The practice of endogamous marriages amongst third and fourth generation Pakistanis in Singapore is very rare. Endogamy – the custom of marrying within a particular ethnic group, social class, caste or tribe – and arranged marriages (needless to say) is still fairly common in Pakistan, more so in the rural areas.
In Singapore back in the day, it was not uncommon for established migrants to marry off their daughters to newer migrants from the same ethnic background or caste. Some migrants were adamant that their sons and daughters married someone from within the same ethnic background, or at the very least, the son or daughter of another Pakistani. The declining number of Pakistani families in Singapore from the 1970s (and other factors which we will not discuss for now) meant that it became increasingly difficult for the Pakistani patriarch here to enforce endogamy.
So it came as a pleasant surprise when one of my interviewees (a 3rd generation Pakistani) brought along her fiance (also a 3rd generation Pakistani) for our interview. And today, I had the great opportunity to witness them tie the knot! But of course, I was also observing the ceremony as part of my ‘field work’. It’s not always of course that you get invited to such a wedding.
It has to be said though that the unique thing about these two is that they are mixed themselves – Malay on their maternal side and Pakistani on their paternal side.
So how different was the wedding from any other wedding you will witness in Singapore?
For one thing, the wedding set-up was easily recognisable. There was the wedding dais, the decorations, the tables and chairs, the flowers, the red carpet. It was not the first time that I had been invited to a wedding at this particular hotel restaurant, so there was definitely nothing uniquely ‘Pakistani’ about the place or set-up. The marriage was solemnised by a local kadi who delivered the marriage sermon and carried out the wedding formalities entirely in Malay. The guests present were tuned in eagerly and you could tell that whatever their ethnic origins, they understood Malay well. Even the aqad nikah between the father of the bride and the groom was in Malay.
The thing that stood out was of course you could tell that at least half the guests present during the nikah did not look Malay. It was highly likely that they were of Indian or Pakistani origin – exactly and in what proportions I could not tell for sure. The other thing that was different was the choice of traditional attire by the bride and groom, their families as well as their invited guests. The dress code as encouraged on the wedding invitation was ‘traditional’. I saw the men in their Sherwanis and Kurtas while the women in their Lenghas. I also saw a fair share of Pakols and Jinnah caps too amongst the men. And finally, when you have a live band playing and singing to classic Hindi hits from the days of Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, you get a sense that this is not a Malay wedding.
In essence, I think wedding ceremonies amongst the different Muslim communities in Singapore are quite alike. The wedding of an Indian Muslim family in Singapore is likely to be more similar to the wedding of a Malay family in Singapore than a wedding you would witness on the Indian subcontinent. I actually had the opportunity to be part of a relative’s wedding when I visited Pakistan in 2012. It was held in the village and bride’s family (who I am related to) hosted over 40 or more ‘delegates’ from the groom’s side. What’s interesting is that as part of the custom, the groom’s side has to complete a series of challenges before they can reach the bride. A little similar of course to our local concept of the ‘hadang’ but over there, the groom will have to include his best marksman in his delegation, as it’s likely they’ll be asked to shoot a near impossible target (like a can strung from a tree). Until these challenges are completed, they cannot proceed.
It’s probably a good thing you cannot carry firearms in Singapore. As a groom, it’s one less of an impossible task to complete before you meet your bride. I’m sure the men who have been through it will agree..