Wednesday, December 1, 2010
For most of us what Ah Chong's and Mei Ling's parents did in prearranging their marriage seems inexplicable. But for their parents that's the best thing they could have done for their child.
Match-making by the parents, relatives and other village elderlies used to be common-place.
While watching the children - still running around half naked - play among themselves, the elderlies would wonder if such and such a boy would made a good husband for such and such a girl.
The wonder would then transcend into discussions, and later turned to a more formal 'arrangements'. Once it is all agreed a 'promise' is solemnized. This promise is more or less carved in stone. To break that promise would cause severe embarrassment to either parents and even a civil war.
On the children's part if they were to refuse or later not fulfill that promise they would have 'painted charcoal on their parents faces' and will be disowned.
Whilst amongst the Malays the match-making are simple routines normally conducted between close families (marriage between cousins used to be common) to preserve the relationship, or to prevent the wealth from 'going to others', or to preserve status in society, deciding on a child's future partner is a bit more complicated for the Chinese.
As the Chinese consists of many groups or dialects, the parents may want their children to be married to those from the same group to preserve the surname. (This may not be true for all groups, but certainly the preference for sons rather than daughters stems from the fact that when the sons marry their children will perpetuate the surname).
The child's year of birth is extremely important. As we all know the year we are born make us one of the twelve animals in the Chinese calendar. Never should a person who was born in the year of the Tiger be married to someone born a Monkey, for example, or an Ox to a Goat.
There are affinity and enmity relationships between the five elements.
Certain birth year will make you the kind of animal you are: for example you are a Metal Rat if born in 1960 and a Water Rat if born in 1972; or a Fire Monkey in 1956 but an Earth Monkey if born in 1968, and so on.
To leave all these to the children would be taking a big risk and considered irresponsible on the part of the parents. It may invite disaster. The children would then be too young to think about all those, or to even understand them. When they have grown up they may not want to follow the stars. So it is the parents duty, as it were, to make doubly sure that they get the most compatible life partner.
What about love, you may ask. What has love got to do with it?