A Promise is Made

Last Sunday was a joyous day in the family when my niece got engaged.  In eastern cultures, an engagement is not just about a boy giving a girl a ring and she accepts, end of story.  Here, it is an occasion that involves the whole family, requiring lots of preparation that culminates with a ceremony of placing the ring on the girl's finger.

It begins with a merisik, where a representative of the boy's family meet the girl's parents to enquire is she has been promised to anyone.  Once it has been ascertained that she is not yet betrothed, a date is fixed for the boy's family to come and formally ask for the girl's hand.  This is called meminang where the date of the engagement ceremony is set.

On the fixed date a delegation from the boy's family arrive at the girl's house bringing the ring and other gifts for the girl.   Usually the gifts will be in odd numbers, from 3,7,9, and so on.   On the part of the girl, there will also be gifts given in return, usually two more than received. This ceremony is termed the bertunang. At this time the date of the wedding or the duration of the engagement is decided and the terms of the dowry is set down.  Another interesting aspect is that, if the girl who is getting married has older unmarried sisters, then gifts are also given to the sisters. And, the boy is not present during any of the ceremonies.  His appearance is only required during the wedding.  The ring is placed on the girl's finger by the mother of the boy or any senior female relative.

But in these modern times, a lot of the steps involved are reduced or combined into one ceremony.  The merisik, for example is not carried out because the boy and the girl usually would have known each other much earlier.  How else would they have decided to get married!

Anyway, in the case of my niece, we agreed to prepare seven trays of gifts and receive five trays in return. Here are the gifts from the girl's family. As you can see great effort is taken to dress up the gifts for the presentation. 
As to what make up the gifts depends on the status of the families.  They can be really expensive or simple ones.  In this case, among what we have prepared are a tray of cupcakes, a box of chocolates, a piece of material for the wedding attire later, a basket of fruits, a prayer mat and basket of traditional sweets. And the mandatory one is the ring.  Yes, the boy also gets an engagement ring from the girl.

And this is what was received from the boy's family,

The most important item from the boy's family is the tray shown right in front.  A bigger picture is shown below.
This is the tepak sirih or a betel leaf set.  The tepak sireh is an important part of the Malay culture. It has been used in all customs and traditions since way back when, as an opener to what will be discussed.  If you imagine having a discussion over a cup of tea, then the tepak sireh is that cup of tea.  In olden times, the folks would actually prepare the betel leaf and ate it as they conduct the meeting or discussion but that is not done anymore.

This is a photo of my niece with the engagement gifts, anxiously waiting for the arrival of her future in-laws.

If you have managed to stay on this far, you must be wondering, "Is there any tatting in this?'  after all it is a tatting blog.  Well, there is, a teeny tiny piece here.
Here is the close up.  It is the tray that holds the engagement ring.  I made the ring holder and decided to add a small circle of tatting to surround the ring.

The sequel to this post will be about the wedding.


  1. What a great post! I knew nothing of these customs, so it was very interesting to read this.

    That is a lovely bit of tatting surrounding the ring - really sweet!

    I Look forward to the unfolding story...
    Fox : )

  2. That is all so interesting! - it will take me two or three perusals of it, I think to understand it properly. Rituals are very important in anyone's life, and your description of this one has been absorbing.
    Congratulations to the newly-engaged couple and their families.

  3. Thank you for sharing that - it is so interesting to get a small look into other cultures. I shared your post with my 18 year old daughter and she really enjoyed reading about your niece.

  4. It's so cool to know everything about weddings in other countries. I thought that Egypt was elaborated with 3 parties and several ceremonies! Mashallah to your nice and may Allah bless her new life in a very special way. She looks so lovely in her attire!

  5. Thank you for sharing your traditions with us. It was very interesting to read about and also see the pictures of the gifts. Your added tatting makes it very special. Look forward to seeing the wedding pictures and hearing about the ceremony, which I'm sure will be equally interesting.

  6. Thank you for posting about your niece's engagement. Absolutely fascinating, I am looking forward to the wedding. Are you tatting for the wedding?

  7. Wow, She looks so happy. I hope she has a great life with her betrothed.

    I love my DH beyond words, but he's not very "romantic". I got a nervously fumbled "will you marry me" and a held up box with a ring. This tradition trumps that any day. It was on my birthday so I did get cake, but . . .

    May God bless them forever.

  8. What a lovely place for a bit of tatting. Perhaps you will start a trend? Tepak sirih with layers and layers of tatted edgings! Tatted lace shawls for pengantin! Hmm, on second thought, that sounds like rather a lot of work...

    Anyway, 'Moga pasangan bahagia dicucuri rahmat'.

  9. What a lovely set of rituals. I sure wish that we had something like this in America. Perhaps couples would think more seriously of what it means to be married. Thank you for sharing all of this information. I look forward to seeing pictures of the wedding =) Best of luck to your niece and her fiance'.

  10. I enjoyed reading this very much. I went to college with young people from many places and love to learn more of other cultures. The rituals and traditions aren't as pronounced in my life and I think that is something that has gone the way of the very busy, not taking enough time for some of the important considerations in life. I hope to see more photos from you at the wedding. A tradition I followed was to tat a garter for my daughter in law and I hope to tat baby booties or cap or something in the future. I have to find booties pattern. Again, thanks.

  11. Thank you all. I will convey your good wishes to my niece.
    The weedding is about a year from now. If there is going to be any tatting for that one, I have to get started immediately. Tatters are not machines that can churn out reams and reams of lace at a press of a button. Yes, we know that! :)

    Well, that said, I do have some plans and are into looking into several edging patterns. You will definitely know on how that progresses.

  12. It was long winded but VERY well done - both in describing our culture and showing the piece. Its beautiful.

  13. Ha ha Zarina, this is already the abridged version.

  14. Your niece is lovely! And so are your traditions. Thank you so much for sharing them with us, Jon.


  15. How kind of you to explain this culture to us. Thanks :)

    All of the gifts were so nicely presented!

  16. That was a great post, I really enjoyed reading it.
    the tatting around the ring is perfect.

  17. Wow! Thanks for that, it was very kind of you to give us a peek, it's something I would never have seen otherwise.
    My 3yo son is sitting here going "Birthday birthday birthday!!" and getting excited at all the pressents. He's a long way off understanding what an engagement is yet, but he thought it was all very pretty too. =)


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