Sarawak Chinese Hakka Women And Marriage

Modernisation and progress has little effect on the traditional beliefs of Hakka women as reflected in their attitudes and behaviours toward marriage. Young women put little priority in job attainment. Once married, their attentions shifted towards looking after the well-being of their children and husbands.

The Hakkas (part of a Chinese dialects group) arrived in Sarawak from mainland China during the early 19th century. The Hakkas had no permanent homeland and were constantly moving from one place to another since the early dynasties in China. They were invited to Sarawak during the Brooke`s era in 1890s to work in the agricultural fields.

A research was conducted by Elena Gregoria Chai Chin Fern, Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak to study the status of Hakka woman in relation to the increased opportunities in education and work, their active participations within the family organisation and their social networks. The focus group for this paper is married Hakka women of 35 years and below with children.

Observations and in-depth interviews were conducted in the village of Tapah, which is an hour drive from the centre of Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak. The Hakka community residing here is still relatively confined where people live in close proximity to one another. They engage in activities and businesses that complement one another. The Hakka community living in Tapah was extradited here during the communist upsurge in 1965.

Despite the rise of living standards in the country and increased opportunities in education and work, the Hakka women in Tapah village are still encapsulated in the traditional settings of post-marital roles such as the responsibility to care for their own children, to be subservient wife and daughter-in-law, and to carry out all home duties. Women are expected to portray certain types of ideal behaviours or they risk being sanctioned by the community.

Marriage is considered by parents as the future for their daughters -- living a marriage life represents the attainment of wholeness in the life of a woman. A woman’s place after marriage is in the house or domestic sphere and matters ‘outside’ of the home should be left to the man ie a married woman should assume the role of fulltime housewives and abstain from non- household work.

The respondents in this study live in a setting categorised as “Joint Family”. They lived with their in-laws and also their husband’s siblings. Once married, they quit their job and assumed the role of housewives. In the new environment, they are to do the house chores and looked after their husband and children well-being. This is the expectations of the family, the society and even the women themselves.

Published: 07 May 2008

Contact details:

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak94300 Kota SamarahanSarawak, Malaysia

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