Kadazan Wedding
Penampang Kadazan Wedding Customs

by Herman (2001)

Not so long ago, the Kadazans arranged marriages, and weddings were a simple affair. Gundohing Dousia, the present Keeper of Skulls and 6th direct descendant of Monsopiad remembers well the olden times. To us ‘modernised’ citizens, an arranged marriage is maybe the most curious, and perhaps the least understood aspect of the life of so many peoples around the world. Concerning the Kadazans, Dousia explains that “in the olden days, the children had great respect towards their parents, so they would accept their choice. More, they did not have the money, or the dowry required to get married. They were completely dependent on their parents. If someone wished to get married to the partner of his choice, but his parents would not approve, how was he to come up with required dowry?” Thus, the preliminaries to a Kadazan wedding always started with the parents of a young man visiting the family of a prospective bride. The father of the young man would open the talks along these lines: “I have a strong and good son who needs a wife, and I see that you have nice daughters. I would like you to marry one of your daughters to my son.” The parents of the girl were then left to consider. They might visit the family proposing to get a better picture of their future son-in-law, and, more importantly, they would see if the family was able to come up with the required nopung, the dowry (literally: the [items] sent).

When the family of the daughter shows that they are agreeable to a union, the parents of the young man pay them a second visit and the engagement is arranged. Both parties agree to the bride price, which customarily consists of 15 buffaloes, 10 ancient brass canons, 3 large, Chinese jars and one brass gong. The parents of the future bride will first ask for a higher price, and bargaining is expected. As a matter of fact, if the proposed dowry is accepted without negotiations, the family of the young man might be considered snob; and if there is too much bargaining, the family of the bride-to-be might start worrying about payment! When both parties agree on the nopung, they need to agree on the ‘terms of payment’, and it can be agreed that the dowry is paid in instalments over a certain period of time, or that some of the items are substituted with money. “Traditionally,” Dousia explains, “a buffalo was counted ten Ringgits, and a canon 15 Ringgits. But that was a long time ago,” he muses, “nowadays, ten Ringgits are at least 500! And while jars, buffaloes and canons can be substituted with money, at least two buffaloes must not be converted into cash money; they are needed for the wedding feast,” he added.

Once the nopung is agreed upon and all terms of payment settled, a date for the actual wedding day is chosen. It must be an auspicious day, whereby the moon calendar plays an important role. Any month is good for a wedding, except March when the cemeteries are being cleaned and ancestors remembered, and the fasting month of the Malays. The Kadazans have always been in contact with the Malay populations along the coast, and being friends, they would not suffer them to be excluded them from the weddings of their children. When all the details for the wedding are settled, from bride price to date, food will be served. In the evening the parents of the man go home, and on their journey they will look out for omens. If the either of the parents falls ill right after eating, or a branch falls from a tree, amongst others, the date for the wedding has to be cancelled. New negotiations have to be entered to schedule a fresh date for an auspicious wedding day.

If no bad omens are encountered, and the parents reach home without further incident, the wedding is usually held about a month after the engagement. In most cases, neither bride nor groom know each other more than from meeting in the market, or in the fields working, if at all.

About a week before the wedding, two friends or relatives of the families go around and invite people to the nuptials. The wedding day starts early in the morning in the house of the groom where all friends and relatives gather. They have a late ‘breakfast’, and generally around midday they set out, with the groom in his best fineries and the nopung in their middle, for the house of the bride. More often than not, the parents of the groom will stay in their house. When the congregation approaches the house of the bride, joyous Sumazau beats will be sound on ancient gongs. The groom and his entourage enter the house of the bride, presenting the nopung. Everyone is served rice and drinks before the young husband can take his bride to his parents’ home. This time, the parents of the bride might stay at their home, and not join the wedding ceremony proper, held at the young man’s house.

When the congregation arrives at the house of the groom, gongs are sounded again, inviting everybody who hears them to witness the union. Before the wedding couple enters the house, a village elder, often a Bobohizan, a ritual specialist, asks the bride and groom to put one foot on a round stone at the bottom of the staircase. While the couple is standing there, siung, conical hats are held above the man and the lady. Both the stone and the hat are symbols for their marriage: it shall be strong and long-lasting, like stone, while the hats at a time purify them from all evil and shield evil that might be around on the wedding day. Only after this short ceremony, during which the ritual specialist speaks a few Kadazan charms, the couple and the congregation can enter the house.

The wedding couple is seated in the centre of the house, the bride to the left of the groom, and again rice will be served. This time, the rice must be served from a kuali, or a wok, in order that there will be always enough rice for the couple to eat. Bride and groom are given a ball of rice each, which they have to feed each other. The ball of rice symbolises that the two young people are of different blood, which is now to be unified. Only after this symbolic unification can the congregation be served from the communal kuali. Bride and groom are given a chicken drumstick, as the groom cannot eat from the buffaloes slaughtered for the feast. It would be improper for the groom to eat from his own present to the bride’s family! Moreover, if he should eat from the buffaloes, the couple might not be able to have children.

It is now time for eating. Relatives of both partners have joined in the preparations of the feast, because many guest are expected, the house is open to all. The guest are not required to bring any presents, but they must join the Sumazau dancing and general merry making, which includes drinking – during a wedding, rice-wine flows liberally… Before nightfall, the freshly married couple heads back to the house of the bride’s parents where a room has been prepared for them. The custom requires that the newlyweds spend their first night with the parents-in-law of the groom. There are many taboos to be observed on this first night. The couple must not bathe for they would become vulnerable to evil-intended attacks, and wash away all the good luck the visitors brought! Equally, the couple is not allowed wander outside, not even to set foot on soil for that first night; or the children born to the couple would be ill with skin diseases or walk away from home.

The next day, the young husband takes his bride to his parents’ home, where they will stay until the young man has built his own house for him and his wife. Traditionally three months after the wedding the young man visits his parents-in-law, bringing with him a pig. It will be slaughtered ceremonially and eaten by the whole family, signifying that they are from now on blood-relatives.
 

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Much has changed for the Kadazans since colonial rule in Sabah has come to an end. The most significant change is probably in that the man – or the lady – chooses his or her own partner. To this, Dousia replies: “Well, nowadays the young people have money. If the parents do not agree to the partner chosen, the children will ask: ‘but who pays my bride-price anyway…?’”

Nowadays, weddings usually last two days, and generally they are held on Saturdays and Sundays. Auspicious dates are chosen according to the Chinese Calendar, and the wedding ceremony is held in church. But it is interesting to note that wedding feasts always start off at the bride’s place on Saturday. Only on Sunday does everyone move to the groom’s house. The concept and spirit of the open house where everybody can join the feast still prevails, but rarely will one find that bride and groom wear their Kadazan attire. But the nopung, far from being abolished, is still a very important factor. As a matter of fact, for a young lady of good family and with higher education the parents might ask for such an exorbitant nopung that many a young man will have to abandon his hopes. Who said the Kadazan parents have no power over their children any more…?


After an interview with Gundohing Dousia Moujing, 6th direct descendant of the famous Kadazan warrior and head-hunter Monsopiad. By Herman, 27/11/2001.

 


The couple arriving at the house of the bride


The blessing by a ritual specialist, the bobohizan of the village


After the short ceremony the party starts!


Display of an array of traditional dowry requirements


Water buffaloes still play an important role in to-days weddings!

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