To me, one of the delights of travel is the chance I got of learning about the kind of houses other people live in, the kinds of clothes they wear during their special days, the kind of decorations they use, the kind of festivals they celebrate in public or in private, what their customs are with regard to some of the more important events in their life, like their adult initiation rites, their wedding rites etc. The kind of knowledge one obtains is bound to be quite superficial. But at least we got a first chance to find out more if we're really interested. In my trip to Yunnan, I learned a little about the weddings of one of the ethnic minorities, the Bai Tribe (白族)
Apparently the Bai tribe practices monogamy. It used to be that all marriages are arranged by the couple's parents but nowadays, they are free to marry whom they like but certain traditional wedding customs are still followed. On the eve of the wedding day, the bridegroom has to have ready a temporary stage on bamboo stilts where those in the tribe who are good in singing and dancing would be invited to entertain the guests to the tune of string instruments, a folk wind instrument called suona (唢呐)( a kind of Chinese oboe with with a very sharp and high-pitched sound which originally came from Persia and much used in Western and Northern China) gongs and drums whilst the young and old, including children are treated to special food, snacks, fruits etc., deep into the night when they would all share a bowl of sweet glutinous rice dumplings in soup to signify the circle of tribal and marital unity.
On the wedding day, the bridegroom and his best man would have to go to the bride's house to the tune of the souna which would have to play various specified auspicious songs 6 times before the bride would come out, accompanied by her male elders who would ask the bridegroom some tricky questions upon what he saw on the road to test the adaptability and the wit of the bridegroom and he would have to produce some clever or hilarious answers before he would be allowed to enter the house. This process is called "road test" (" 路考” ), testing the bridegroom (考新郎) or tersting the son in law (考姑爷). The same day, there would be another feast in which the bridegroom, accompanied by the best man would have to offer the food, tea or wine to the guests upon a tray held up with both his hands to each table of guests, kneeling down, to the tune of the suona etc!
When the bridegroom passes the test, then 4 to 6 children from side of the bride's family would offer to each member of the bridegroom and his retinue three cups of tea in the following order, first, bitter, then sweet and finally half sweet and half bitter (甘), called "tea of recalling" (回味茶). And between each offer of tea, there would be three to five dances or songs. The bridegroom would then have to pay his respects to the parents, elder brothers and their wives, and other elders of the bride's side of the famly by offering them wine after which the parents of the bride would lay a red sash on the clothes of the children whereupon the bride would have to cry out loudly how she misses first her parents, then her elder brothers and sisters, her younger brothers and sisters, her elders, her female companions and sing how grateful to or unhappy she is with them and in what way, how uncertain she is about her future before she is led away by the bridegroom out of her home riding on horseback or on a sedan chair also to the tune of the suona.
When the bride arrives, she would be welcome by the members of the bridegroom's family who would lead her to a room for making herself pretty whilst all the relatives and friends of the bridegroom will wait downstairs to share in the happiness. When she is ready, then two boys aged 10 or below will light up a torch and hold them high to light her way down, running swiftly towards the room where she would spend her first night and the bride will enter the room with her bridesmaid in laughter. In that room, there would be a set of horse saddle or harness, upon the door, they would hang a basket with a mirror over which is placed a bow with three arrows pointing in three separate directions to signify that the new couple must work hard and be brave. Then she must bow to the heaven and earth, to ancestral tablets of the bridegroom, then to his parents. When the couple enter their bridal room, sometimes they would compete to sit on the pillow because it is believed that whoever sits on it first will be the one who calls the shots in the house! but usually, the bridegroom will let the bride sit on it first to signify that a woman should have the final say in domestic matters. There would a charcoal fire inside the room and buried within it would be some chillies so that when it burns, the room would be filled with a hot pungent smell to draw out tears from the eyes of the couple so that they would be the subject of taunting by those who go into their room with them. Then the couple would drink to each other. After the wedding feast, the bride would have to pay respects to the bridegroom's parents by offering them each a pair of hand-made cloth shoes and the elders would then give her a "lai see" or some other gifts. Finally, all the neighbors and children would meet the bride and pay her respects and offer their greetings to her and she would give each of them a "lai see" or some other gift. Only after this could the couple enter their room to spend their first night together and enjoy the snacks prepared by the bride's family etc.
The wedding rites will end the following day when the bridegroom will have to return the bride to her own family for a while or a day in a ceremony called "送喜神" before the bride is accompanied back to the bridegroom's family. The Bai people follow a matriarchic system. The men marry into the woman's family. They practice a form of trial marriage. A formal marriage ceremony will take place only if the man is found to be worthy after cohabiting with his future wife for a year. The greatest honor for the men is to be on the horse caravan in the so-called "tea-horse trail" (茶馬古道) which may last anything from three months to more than a year or two during which the men will bring Yunnan Po Li tea (普洱) to Tibet and return with their horses. According to their customs, after marriage, the woman will do all the work whilst allowing their men to engage in doing nothing except enjoying life until they go on another horse caravan trip. They have a saying: the women will look after the firewood, the rice, the oil, the salt, the sauces, the vinegar and the tea (柴米油鹽醬醋茶) whilst the man will occupy themselves with the lute, chess, writing, painting, tobacco, wine and tea. (琴棋書畫煙酒茶). What a nice division of labor!
I was brought to this House of Bai Culture (白家文化院) to sample a bit of their culture.
Normally they would build three houses around a courtyard with a "mirror" wall (鏡壁) opposite to the main house to reflect the sunlight.
A side house
Another side house
The Bai people think that chilis will bring prosperity and good luck
This is what a typical sitting room (堂屋) would look like.
This is a typical bedroom.
There would usually be a well beside the main house.
A weaving room for weaving cloth, baskets and shoes.
Various weed baskets.
Some rush shoes.
Some saddles used by the men in their tea-horse caravans.
The hall where the Bai people will perform a wedding ceremony dance and where we will be served the "three cups of tea".
The men with their three-stringed horse-head lute dancing the horse dance
The women coming in with their embroidery pads
Women in crouching positions
The men courting the women, dancing around them,standing up
The men bowing to the women
The women joining in the men their backs to each other
The older women, the matriarchs, coming in to give them their blessings
An elderly male, usually the elder brother of the bride's mother joining the bride's mother and elder sister in giving the blessings
They offer to the new couple a garland
The brother of the bride will fight for the garland to show how reluctant he is to let his sister go away. The bride will do a "crying" marriage (哭婚)
They celebrate with a dance
The giving away of the bride
The bridegroom and the bride dance together
The other relatives join in the fun
The bride and the bridegroom now facing each other
They walk together now
They receive blessings from the elder brother of the bride's mother
The bride's mother and her elder brother join in to give the bride away
The new couple dance before the bride's family
They are joined together by a red ribbon
They walk together hand in hand their backs to the bride's own family
The bridegroom takes the bride way on his back
The bride's elders retreat
leaving the bride and bridegroom with their best man and bride's maid to rejoice in the world of the young
The Bai people like bright colors
More of their cloth
Their silver ware
Another stall selling traditional women's clothes.
a roadside stall selling family dishes of the Bai people.