(I've not been writing for a while, though there are so much to write about...but this year the extended family of my mom's side receives a few new additions through marriages that it reminds me of the time I got married, and I have to urge myself to write. In my extended family, every cousin is as good as a brother or a sister...thus, the cousins-in-law become brothers or sisters-in- law.)
My brother got married in Feb 2013. And I earned a beautiful sister-in-law (The pic above was taken during their Dusun traditional wedding ceremony aka the panau 'travel, walk'). It was very exciting as I only have a sister and it was not that fun to do the girly things with just the two of us! Now there are more ladies in the family and life can't possibly get any better. In a few days, my cousin Tata Jane is marrying Kay. Since Tata is one of my favourite people ever, Kay automatically goes into my favourite people list too! So this entry is mainly for Tata, although also for my other sisters-in-law/sisters-in-law-to-be.
According to the old Dusun ways, a marriage sees that the bride becomes the husband's family's 'property'. After I got engaged in 1995, my aunty Dumie who's my father's older sister had a long talk with me, about how to become the 'perfect' Dusun wife. Aunty Dumie is very traditional, so she gives culture-based advice. The gist of which:
1. When you are married, you would then join your husband's family. You have to blend with them/learn their ways. Never ever say the names of your tiwanon (parents/grandparents/aunties/uncles-in-law, as something bad will happen to you.
2. You will be expected to act like one of the daughters and do the housework. Sitting around doing nothing is not only embarrasing to you, but also your parents because it would show that they didn't teach you well. (the koikum-ikum concept)
3. You don't complaint about your in law's family...once you are married into the family, they are your family too.
4. If your mother in law goes mindahu , you have to join her too. If possible, do more than her. (the aparu concept)
Of course, I never did go mindahu with my mother-in-law. I interpret no 4 as 'in my life as a modern career woman, it is understood that I won't have time to help out in the farm', plus my mother-in-law only ever does a little farming since I join the family till now. Thus, I am exempted :) (Okay okay...this is a lazy person lame excuse but it's the truth anyway).
And my uncle Peter Sanie of my mom's side, is very good at giving advice on how to be fair to both sides of parents once you are married. This uncle, who we fondly call 'Beliau' always reminds newly-weds in the family of this analogy "if you have a fish to give and you are visiting both sides of parents, you split the fish lengthwise instead of crosswise. That way both sets of parents have equal parts of the fish". Beliau is the only maternal uncle I have left, having buried the other beloved uncle just over two weeks ago :( (May his soul rest). And Beliau's advice is more significant than ever as I learn to appreciate things in life.
In my 17 years of marriage, I see the merits of the advice. Being fair to both sides of the family is a must. Yes it is impossible to be equal all the time, but at least we try. It's the thought and sincerity that count. We can't risk having any parents sulk, it would spoil your happiness. Having said that, it is also important to have time together, just the two of you. Or else the marriage faces 'burnout' and other problems that left unattended, might get bigger and kill the marriage. That's why even the Dusun people of the olden days understood the need to have a separate house once a new family was formed.
As for joining your new family, it could get awkward at first. I bet with our extended family, it's even more awkward for others to join. But slowly, it gets easier. Having parents-in-law is a blessing, really. I only have a mother-in-law but it's good enough for me. Even though we live quite a short distance from each other, I don't really get to see her that often. But when I do see her, the gossip session is always lengthy and entertaining. Being the expressive person that she is, she would tell me all about the people in her kampung that I feel I know everyone. Our session can extend well over midnight, making me feel that I have learned a little bit more about life each time we gossip. Everyone will get a mother-in-law with different personalities. Be open-minded. It doesn't do to have a set of rigid expectations on them. Take them as they are and they'll take you as you are too.
Do we still uphold the koikum-ikum and aparu concepts? Common sense will dictate that we do to a certain extent. It is expected in the community that we do not just sit around doing nothing in our own house, let alone in our in-law's place. Not because we want to show off, but that really should be the way. Doing the housework together also does more than just merely getting the chores done. It helps in bonding. The best extended family time for me is always in the kitchen...when some family members cook, some clean, some eat, and some simply talk. It works in both side of my own family and my husband's family. I feel that I get to know the family members better from this activity.
Not saying the names of your tiwanon can present difficulties sometimes. When people ask who's your father-in-law, how are you supposed to tell them if you are not allowed to say their names, right? To me, I'd just say it...after all it is for a real thing. I know of some people who will spell the names of their in-laws out loud when asked, though. Salute for that respectfulness. Well, our late grandfather Leo K used to say, 'sumilou o totud' (knee would turn yellow) if you say the names of your elderly relatives...and tiwanon. Take your pick...you want to be as Dusun as can be, our a modern Dusun who respects the traditions and modifies some!
Anyway, unfortunately I have never been in a session in which a male relative is being given a pre-marriage talk. But experience tells that a man is expected to provide for his family. Any humble job will do- farming, doing odd jobs, any, as long as he puts food on the table. I supposed, to Kay and all my other brothers/cousins, I can only say try to give the best to your wives and (future) children. Adding a modern interpretation to this, I'd say, see not only to their physical needs, but also the emotional needs ;). Females are complicated creatures...never expect them to think, act an speak like you men do!
Lastly, I have learned through the years that the golden key to a solid marriage is honest communication between the wife and the husband. We no longer live in those days where the Dusun wives were expected to be silent and to accept the husbands' mistakes without any say. Thank God for that and let's make use of that right. Say what you want to say to each other, with tolerance because no one is perfect. You might feel that at that moment you dislike your partner very much because you are not happy with him/her, but just remember even then that you love each other to have married one another. After that, make peace with each other and live in the love you have found in one another.
Because every wedding is beautiful...I believe yours has a great love story to tell. May the love you have found in each other lasts for eternity.