TODAY -

Marriage ceremony : The Zeliangrongs and Tais of Southeast Asia
- Part 2 -

Dr Budha Kamei *



Saamtonmei: The elopement of two lovers who have decided to marry is called Saamtomei. It is a more or less approved means by which determined individuals can disobey their parents and choose their own mates. In this type of marriage, the consent of the parents is not taken and they elope with their own will. Mhairakmei is observed if the girl belongs to exogamous clan.

Such a marriage is not considered a completely valid marriage. Consequently, the girl is not permitted to visit to her natal home as she is separated herself from her family and changed her clan to that of the boy without the consent of her parents. This is called Khamei.

This creates an embitter relations between the two families. Elopement marriage is later neutralized by observing a ceremony called Dui louduk mhairak. It is performed at the residence of the bride.

Here, the bride-price is not yet involved. The groom's family will pay the bride-price after some years say when the couple has their children. After Dui louduk mhairak, the two families are permitted by to visit each other families.

Wedding rituals among the Tais

The Shans, Ahoms, and other Tais, follow two types of marriage: (a) informal and (c) Arrange marriage. Among the Yuan poor farmers, they simply decide to live together and send parents of areca, betel leaves, candles, and flowers to the groom's parent house in order to propitiate the spirits of the house. If the groom's parents consent to the match 'suitable gifts' are given to the bride.

Bride and groom live with the bride's parents until a next daughter gets a husband. And among the Lue Tais, a betrothal date is fixed by ten elders representing both parties involved. On the marriage day, the groom brings a cluster of one hundred betel nuts and the bride will do the same.

When agreement is reached, the man deposits two hoi as bride price and the girl will present a dish of flowers and four pairs of wax candles. The two clusters of betel nuts are distributed amongst the families of both parties and vows are exchanged between bride and groom to behave well towards each other.

The elders, together with the groom, then leave the bride's house but at dusk the groom and some of his friends return. At this stage the groom must carry a sword and bag for carrying betel nuts as symbol of being a real man. The groom stays for a period of three years at the bride house, and after three years the young couple decides to set up their own house.

Among the Shans of Namkham, on the morning of the wedding day bride and groom must be bathed near their respective homes. The wedding takes place in the bride's parents' house and early in the afternoon the groom is escorted in procession to that house by a group of men.

The elder members of the groom offer to the bride's father a number of baskets full of different kinds of foods. Amongst these articles there must always be four eggs and two salted fish. The representatives then formally ask for the bride and after a proper hesitation and show of reluctance, the bride's family give in to the request. The groom leads the bride to a low table and the couple eats curry and rice in the presence of the wedding guests.

The reminder of the bride price is paid and in the procession the bride is escorted to the groom's house where she is led to her parents-in-law. Before the evening she will be advised by an old woman who will tell her where the wedding bed must be placed, and that she must sleep on the left of the bed, even if her husband is not present.

Among the Black Tais, when a young man does wish to open negotiations they send an intermediary with presents like betel, tobacoo, some victuals and if they can afford it, a gold ring or necklace. If the proposal is accepted, wedding details like bride price and dowry would be discussed.

In an auspicious day, the groom goes in procession to the bride's house, clad in traditional festive attire, complete with a knife in his belt. The go-betweens carry the bride price. The sealing of the marriage traditionally consists of a ceremonial exchange of betel between the two young people, the presentation of the bride price and its acceptance in the presence of the witnesses.

The important part of the wedding ceremony is also the presentation of the young man to the spirits of the forefathers. The bride also will venerate her husband ancestors and promise to respect them. It is done at the groom's house. After the marriage the couple should normally settle in the groom parents' household if no other married children live there, otherwise the married couple may settle anywhere.

According to Somsonge Burusphat, Jerold A Edmonson and Megan Sinnott, "Marriages are arranged by the parents. Custom requires that the boy spend a service period working for his fiancée's parents. Sons of nobles are expected to do from 8 to 10 years of service, while a briefer period is required of commoners. After the service period, the marriage takes place and the girl's parents must present the groom with a dowry.

The only exemption to the service rule is when the fiancée's family does not have males to assist with cultivation, in which case the marriage may take place immediately after preliminary arrangements have been completed, and the groom goes to live with his wife's family."

Among the White Tais, on the day of the marriage the mediator walks in front, followed by the groom and people carrying the gifts. At the house they prostrate themselves before the girl's parents and are received in the house. At the same time as a pig is cooked, the father of the bride lifts the tray with betel nuts up to the ancestors, and the groom accompanied by his intermediary, will be introduced to them.

After that a meal is followed and then the procession will return to the residence of the groom along with the bride, her representative and her parents. The bride will be introduced to the ancestors of her husband and a festive meal does conclude the ritual. The bride lives in the house of her husband's family. "Many wealthy White Tai have more than one wife."

(To be contd)


* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at budhakamei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on February 23, 2019.



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