Living Heritage of Sri Lanka

The Magul Kapuwa or Marriage Broker:
A symbol of the past?

The Magul Kapuwa or Marriage Broker

If you are an eligible bachelor, widower without encumbrances or a shapely (or otherwise) young miss and are interested in marriage but are reluctant to have description of your ideal mate being published in the weekend newspapers, you can still reach your desired goal if you could channel the services of a Magul Kapuwa (marriage broker), a symbol of the past.

For all those who were genuinely interested in marriage, specially in the past, the Magul Kapuwa was the counsellor and diplomat who took the great responsibility of arranging your life's partner.

However, of recent times this social symbol of the past is being surely and gradually wiped off our social scene. But still there are a few Magul Kapuwas strutting about in the Sri Lankan scene and are the only solace to many a weary maid and ambitious parents.

The dearest possession in life to the Magul Kapuwa is his soiled diary which contains everything concerned with his clients, their names, ages, parentage, the income of the men and other details of specially the wealthier residents of the country since he embarked on this rather thankless profession. This able reflector of social life knows almost everything about every man's sons and daughters.

If your interest is a girl he will tell the girl's age, her complexion, temperament and the most important, the dowry she carries with her! Usually he gives all these in the superlative using the choicest words at his command.

All in all meeting the Magul Kapuwa is a comedy of the highest order.

His most important and interesting diary has a special place reserved for the details of the horoscopes of his clients.

This enables him to tell the ruling planets of individuals who seek his help and would also indicate for how long one has to stay before having a reasonable prospect of getting married.

By the mere touch of his magic wand (the walking stick) the most secret chambers of respectable homes open for him.

He is the friend of the father who has tried every possible trick to trap a wealthy young man for his not so pretty daughter; the mother, usually old and anxious, takes him to the back verandah and entertains him with the best food available while the girl, whose name is on the lips of all the bachelors of the area, herself, in breath-taking attire, glides before the Magul Kapwa and even indulges in a mild and harmless flirtation.

Unlike in the present almost all the marriages in the past were the results of the tireless efforts of the Magul Kapuwa.

Times have changed and most of the present day marriages are settled between the couples after an acquaintance with each other or through the marriage advertisements in the newspapers.

In any case a few marriages are still arranged by these wise men who are most concerned with the material things of life and the continuity of the institution of marriage without any hindrance.

The appearance itself of a typical Magul Kapuwa in the past is interesting and entertaining. He took a great pride in his konde and sometimes used an ornate shell comb on his always oily head.

His dress was made up of an old tweed cloth held tightly to his waist by a thick leather belt and covered the upper part of his body with usually an oversized shirt. An old pair of sandals or shoes, too big for his feet, adorned them. Tucked under his arm was a thread-bare umbrella which had seen enough service in his family that it was considered a family heirloom.

This umbrella served him faithfully both in inclement weather and as a protection against stray dogs who always announced his arrival and departure from any house. No sooner he was anchored comfortably in a chair, anxious parents tried to impress him of the adorable qualities and academic achievements of their marriageable daughters or sons.

Meanwhile the people in the house drifted into a long conversation with him. At the end the lady of the house folded a five or ten rupee note and put it into his pocket. But he pretended not to know anything about it! So that was the Magul Kapuwa (marriage broker) of a bygone era who was an important symbol of the past.

This article is based on the life of an old Magul Kapuwa in the Kandy area about 50 years ago.

by Andrew Scott
Courtesy: The Daily News (Colombo) of 13 December 2003.