Traditional Engagement Ceremonies
in Pahang

hantaran gifts for the engagement ceremony
one of the the hantaran gifts
the hantaran items arranged on the floor

Traditional Engagement Ceremony

A traditional Malay Wedding, before it becomes a reality, must in the beginning start with the following two delightful preliminaries, namely: -

1. The Merisik ("Spying"), 

followed by :-

2. The Pertunangan (Engagement or Betrothal) Ceremony 

Follow me, here's the story leading to the Traditional Engagement (Betrothal) Ceremony...  


In the good old days (I mean, of course during my grandmother’s days - the days before the Second World War – the 1930s and below), the young Malay boy and the young Malay girl had no choice. The first look was done by the parents, as the girl is normally secluded, not allowed outside the house unless she had to do important chores. The young man probably had not seen the girl before. 

And the choice or decision of a mate was made by the parents. (Normally it would be the mother, who, in the Malay life, seems to be the sole super power or veto holder when it comes to her children’s marriage... (This is just my opinion...please).

The young man, whether he likes it or not, had to follow the choice of his parents... uh.. the mother... rather.

"Son, I’ve decided that Aminah is the right woman for you, and we will hold the wedding in six months time," says the..ahem..mother.

And the young man will happily nod in agreement. 

But, nowadays, for the young Malays, it’s a different story. Let me start with ...

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When Ahmad - (Malays, for your information, don’t have surnames) - first saw Aminah, his heart beats quickly for no reason – but inside of him he surely knows why.

anxiously waiting for the outcome

She’s demure, lady-like and would definitely make a good wife and mother. He then asks her for a date, to know her character more deeply, and to assess her opinion of him, so that he would be sure that he’s not "bertepuk sebelah tangan" (clapping only one hand, meaning she’s not interested in him).

If his assessment is positive, and she is also ready to take the plunge, and when love blossomed between the two, then ...

... Ahmad talks to his mother, saying he’s matured enough and can provide for a family...blah..blah (and all that jazz).... and at the end sheepishly divulges his desire to tie the knot with his beau, Aminah.

The mother smiles happily, and discusses with the father, who then also smiles happily.

This inevitably sets into motion the Malay customary practices and tradition regarding weddings. The process starts with the first customary practice – it’s called "Merisik".

photo with in-laws
putting on the ring and bangles


"Merisik" in Malay actually means spying (but in this context, it's not the James Bond type though). It means to learn more of something through informal enquiries, and in this particular case, of the feelings of the intended spouse and her parents.

Merisik is carried out by the young man’s parents or relatives to informally enquire on the girl’s agreement to the intended marriage and more importantly, to seek the consent of the girl’s parents.

Marriage is a serious institution and both families must feel secure, happy and comfortable with the proposed union.

So... let’s go on...

On the day of Merisik, the young man’s parents would come to the girl’s house (the day and time would have been fixed and informed to the parents earlier by their two children) to seek the answers.

This normally would be easy if they live nearby, but it would not be so if the young man’s parents live hundreds of miles away in another town or state.

Therefore the appointment must be carefully planned and fixed for the travel required, and if it is too cumbersome, the man’s parents sometimes delegate the matter to the uncle or relatives who live nearer to the girl’s home.

The Merisik by Ahmad’s family is usually carried out in a jovial and friendly tone, all parties smiling all the time. After the preliminaries of introduction and drinking of tea or coffee and light snacks, the session normally starts by Ahmad’s father or mother speaking slowly and guardedly, sometimes in parables and metaphorical language, but nowadays mostly in plain language, something like this ( here’s a brief translation):-

"We’ve come today with a wish and hope – to build the steps of a mosque (p.s.: meaning to do something good). We know that there is a beautiful flower in this house and that we desire to pluck her for our bee at home. He has made known his desire and interest in the flower, and it is our hope that this wish would be fulfilled."

Upon hearing the intentions said, the normal response by the girl’s parents would be to thank them for the interest shown and to ask for a few days to consider the proposal, giving the reason that they have to consult and obtain approval of their kin. It is sometimes customary for the parents of the girl to pretend to consult her first (They actually know the answer already!).

happy with fiancee - Johan Amiruddin

Nowadays, however, since the answer is a foregone conclusion, the girl’s parents will reply straightaway, saying that they are glad to give their consent, though it is also sometimes said in the round-about metaphorical way.

Once agreed on the marriage proposal, then both sides will proceed to discuss the next stage of customary practice before the wedding proper, which is the "Pertunangan" or the traditional engagement ceremony (or betrothal ceremony).

Discussion will focus on fixing the appropriate day to hold the Pertunangan, the amount of dowry for the bride and the gifts (known as "hantaran") to bring along for the traditional engagement ceremony.

Once all these matters have been agreed and resolved, both sides will go back and plan on the necessary preparations.


The Pertunangan (betrothal) or Malay traditional engagement ceremony actually crystallizes the verbal agreement made during the previous Merisik process. The highlight of this traditional engagement ceremony will be the putting of the engagement ring on the fiance’s finger by the future mother-in law, or, if the groom’s mother is deceased or unable to make the trip, his sister or nearest auntie.

In Pahang, the traditional engagement ceremony is quite a big affair although not on the grand scale of a wedding ceremony. 

However, in different states and localities in the country we find that the Malays sometimes practice different customs for the traditional engagement ceremony.

Some states and localities put low priority to it -- combining and treating the Merisik with the Pertunangan as one ceremony -- while in other states or localities, if the local customs are not followed to the letter, there could be serious repercussions to the proposed marriage.

For instance, it sometimes happen that a man coming from another locality or state does not check on the correct customs and practices in the girl’s locality. This may sometimes not only lead to unnecessary embarrassment, but where traditions are held strictly, in the worst case, it could lead to utter rejection of the proposed engagement by the girl’s side.

So young Malay men must always ensure the "adat" or custom in the girl’s locality must be respected and followed carefully to avoid untoward problems.

bringing the hantaran items
a hantaran
carrying the hantaran from the car


On the appointed date and time, a delegation from the groom led by his close family members and relatives will arrive at the bride’s home.

As are usual for traditional engagement ceremonies of Malays, they will bring with them either seven or nine items of gifts(they are usually in odd numbers), carried in a decorated tray or dulang, and includes the most important item -- the engagement ring, which is normally a diamond ring.

When everyone has been seated on the floor of the house in a sort of a circle, with the hantaran items in the middle, then the session starts with preliminary speeches of welcome and introductions – of course in a jovial and friendly manner.

With both sides alternately addressing each other about the coming union, reference is frequently made on the agreements reached during the Merisik session previously, but mainly to restate and reaffirm what were agreed then.

Then the contents of the items of the hantaran in the trays are shown to confirm them – the engagement ring, cash sum being part amount of the expenditure, and several other items of attire like the selendang, pair of shoes and dress.

Fruits and cakes are sometimes included in the items brought. Of course at least one tray ( a "tepak sirih") with an arrangement of betel leaves (called "sirih junjung" in Malay) is a must, as it constitutes and represents the essential item ( a without which not) of the Malay tradition for the Pertunangan (as well as for the Wedding Day).

Having accepted and agreed on the engagement or betrothal of the two young couple by the two families, then the next important step -- the Wedding Day -- will be discussed by the families.

The date of the Wedding would be tentatively agreed and fixed. Normally, the wedding is arranged during the school holidays in about three to six months after the traditional engagement ceremony, and so a general date such as the third week-end of a certain month will be agreed.

However, the important issues of hantaran items and payment of the balance of the dowry will be agreed upon. Matters which are also agreed would be the consequences, liability and compensation to be paid in the event the wedding or engagement is called off by any one party.

After discussion and agreements have been achieved, then, as is the Malay custom, the highlight of the traditional engagement ceremony or Pertunangan is the putting of the engagement ring on the would-be bride by the future mother–in-law.

putting the ring and bangles on the future-daughter-in-law
kissing the hands of the mum-in-law
bride-to-be hugging mother-in-law

The future mother-in-law, followed by other female members, will enter the girl’s gaily decorated room, where she had been waiting apprehensively all the time, and with the ring put on the finger of her future daughter-in law, hugs and kisses her cheeks. Likewise the girl will kiss the woman’s hands and hug her tightly. 

The Pertunangan or traditional engagement ceremony ends by the feasting of the guests with specially cooked food normally comprising of traditional rice with ghee (nasi minyak) and traditional dishes such as beef rendang, fish or chicken curry and acar. In Kuala Lipis, Nasi Kebuli is the traditional rice normally served for such occasions.

During a traditional engagement ceremony, it is the Malay custom that the young man is not to attend the ceremony. He would be at home or away somewhere (perhaps fervently praying that the engagement would be accepted by the bride’s family).

However, if he is nearby, (which is normally the case as he has to show the way to his fiancé’s house) he will be invited for the meal or feast, but only after the ceremony has ended.

At the end of the traditional engagement ceremony, before the man’s delegation leaves for home, the exchange of hantaran items will be carried out. As is the normal Malay custom, the girl’s family will add an additional two trays of items in the exchange. For instance, if the man’s side brought seven trays, then nine trays of items will be handed over by the girl’s side.

Of course, cameras and video-cams will record all the proceedings and the joy and merriment of the event.

more eating after engagement ceremony
the feast after the engagement ceremony

And everybody will leave happy and contented in the knowledge that there will be a union of families and they will all be looking forward to the Big Day -- the Wedding.

Well, I do hope you’ve enjoyed the Malay Merisik and Pertunangan (or traditional engagement ceremony) in the state of Pahang.

It is a joy to know that customs and traditions some dating from decades ago are still followed because they instill a sense of familial responsibility to the bridal couple. And it should always remain so.

Follow me now to a traditional Malay Wedding or click for other delights in the state of Pahang.


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