The Iban marriage, it is customary for the boy’s parents to make a proposal on behalf of his son to the girl they are interested to have as their daughter-in-law. However, should their son insist on marrying a girl of his choice this will be accepted with open arms by his parents.
Basically if an Iban boy is interested in a particular girl, he is to take the initiative to ngayap (court) the girl. It is the only way for him to find out whether of not the girl is the right one for his life time partner.
If the response of the girl is positive and there is no objection by the girl’s parents, the young man will tell his parents his intention to marry the girl. If there are disagreements between son and parents, these are discussed in a proper manner.
The boy is asked to stop visiting the girl and another girl who is related but not within the incestuous circle is recommended to the boy to visit (ngayap).
When the boy’s parents agree in the suitability of the girl, they will send a message confidentially, bebunga ka jaku (literally to reveal a desire or intention) or beribut ka jaku (literally to bring wind news) through a messenger who is normally a relative, and who is closely associated with the parents. This is to avoid embarrassment to both parties, in case the proposal is rejected, if brought to the open right away.
Once there is an indication of favourable response from the girl, the boy’s family will bring a delegation to propose to the girl (nanya indu) openly. The delegation normally comprises three, five or seven elderly persons, female members being more than male.
During the nanya indu discussion, the tusut (genealogy) is examined to determine the kinship relationship of the boy and the girl. This is to ensure that they are not within the ioncestuous circle of relationship or of different generation salah tangga considered taboo by their adat (custom).
The Engagement and Gift
When the issues of nguai or ngugi and the preparation for melah pinang are finalized, the parties exchange gifts. The gifts can be in the form of any articles of reasonable values, for e.g. lampik pirak (silver girdle), baku temaga (brass container) and so on. Nowadays it is common for the couple to exchange rings.
There is no fixed length of period of engagement. In most cases Iban prefer to have shorter engagement of one of two months. No penalty is involved if the engagement is dissolved by mutual consent. However, each of them is required to return the engagement gift.
Bridewealth (derian) and the bunga pinang attached to it varies from one area to another or according to the social status of the couple.
The Wedding Ceremony
A few weeks before the day of marriage ceremony (melah pinang) bothe the boy’s and girl’s families will prepare the food and the drink for the marriage celebration. They will extend invitation to the relatives and close friends. In the past this invitation was in the form of temuku tali (string knots). One knot indicated one day, so the number of knots in the string indicated the number of days before the wedding.
On the day of ceremony the bridegroom and his party go the bride’s village. During the journey, by boat or over-land the bridegroom’s party will beat the gong and drum (betabuh). The purpose of betabuh is to avoid hearing the cry of bad omen (jai burong). As they reach the vicinity of the village the party will take a rest. This is the time for them to dress themselves in traditional costumes.
After the dress themselves, they continue their journey to the village. As soon as the people in the bride’s longhouse see their guest coming they will fire guns to welcome the guests.
The boy’s party will return the gun salutes with equal number of gunshots. As soon as the gun salute is over, the bridegroom’s party will proceed to the longhouse where they are invited to open a kuta (an artificial stockade).
When the kuta is opened the guest are led in a procession along the ruai (corridor). Tuak (rice win) is served at every ruai to the guest as they pass each ruai.
After the procession, the guest are invited to sit down, the men at the upper part of the ruai (gallery) and the women in the bilik (apartment).
The melah pinang ceremony begins with the session known as nanya ka berita (to enquire for news) initiated by the hosts for the guests to reply. The session can be a lengthy affair as both speakers from each side will give their best speeches mostly in classical Iban.
Later, both the bride’s and the bridegroom’s families introduce their relatives to each other. This is known in Iban as adat berisan. It involves each family introducing to each other their relatives, and who the in-laws of the couple are. When the serious business are done merry-making commences with a lot of food, drinks and entertainment as performances of traditional dances and pencha silat (art of self-defence). The merry-making can last till dawn.
The Blessing Ceremony
The next morning the bridegroom and the party take the bride back to his village. Dressed in traditional costumes she is accompanied by her parents and members of her longhouse to witness the bebiyau ceremony.
The bebiyau ceremony takes place in the evening at the bridegroom’s longhouse. At the ceremony the couple, dressed in traditional costumes, are seated side by side on two tawak (brass gong). By their sides stand in attendance their bestman and bridesmaid – who are also dressed in traditional costumes. The lemambang (bard) performs the bebiyau ceremony by holding and waving the cock over their heads, reciting his prayer of blessing. As is always the case with Iban prayers the lemambang will end his prayer by saying “gayu guru, chelap lindap; gerai nyamai, lantang senang” ( along healthy, tranquil, ‘cool’, contented and comfortable life). The significance of this ceremony is to bless and to wish the couple a happy married life.