The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Marriage Customs of the Moors of Ceylon


AT the meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch) Mr. Corbet read a paper upon "The Marriage Customs of the Moors of Ceylon," which, he said, had been written by Mr. Ahamadu Bawa, and which had been communicated to them by the author's son, Mr. P. W. Bawa. The paper commenced by remarking, if the pun might be excused, that matrimony amongst the Moors of Ceylon was merely a matter of money, love and courtship playing no part as factors in the great social institution. This fact was fully accounted for by the seclusion and ignorance in which the girls were brought up, the religious restrictions upon social intercourse between the sexes, and the total subjection of the youths of the community to their parents and guardians in all that related to matrimonial affairs. Among the Moors overtures of marriage invariably originated with the relatives of the prospective wife, the amount available as dowry and the caste of the lady being important points to start with. As a rule, a girl was considered eligible for marriage at twelve, and a boy at sixteen; for at eighteen a girl was considered an old maid, and a bachelor at twenty-five was a rara avis. But, as a consequence of the dowry system and the entire absence of anything like elopements or clandestine marriages, there was necessarily a very large proportion of old maids. If the intelligent men of the community would but reflect on the consequences of the pernicious dowry system, and the daily increasing misery its perpetration entails on the masses, they would surely endeavour to reform it. Among the wealthy families early marriages were the rule, and the matches were often made even before the girls had reached their teens. In all cases where eligible matchams, i.e. cousins or sons of mothers' brothers or fathers' sisters were available preference was accorded to them—almost as a matter of right. In the absence of any such, a young man of equal caste was fixed on, and negociations with his relations commenced. The paper then described these negociations, dwelling at length on the arrangements entered into with regard to dowry, and then proceeding to tell of all the feasts and ceremonies connected with a Moorish marriage. A deputation went to solicit Meera Lebbe as a husband of "Aysha, the daughter of Hassim Marikar, their dear friend and near relative." Various panegyrics were passed, a rich feast followed, and the party dispersed. From this time a periodical exchange of presents kept the flame from dying out. There is yet another ceremony before the marriage, viz. the payment of "Seedanam," or dowry-money, which is a function of importance, and takes place some months in advance of the nuptials. The cash of the dowry alone goes to the husband, and enables him to meet the wedding expenses and to purchase the bride's trousseau. On an auspicious day, after partaking of the usual Patchoru Paniaram, milk, rice, and cakes, a party of the bride's immediate friends, to the number of about seventy, attended by the family priest, or "Lebbe," and a brother or cousin of the bride carrying the seedanappanam of the sum agreed upon, with some betel-leaves and a lot of other things, proceed to the young man's house, where elaborate ceremonies are gone through. About ten days before the day fixed for the wedding the invitations are issued. The bridegroom, arrayed in his best and attended by a large party of friends, calls at every house of every Moor, high and low, within a radius of several miles, and invites its inmates of both sexes by calling out in stentorian tones. On the wedding-day takes place the great feast at the bridegroom's house, called Mapulle weetto pakel choru. By midday all the invited guests from far and near have arrived and seated themselves on the floor, tailor fashion, shoulder to shoulder, according to caste and condition. Water-basins are then passed round preparatory to eating. After the repast the guests leave with the remark to the effect "I will go and come again." The men all gone, the fair sex are entertained in a similar manner. In the afternoon a party goes to the bride's house, where they are received with much cordiality, and the bridegroom is presented with a ring. In the evening there is a fresh assembly of friends to do honour to the bridegroom and accompany him to the bride's, where the marriage-rites are to be solemnized. In the presentation of the santosam the immediate friends of the bridegroom head the list with the highest sums—say fifty rupees—and then smaller sums follow. Thus sometimes R.1000 have been collected in addition to rings of varying value presented by the relatives. While this is going on the bridegroom is supposed to be at his toilet, to the due performance of which a bath is essential. After this the party proceed to the bride's house in great state, on the way to which numerous ceremonies are gone through. At the house the kaduttam or written record of the marriage is signed. The next function is kavin. The priest takes the bridegroom's right hand in his own and repeats a formula in Arabic three times, asking if the bridegroom is willing, to which of course he replies in the affirmative. The priest with two witnesses then enters the bridal-chamber, and similarly addresses the bride. After the conclusion of the ceremony the bride is conducted to the bridal-chamber by her father or brother, and the ceremony of tying the "tali" takes place, the "tali" being clasped round the throat, and never removed during the lifetime of the spouses. The "tali" being tied, the bridegroom is expected to "clothe" his bride. This consists of placing a silk kambaya round her waist. All this time the bride neither sees nor hears; and after the ceremony the bridegroom, sitting on the bed near by, has his first look at his future life-partner. The position is embarrassing, as all eyes are fixed upon him. More feasting follows, and it is not till two o'clock in the morning that the bridegroom retires to the bridal-chamber for the night. Early next morning the married sisters and female cousins or nearest female relative of the bridegroom visit the bridal-chamber, and prepare its inmates for the bath, to which they are conducted under a white canopy, and, sitting side by side, are bathed. Then the newly-married couple feed each other. At night the bridegroom's family are invited to dinner at the bride's house, and the next night she and her family are similarly entertained at the bridegroom's. From this time feasts at intervals take place at the houses of the mutual friends over a period of some months, the happy couple living in Beena at least until the first child is born; but if a part of the house has been given in dowry, the best room is appropriated to them.