Thumbs up at a Tausog wedding

- Tingting Cojuangco () - September 8, 2002 - 12:00am
The invitation was L-O-N-G and read like the who’s who of Sulu. It did not surprise me since Muslim wedding invitations list numerous sponsors in their gold-lettered notices. We responded to the invitation positively and returned to Jolo after four years.

The Abdurajak and Mandangan families celebrated their union in a gym that can fit 5,000 guests. An extension roof was built in two days to accommodate 1,500 tables, sitting eight guests per table, who drank 1,000 bottles of mineral water and 5,000 softdrinks at this Tausog wedding.

The Luguh was sung a capella by Elin. Most singers like her are trained as early as 12 years old to sing in shrill voices which are appreciated by the Tausogs and Chinese. Elin also sang the Maulud, a Tausog custom and the family’s choice of prayer. "When the Prophet Mohammad was a child," Sitti, a former school teacher and wife of Governor Tupay Loong, explained, "if he cried, the lullaby sung to him was from the Maulud in the Qur’an."

The all-Tausog choral group sang Sumping Manisan, (Beautiful Flower) in praise of the bride. The lyrics go, "You are a beautiful a shining moon...the ray of the sun...the glitter of the diamond...a lovely flower beyond compare."

Albasa, a flutist, played love songs on his suling. As the sponsors lined up to march, numerous cookies called Bangbangs attracted us. Five hundred plates or tapak were piled on top of one another. First three plates. In the middle of two of the three plates was one plate to form a mini triangle of plates. Bangbangs are plain and colored cookies made of dough, rice flour or plain flour, sugar, honey, egg, dipped or fried in coconut oil. Volunteers – friends and relatives – took 15 days to bake 1,500 cookies. Each cookie had a name. Cucus was color pink, yellow, green and flower-shaped. Bangbang Matayhay was shaped like a sipit or a clip. Tanday Tumanday was formed in curls and curves and in violet, orange, pink and yellow. Lara-Lara, meaning sili-sili, was long and shaped like a hot chili. Sahagon was made of peanuts and grated coconut and flour and in light brown color. Unud (meaning lam’an in Tagalog) Tipay or mother-of-pearl was green and pink. Dural was sticky with sugar and honey and the darkest color of all. Bunga Pagatpat and Bunga Amos were flower-shaped cookies. Baulo was a plain round tiny cookie with a raisin on top. Panganan was a cookie with three holes or the number eight shape. Ja, the cookie-like candy with strips of caramelized sugar, was my favorite. In Maguindanao and Lanao, it is called Lukot-Lukot. These delicacies are baked with fire on top and below, like the bibingka on native coal, and the method has not changed since ancient times.

The dough is difficult to mash so that the six-year-old energetic children running around were invited to mash the dough with all their strength. Children enjoyed playing with the dough so much that they skipped school, claiming there were no classes. They were sent back to their teachers by Sitti Loong.

Every cookie is shaped and picked up from the cooking pot filled with hot boiling oil by two bamboo prongs. The women hold the bamboo prongs similar to chopsticks and shape the dough while it is hot inside the pan. The elders cook them and put the food coloring after. Colors years back were derived from the Angivi tree of China and were poisonous therefore the cookies were baked for decorative purposes.

Since these traditional cakes are tedious to bake – it takes too much time, expense and effort – few wedding celebrations serve them now. For presentation, the colored cookies are placed on top and the brown ones below. Then colored and plain cookies are placed alternately. The food is as colorful as the burst of colors from the guests’ clothes. The Kabuli, which is rice wrapped in banana leaves or Dagun Jatih leaves from a hard tree, is tops, too. It is easy to eat and fills up the tummy.
* * *
But of course we didn’t forget the wedding. It began with the groom marching down the aisle wearing a gold-stylized Tausog attire followed by his six male attendants and six bridesmaids, five little girls and boys. The witnesses and sponsors totaling 52 followed. They included the most prominent provincial officials like Jikiri, Anni, Loong, General Tolentino, Omar, Abubakar, Burdan, Arbisin, Estino, Sirayan, Dausal, Tan, Tulawie, Tingkahan, Amin, Maldisa, Nanoh, Matba, Sahidulla, Ilaji, Muksam, Asmadun, Berto and Ajirim. The Imam waited on the stage with the groom and his best man while the parents stood on the steps of the stage below. After greeting all the witnesses and sponsors, the parents of both the bride and groom sat with their guests.

Before the rites began, the father of the groom asked the approval of the parents of the bride to solemnize the marriage. The father of the bride answered, "Yes, I accept willingly the solemnization of the wedding of our daughter by the officiating Imam."

Someone special, man or woman, was asked to inform the bride that her parents had given the authority to the Imam to begin the rites. The aunt of the groom, Sitti Loong, acted as the groom’s messenger and proceeded to the bride who was inside the Maligay. The Maligay is a little house, 14 ft.x16ft. with a fabric roof and walls in green, red, fuchsia, orange, violet, white...all the colors imaginable that protect the bride from every eye – even the bridegroom’s.

Sitti entered the Maligay to find Farrah, the bride, facing Mecca where the sun sets. She said to Farrah, "Kawinon na kano kay Rouhulla (the groom)." Farrah answered in a whisper, "Huon taima un." (Yes, I accept.) Ko Hi, Banahon Rouhulla e’las sin atay ko, karnah-sin Allah." (Wholeheartedly because of Allah.) The bride gave her new Aunt Sitti a gold ring. Sitti Loong returned to the stage and presented the ring to the Imam. Then the Imam gave the ring to the groom and the rites began.

The Imam announced his authority: "Today, the parents of the bride authorize me in the name of God and in accordance with the Islamic law to solemnize the marriage of their daughter Farrah to you." The Imam and the groom joined their thumbs under the handkerchief, both reciting prayers from the Qu’ran. This marked the solemnization of the marriage before the men on the left side, while the women sat on the right side of the stage wearing gold-buttoned Batawi’s (blouses) in colors to rival the thundering skies. The Habul Tiyahian is literally a "handmade blanket." Yes, it could become a magnificent coverlet with machine or handmade embroidery of leaves, flowers, curls and curves. The women wore them like a tapis over their loose trousers called Sawals. One end of the Tiyahian was draped over the left arm.

The men wore their Bajo Lapi or collarless shirts left unbuttoned with numerous gold buttons. The women showed me Congressman Hussein Amin’s trousers called Kaput or Berino which was tailored tight, not loose legged, an original Tausog pants of old. Some men had a Kabut, a sash on the waist, woven and embroidered with seared ends hanging called Bungutan.
* * *
Then a very loud "blast" was heard amid the silence in the wedding. Tarnin Matba and I sat up looking around. Some guests commented, "Poor civilians, they will be hurt again." It was the Army conducting their operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul. Peachie turned around to face General Tolentino. "It’s okay," he said. "You’re very cool," he added. "So are you. If you weren’t I wouldn’t be either," Peachie said. Although others commented, "We’re not getting the civilians on our side that way."

Well, the wedding continued.

The Imam, after officiating at this "thumbs up" between the groom and himself, without the bride’s presence, accompanied the groom with selected witnesses to the bride inside the Maligay. They informed her that her husband was ready to bring her to the final Biayiran for everyone to see her. Inside the Maligay the Imam put his hand on the bride and groom’s shoulders who sat on their respective cushions. The groom was rotated on his cushion first to the right then to left then and to the right again to bring prosperity in all directions. The groom put his thumb on the forehead of his bride, which symbolizes the sacred partnership of their physical bodies.

After that, the parents of the groom selected an unmarried lady of good moral standing in the community to hold the hips of the bride and rotate the bride on her cushion three times, starting from right to left and to the right. That done, it was now time to present the bride to her guests.

The entourage walked back to their places and waited breathlessly to see Farrah, a certified public accountant and daughter of Hadjirul Mandangan and Kurita Lee.

Everyone watched enthusiastically as the beautiful bride – with her chiseled features, high cheekbones, heart-shaped face, tiny lips and intense eyes looking very serious – solemnly walked down the aisle with her parents, in a modern lace wedding gown with a long train. Farrah, now with her groom Rouhulla on stage, awaited another ceremony – that of the rings. The Imam presented the groom with the ring and he put it on the bride’s finger and she on his finger. Then the groom handed over the coins to the bride. These coins symbolized the sharing of the couple’s earnings in the future.

The last event was the signing of the marriage contract by the witnesses and sponsors.
* * *
The evening guests, relatives and townfolks proceeded to Old Panamao for the town’s celebration, where the groom’s father Bassar Abdurajak is the mayor. Now the groom was allowed to hug and kiss his bride but not to sleep with her. A superstition goes that if they did, their lives would be cut short. So the whole night music filled the town with the suling, the gentle tunes from a bamboo flute that breathed soothing melody for children in cradles. Violins called violas in Sulu serenaded the couple. The Pangalay was danced by the men and women from the municipality’s barangays to the rhythm of the Tabonggoh, the gongs and kolintangs. The Gabbang or Bugtong verses which are songs of courtship, love and war were recited by two boys and two girls. These pairs invented stories to make the audience laugh during this happy occasion. The entertainers’ mission accomplished, the couple retired in the early morning, about prayer time which is 5 a.m., in separate rooms.

While at the Loong residence the next day, children and husbands sent couriers there looking for their parents and wives. The women caught up in the festivities decided to come along to Old Panamao and didn’t inform anybody at their homes. Even they got worried about kidnappings.

On the third day, between 3 to 4 in the afternoon, the groom’s family visited the bride’s family and brought fruits or "energy" food like Kawasi (squash with coconut milk), sugar, crabs, shrimps, sticky rice with coconut and ginger, durian, beef, eggs and the special Pianggan manok, a black native chicken. The chicken was served whole even with its head, intestines, liver and feet but of course completely cleaned inside and out.

After the food was served, a respected lay leader of the community advised the couple, particularly the bride, during the recitation of prayers that as a married woman she had the obligation to serve and love her husband. The husband had been advised during the wedding day.

On the third day, the couple could now sleep together. Finally on that night, the Salam, to sleep as a couple, would take place.

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