Effect of arranged marriage in the Badjao

By Jessica Farrelly

For many people in Ireland their wedding day is the most significant day of their lives, with months of planning and excitement leading up to it. For many of the Badjao people this is not the case, in traditional Badjao families women are only told that they are getting married a few days prior to their wedding. Often they only find out who they are marrying at the ceremony in front of all their family and friends. Arranged marriages (Buya) are organized by the parents of the couple and the elders of the Badjao community. Typically the man will go to his parents and tell them who he would like to marry, the parents will then discuss with the proposed women’s parents and the elders in the community whether they think the couple will be compatible together. This will be negotiated with a dowry which is offered as a token to the brides family from the grooms. The amount varies from family to family, if the woman is educated the dowry will increase in price as she is seen as a more desirable asset to the groom, a basic dowry is 10,000 peso (€180) and can exceed up to 50,000 peso (€900). The dowry can come in many forms such as rice,kitchen utensils, fishing nets and cash which is presented to the family prior to the wedding, the date of the wedding is also announced during this ceremony. The wedding ceremony is usually a few days after.

There is a stark contrast to the lead up of a Badjao wedding compared to an Irish wedding as the bride has little to no involvement in the ceremony planning, choosing her wedding dress or choice of husband. In the week prior to the wedding the bride must remain inside and cannot have any contact with the outside world. The wedding celebrations last three nights and two days consisting of tribal dancing and singing. The elders of the community organise the ceremony and guests at the wedding must only dance with their own families. The bride and groom must show no emotions throughout the ceremony until the last dance as a smile can suggest premarital sexual activities which is highly disapproved of. From my time with the Badjao I have heard many stories of women running away from the community with their desired husband to avoid an arranged marriage. From time to time women have been known to run away if they become pregnant before marriage as this is highly frowned apron, often returning to the community at a later stage to ask for forgiveness which is not always granted.

Many women live in fear of being married off as it has a major effect on their education and childhood. Women are deemed ready for marriage when they start menstruating, once a women is married she is expected to forfeit her education and to start a family with her husband. Due to the influence of Nano Nagle school and the importance that it puts on education, the Badjao are encouraged to wait until they are over eighteen to get married and have children. Contraception isn’t utilized by traditional Badjao people as it goes against their beliefs. Women have very little rights as the male decides when and how many children the couple will have.

The Badjao are not exposed to sexual education and they lack knowledge of the menstrual cycle as it is a taboo topic in their culture, as a result of this there is a lack of family planning. Due to extensive family sizes the eldest child is often deprived of their childhood as they regularly have to take care of their younger siblings and help provide for them. I have found it very hard to comprehend the idea of girls as young as five carrying their younger siblings around with them all day while they try to play with their friends. The emotional attachment I have witnessed between the baby and the child is uncanny to that of a mother and child, when the elder sibling puts down the baby for even a second it cries out to be held. This results in the older child missing out on vital childhood development as they are forced to take on responsibilities an Irish child would never dream of.

During my time here I have found it very upsetting to meet many amazing openly gay people within the Badjao community who will be expected to marry someone of the opposite sex as gay marriage isn’t accepted. I was pleasantly surprised by how accepting the Badjao are of gay people but was deeply saddened when I asked will they be allowed marry someone of the same sex and I was told they could never dream of it.

I have found it hard at times to understand the traditions of the traditional Badjao people, at twenty two and just having completed my final year in college my life is very different to a Badjao women of my age. Most Badjao women my age are married into an arranged marriage with on or two children and they have very rights within their relationship. I really admire the Badjao women they are strong, determined and resilient. I was lucky enough to get the chance to run an embroidery workshop for the women. I was blown away by their creativity and their eagerness to learn. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute that I have spent with these amazing people, the wealth of love and support that they have for each other is incredibly admirable.