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Malam Pacar: A Pre-wedding Tradition for Arabian Bride

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Photography: Nakreze Mehndi

A pre-wedding procession done by an Arabian descent bride-to-be, including in Indonesia, is called Malam Pacar. Yes, this tradition is similar with Western's bridal shower or India's henna night. The word 'pacar' was taken from 'pacar leave' which produces a red-colored natural dye mostly known as henna or inai. During this procession, families and close friends will paint the bride's fingers, palm to wrist with elaborate patterns using henna. This tradition is a symbol of blessings from the guests.

The henna activity also comes communal praying, then closes with a joint belly dance. There are several difference between Malam Pacar in its original Middle Eastern countries and in Malay countries, such as in Indonesia. In its origins, on one hand, this tradition is mostly held one to two weeks before the wedding day. On the other hand, it is done only one day before the big day in Malay countries. In addition, it is commonly added with sungkeman (bride asking for blessings from her parents) in Indonesia.

Some of authentic Indonesian culture actually own similar rituals with Malam Pacar, such as Malam Bohgaca in Aceh, Berinai in Riau (also practiced by Malay people in Singapore), Berpacar in Palembang, Pasang Pacar in Lampung and Peta Kapanda in Bima. Most of those traditions basically adapted from the one in Middle East. For example, putting pacar leaves onto the bride's palms by those who are already happily married is one of the activities performed during Mappaci, a Bugis's tradition in Makassar. Malam Bainai which was established by Minangkabau people in West Sumatera also uses pacar leaves to dye the bride's nails.

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