In the tiny oil-rich state of Brunei, the glittering wedding of the year. Prince Mohamed?
In the tiny oil-rich state of Brunei, the glittering wedding of the year. Prince Mohamed Bolkiah - next tin line to the Sultan's throne - was preparing to marry his childhood sweetheart. This ceremony in the throne room at the Sultan's Palace was just one of many in the nine days of festivities leading up to the actual wedding.
Prince Mohamed, 21, is the younger brother of Sultan Hassanal who succeeded to the throne of Brunei in 1967 following the voluntary abdication of his father. This Royal "berbedak" ceremony dates back to the Hindu influences in Brunei more than one-thousand years ago. But above all this is a muslim wedding and it's not until the ninth day that the bride and bridegroom are allowed to meet.
The highlight of this ceremony is the Royal Bedak - face powder in liquified form which is smeared on the bridegroom's hands. Then - from his father, Sir Omar Ali Saifuddin, a sprinkling of yellow rice.
In all the wedding ceremonies, strict traditional rules must be adhered to. Officers carrying 12 spears, 12 swords and thirty-two lances must accompany the Prince. Sixteen maids in Malay national dress bering candles must be present. And for the Sandhurst-trained Prince - previously Brunei's most eligible bachelor - more protocol to memorise than at a regimental parade. In another house just 50 yards from the palace, Princess Anak Zariah had her own separate powder ceremony.
Princes Zariah's "bedak" ceremony followed exactly the same pattern as her husband-to-be. Only this time the women played the leading roles: among them the wife of the British High Commissioner to Brunei. Aged 17, the bride was a schoolgirl before her marriage. Unlike many muslim weddings, this marriage was not arranged by the parents. The Prince and his princess were childhood sweethearts from their early days at the palace.
Dominating Brunei Town like a huge golden candle is the country's showpiece - the Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque. The classical Islamic architecture rises from a lagoon bordering the water village of Kampong Ayer and the main town. It is easily one of the most elegant mosques in Asia. This was the setting for the actual marriage ceremony....a ceremony without the bride.
Under Islamic law, women are banned from entering the mosque with men. No bride is allowed to see her husband sign the marriage contract: no father allowed to give the bride away: no mother allowed to see her daughter begin a new life. There can be no objections as to why this couple should not be married. It is all firmly arranged beforehand and there can be no last-minute change of mind. As the marriage ceremony neared its climax, a 17-gun salute boomed out over Brunei Town and echoed through the vast mosque.
Prince Mohamed Bolkiah's signing of the marriage contract was witnessed by all guests - mostly members of the Royal family, diplomatic corps or government officials. And for witnessing the ceremony, each guest was given an envelope containing two Brunei dollars (about five shilling sterling).
And as the religious ceremony drew to a close, preparations began for the brightest and most public occasion of the twelve days of ceremonies - the Bersanding, or coming-together ceremony.
For days the drums had kept up a steady beat at the Istana or State Palace. Now they rose to a hectic frenzy as - preceded by the palace guard - Prince Mohamed went to be with his bride in public for the first time. He had bathed beforehand in scented water in a white cloth enclosure held in position by Royal maids. Another sixteen held lighted candles. Now at the bride's home 50 yards (metres) from the Istana they came together after days of separate ceremonies.
Although records indicate Chinese rule of Borneo in the sixth century, followed by Hindu Majapahit influence from java around the thirteenth century, the first written records go back no further than he first Mohammedan Sultan and the introduction of Arabic script in the fifteenth century. During the reign of the fifth Sultan, Brunei's power extended over all of Borneo and many islands which now belong to the Philippines. The days of Brunei's great glory are reflected in this ornate ceremony.
The royal warrant was read out to proclaim the wedding and then prayers were offered. The bride's house was festooned with garlands and large candles threw light on the smoke from sweet-smelling incense. The Prince wore Malay traditional dress of white silk and his bride was dressed in glittering gold and white.
In a country where most marriage - particularly those concerning the Royal family - are arranged by the parents, this love match caused many problems. It didn't mater that the groom and bride are first cousins. What did matter was the bride's elder sister has married the Sultan, Prince Mohamed's elder brother. To enable this second marriage to go through, Brunei had to change the Adat - the Islamic law - to suit the occasion. But now that was all behind them - the people of Brunei were out in front waiting to cheer the couple during a procession through the capital's main streets.
Preceded by bearers and the palace guard carrying ancient swords, spear and gold and silver lances, the next-in-line to the throne of Brunei was given a warm ovation as he showed his bride to the people.
The pageantry and colour signalled the culmination of days of festivities and of precise and complicated ceremonies. After this, the couple could begin to relax. And after one more ceremony in three days' time they could begin to live their life together. Although embellished with many royal trimmings, this basically is marriage Malay style.