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Category: State Govt.
City: Ha Noi
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Category: Arts and Crafts
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City: Ha Noi
|4. Apsara Restaurant|
City: Da Nang
|5. Vietnam Puppetry Theatre|
Category: Performing Arts
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|6. Thien Long Group Corp.|
Category: Product Development
City: Ho Chi Minh
The traditional Tay wedding boasts some of the most fascinating and romantic of all the ethnic minority marriage customs.
It may seem strange that only after many years of living in the city did I, a member of the Tay ethnic minority, finally discover and understand the significance of my people’s traditional marriage customs.
Perhaps my “discovery” was a subjective one; however, I truly believe that Tay ethnic marriage customs are no less sweet or romantic in comparison with what I have seen in the city. In fact, in my opinion they are considerably more interesting.
I was seven years old when my eldest brother got married. My family was the richest in the village, so the wedding was a very lively affair. In truth, it was the most impressive wedding I have ever seen. My father slaughtered more than 10 pigs and prepared 30 jars of wines and the whole village ate, drank and made merry for more than five days. After the wedding, our five-compartment stilted house was sticky with grease from top to bottom while the smell of smoke still wafted through the air.
That was also the first time I had ever seen a Tay bride. She was a very shy young mountain girl aged around 15, trying hard to hide herself in the special wedding chamber which my father had hired two carpenters to build inside our stilted house.
My sister-in-law’s dowry was no less impressive. It included six pack horses, 20 colourful brocade blankets and a large wooden trunk filled with cloth, so heavy that it needed six strong young men to carry it. There were also gifts of white silver, jewelry and brass pots.
In accordance with one very important custom, the brocade blankets were brought out for the guests to cover themselves with for good luck. With blankets spread all over the house, the young men had plenty of opportunity to tease the girls! The bride was then pulled out of the wedding chamber and the guests led her and the groom to the middle of the floor, covered them with a blanket and started singing.
While the young people gathered in the middle of the house drinking wine and covering themselves with the blankets, the old people stayed on the upper level of the house smoking and chatting. Meanwhile the women were busy in the kitchen cooking special dishes for the guests to eat. The wed- ding lasted for five consecutive days. Obviously, only rich families could enjoy a wedding on this scale.
During the five-day period of the wed- ding my eldest brother had no opportunity for a “wedding night,” and when the wedding was over his bride went back home to her family, only returning to our house during harvest days to work. But that was regarded as quite normal amongst the Tay people.
The first time my sister-in-law returned to our house after the wedding, I was assigned to collect her. It was a scorching hot day and as we travelled along the mountain pass she asked me about my brother, my family and the people in my village. At that time I was very young and answered all her questions frankly.
It turned out that she knew nothing about my brother and my family. She seemed worried. Whenever I recall that day, I see her image clearly in my mind. A very young girl with a plump figure, big strong hands and feet, full hips, ruddy cheeks and naive eyes, a true mountain girl!
When we arrived home, she gave me a small brocade bag, telling me that it was a gift for me. That evening, my father invited the neighbours round for a drink. During the meal, my sister-in- law lowered her gaze, ate very little and said nothing. The family then went to bed early. The night passed in silence.
Early next morning, my brother and sister-in-law left for the fields. They took with them supplies of rice balls, chicken with sticky rice and lots of other things. By nightfall they were still not back. When I asked my father where they were, he answered with a smile: “When you grow up, you’ll get married yourself and then you’ll know…” I didn’t know what he meant and when I insisted on going outside to wait for them, my elder sister laughed at me and said: “If you want to know where your eldest brother is, you’ll have go ‘to the fields, to the mountains, to the forest.’” But I still didn’t under- stand. I was worried that my brother and sister-in-law might have got lost. They didn’t get home until very late.
This went on for several days, with my brother and sister-in-law departing early in the morning and only returning late at night with a look of great happiness on their faces. Often when they returned my father would slap my brother on the back, as if in encouragement. My sister would drag my brother’s new wife into her room amidst much giggling. At night, my brother would sleep outside or on my bed. He snored noisily as though he was extremely tired. When the harvest days were over, my sister-in-law returned home and I saw her off. She didn’t ask me anything but smiled. She looked exceedingly happy, with rosy cheeks.
My sister-in-law visited her husband’s house in this way for three years. Sometimes during that period my father got angry with my mother, complaining that my brother should have married a different girl. Then suddenly one day, my sister-in-law and her father came to my house. Her belly looked bigger and she was wrapped in a thick indigo coat. That night was so exciting for all of us and my father laughed heartily, inviting all of our neighbours round to enjoy wine and chicken and becoming ever tipsier as the evening wore on.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “I’ll ask old Tao the village shaman to come and preside over the ritual to permit the me Lua (another name for daughter-in-law) to be called by our family name, Hoang.” The next day the shaman held a formal ceremony, dancing and beating the gongs and drums tumultuously. Pigs were slaughtered and sticky rice was cooked. From that time onwards, my sister-in-law did not return to her parents’ home any more.
Only then did I understand that had my sister-in-law not become pregnant after three harvest seasons, she would have forfeited the right to be called by our family name and my father would have looked for another wife for my eldest brother. Above all else, a true mountain girl must prove her ability to bear children.
And what about the wedding night? It took place during the period when my brother and my sister-in-law went out to the fields. However, they did not actually go to the fields. Taking food and belongings with them, they “returned to nature” where they talked to each other, understood each other and loved each other. Who needs candle-lit dinners and pink roses when you can find love in the natural surroundings of the forest, with heaven and earth in complete harmony?
Let’s imagine a newly-wed couple with no information about each other. They have never met before. They go to the forest and there they start to get to know each other. They consider the leaves as their bed, the moonlight as their candles, the undergrowth as their roses and they begin to love each other, their love witnessed and beautified by nature and the moonlight. How romantic is that?
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