersanding. Although there are people who still practice them, the numbers are decreasing and this is because the practices have lost their purposed.”
In Kamus Dewan, adat are made up of rules or practices which have been passed down through many generations in a society so much so that they are likened to laws that have to be obeyed. At times, adat conveys the meaning of habit or familiarity (kebiasaan) which is normally accepted by each individual in a society. This is probably why the total absence of wang hantaran in Malay weddings would not happen so soon.
For some, like a 27- year old account manager Syahrul ‘Afif, it is better to go back to the Prophet’s way of marriage that is, giving mas kahwinand exchanging small gifts. “What is symbolic is the akad nikah ceremony where the groom shakes the hands of the kadi and expresses the lafaz of marriage. Wang hantaran has no symbolic meaning at all,” the father to a five-month old son said.
Interestingly, Syahrul did give wang hantaran to his wife but it was in the form of dinar. Dinar is Islamic coins and the value is pegged to gold. So, why did he still give wang hantaran and what made him decide to use dinar instead of the usual monetary notes?
He replied, “My wife’s family wanted the wang hantaran. To negotiate with them we used dinar which is free of interest and has better monetary value.” When he bought the gold coins, the value was around $10,000. By the time of his marriage, this value had increased to around $13,000.
Malay adat as continuity
According to a book titled “Adat Melayu Serumpun” which is edited by Abdul Latiff Abu Bakar, the value of communal living that is integral to all the customs and Malay civilisation is muafakat (consensus) as the Malay saying goes: bulat air kerana pembetung, bulat manusia kerana muafakat.
Embodied in the concept of this consensus is the value of helping. Each individual must be considerate to others. When humans are considerate and feel hardships and pain of others then conflict can be minimised and at the same time lasting harmony is created. When a society is preoccupied with the conflict and focus is directed to finding ways to resolve this conflict which can be avoided in the first place, it is hard to attain progress. The society itself will then lose out.
The adat of giving wang hantaran is created for a long time because it has proved to be beneficial for the groom, bride and their families. Its integration in Malay society is born out of muafakat thus its gradual erosion would naturally be attributed to the consensus that it is no longer beneficial in the changing context. The existence of wang hantaran should not be a burden to the society and as succinctly captures by Siti Nurhizah’s words “biar melanggar adat, asal jangan menentang hukum.”