Iban Marriage

A young man may marry at the age of twenty-two, if he is the only child in the family. If he has brothers or sisters, he is likely to marry when he grows older. A girl usually marries at the age of eighteen. At these ages young men and women generally know how to support themselves. If a young man wants to marry he may tell his parents, so that they may choose the daughter of one of their close relatives for him. If he wishes to marry a particular girl, he may tell them so, so that they may think about it in making a final decision.

If they agree to their son’s choice, they will send word regarding their intention to the girl’s parents. If the boy’s request is acceptable to the parents of the girl, then the latter may fix a day for nanya bini, when they can discuss formally the rules they will follow at the wedding of their children. A day or two prior to nanya bini, the young man’s parents will inform their relatives about the coming wedding of their son to the girl he loves.

They also request that three men and three women who are very closely related to them join them in meeting and discussing the coming marriage with the girl’s parents on the nanya bini day. The nanya bini meeting between parents of the future bride and the bridegroom may take place either during the day or at night. If it is held during the day, the young man’s parents and relatives will come early to the girl’s room. On their arrival the men are asked to take a seat on the mats which have been spread for this purpose along the girl’s family’s upper gallery, while the women are invited to take a seat in the family room.

At about 10 a. m. , after the visitors have been entertained with drinks, the girl’s father calls all the people of the longhouse and his relatives who have arrived from other villages to gather at his lower gallery in order to hear his discussion with his visitors. After the people have taken their seats the parents of the bride and the bridegroom inform their friends arid relatives that they have agreed that their son and their daughter should be married if the bridegroom’s parents agree to the payment of adat nikah (marriage price) demanded by the bride’s parents as follows: 1.

A bride’s wealth of $100 to $300, depending upon the family background of the bride-to-be, and lower than $100 if she is of low birth. 2. A sigi alas muda, $4. 00, to sigi rusa, $8. 00, of bunga pinang (ceremonial wedding fee), and sigi jabir, $1. 00, to sigi panding, $2. 00 again, if the bride is of low birth. 3. One medium size brass gun (bedil) for batang pinang and one bendai gong for tandan pinang if the bride and the bridegroom are of distinguished families. People of common background would not demand the batang and tandan pinang presents from the bridegroom’s family.

If the bridegroom’s parents agree to pay the marriage price, then a genealogist (tukang tusut) will recite the bride’s and the bridegroom’s family trees to see whether the marriage is incestuous or not. Incestuous means in this connection that the couple is kin of different generations. If their union is incestuous to this sense then the bridal parents should inform the Penghulu (district chief) that the coming marriage ceremony of their children will be celebrated with besapat ka ai or bekalih di darat depending on the category of the incest as discussed earlier (cf, pp. 29-30).

At the end of the discussion of nanya bini, the groom’s parents leave a silver girdle (lampit) with the bride as a deposit to bind their promise. A day is then set for the melah pinang or marriage ceremony which must be held within three months. If it is an incestuous marriage, it must be held as soon as possible after the besapat ka ai or bekalih di darat ceremonies in order to avoid kudi (disaster). A few days after this, the groom’s parents will gather the people of their longhouse to inform them that their son’s marriage has been agreed upon in discussion with the future bride’s parents.

The groom’s father also tells them of the day agreed upon for the wedding festival. From this time onwards the groom’s family starts to make cakes and accumulates the derian fees. The marriage festival (melah pinang) is held in the bride’s house. About one week before the Melah Pinang festival is held, the groom’s parents again call all the people in their longhouse to meet at their gallery as they are to send the belanja (expenses) to the bride’s parents. At this meeting each family in the longhouse presents whatever money its members have agreed to con-tribute to finance the feast.

After the groom’s parents have sent their belanja for the Melah Pinang feast, the girl’s parents will begin to pound rice, brew jars of tuak wine, and buy the necessary bulls, pigs and drinks for the oc¬casion. Four to five days before the ceremony, the girl’s parents call for a meeting of people on their house gallery. At this meeting, the girl’s father enquires from the heads of each family whether they have finished making preparations for the ceremony. If all preparations have been made, then the bride’s father will inform the people of how many neighboring longhouses he intends to invite to the feast.

The people of other families in the longhouse will naturally agree to this and one man is sent to invite the guests upriver while another man is sent downriver. The two men inform the guests to come to the wedding festival early that day so that their reception can be properly perfor¬med. By this point the agreement to marry is considered binding on both par¬ties, and compensation must be paid if either wishes to break the agreement. 1. If a young man makes a promise to discuss his marriage with a girl’s parents and fails to do so according to his promise, he is fined sigi jabir, $1. 0, and sigi panding, $2. 00, for the cost of pinang sirih wasted by the parents of the girl. If he refuses to pay the fine, the case is brought to the court of the Penghulu for further hearing. 2. If a bridegroom fails to marry his bride after the melah pinang day has been fixed, through no fault of the later, the former is fined sigi panding, $2. 00, and sigi alas, $4. 00, respectively, the later for the cost of wasted pinang sirih. If the bridegroom refuses to pay the fine, the case is brought to the Penghulu’s court for further judgment.

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