Conversation about Culture – Arranged Marriage or Match Making

In Indonesian Literature there is a book called Sitti Nurbaya, written by one of the country’s famous writers Marah Rusli published in 1966. The story is so well known in Indonesia that it is almost a folklore. A tragic story about star crossed lover Sitti Nurbaya and Samsul Bahri set in West Sumatra in the Dutch Colonial time.

The girl, Sitti had to say goodbye to Samsul who was forced to go to Batavia (Jakarta) in the early days of their courting. Whilst Samsul is away, Sitti’s father fell into debt with a rich merchant, Datuk Marringih. Datuk Marringih is a Scrooge-like character (Christmas Carol by Dickens) a horrible old man who is really tight and is evil, the difference is he didn’t change. To be fair he was not visited by any of the three ghosts. He unfortunately fell in love with Sitti and have orchestrated the misfortunes that happens to her family and that her dad would have to go to jail being unable to pay the debt.

Unless, of course, Sitti marries him.

Seeing her dad being taken away by the police, Sitti could not find it in her heart to see her father suffer and she said “Fine I will marry the man”

air mandian

It is quite a sad story where Nurbaya in the end was murdered by her husband and etc.. etc.  If you want to read the story there is an English version here (I have not read this version so I can’t vouch for its translation) and Indonesian version here.

I was reminded of this story when the other day me and a friend was talking about arranged marriage.

Growing up in Jakarta, when someone mentions arrange marriage, the common response from my friends, me and society in Indonesia was to dismissively say: “Is it really still the age of Siti Nurbaya?” or in Indonesian “Emangnya jamannya Siti Nurbaya”.

So arranged marriage had a bad connotation in Indonesia then. There was even a song by the then popular band Dewa 19 called: Cukup Siti Nurbaya or in English “Siti Nurbaya was enough (to have suffered)”


But, for my friend who grew up in the UK as a second generation Pakistani Muslim it was different. She quite often hears from her mum, aunties and any other older relative the comment “Ooh it was love marriage? That won’t last”. So she said there was a common societal believe that people who got married arranged by their parents are more likely to have a lasting marriage than those who merely fell in love with each other.

And apparently this seems to be the common view in Pakistan as well. Although I am not sure when she said arranged whether or not there is any element of force? because the arranged marriage in UK in most of the cases I know, is not forced, it is more of a match making done by parents.

Then there is South Korea, (knowledge is from watching drama) where arranging meetings and marriages has become an industry. Where people pay match makers, there are even match making agencies. It seems that it is quite common (drama knowledge, may not be true) for parents to force their children to go to marriage meeting, and people to pay these match makers a lot of money to do the work.

Don’t you think it is fascinating that these views are so different in different culture? I wonder whether in Indonesia they still view arranged marriage like in the 90’s. Do you think there is a difference between arranged marriage and match making by parents? what do you think of the whole thing?

Note:Image is from a friend’s pre-wedding traditional ceremony a few years a go.