For Vietnamese, wedding is one of three most important things to do all one’s life. Thank to the diversity in culture of 54 different ethnic minority groups inhabiting Vietnam, wedding ceremonies are also held differently in different ethnic groups and Cham people, is one of 54 Vietnam ethnic groups, has wedding ceremonies held in a special way.
When the final day of the Ramadan festival ends (in mid-October), you will see only women, men and children on the paths of a Cham village in An Giang. Cham girls aged 12 and 13 are kept at home. Gusts of autumn wind and the rain in this province on the southeast border bring me a torrent of indescribable emotion. Laughter and congratulations echo from somewhere, giving notice that the wedding season has arrived.
The Cham people in An Giang live mainly in Tan Chau, Phu Tan and An Phu districts in Chau Doc city, along the banks of the Chau Giang river, the second biggest town at the headwaters of the Hau river. The Cham people live and work under the creed of Islam, which is best shown in their wedding customs.
Strangers are very rarely invited to a Cham wedding. But I am a friend of a Chairwoman of the Womens Association in Chau Phong commune of Tan Chau district, so I was invited to attend the wedding of her relative. This was the first time I had attended a wedding of the Cham people and I was the only Kinh person at the wedding.
A wedding of the Cham people in An Giang lasts for three days. The bride and groom decorate their house on the first day. The rituals to prepare the groom and the bride to enter family life are held on the second day. The third day is the most important. The wedding is held in the mosque and the groom goes to the bride’s house.
Rituals for the groom in the mosque
The tea party and singing performances last until 1 a.m., and in the early morning all the people in the groom’s party are present to attend the ceremony. At 6 a.m., everyone, all dressed in formal costume, accompany the groom in traditional Cham costume to the mosque. There are only men (women are not allowed in the mosque) and three children carrying three boxes. In the boxes are betel, areca and lime in the first box, rice and salt in the second box, cakes and fruit in the third box. The groom is shaded from the sun with a colorful parasol over his head. Villagers rush to attend the ceremony and noisily discuss it. The groom is taken to the mosque on foot, not by motorbike or by car.
On the way to the mosque, flutes or drums are played and people sing together. On arrival at the mosque the groom sits opposite to the bride’s father. There are two elders, who lead a very moral life, who witness the ceremony. An imam reads from the Koran, telling the groom about the responsibilities of a husband under Islamic regulations. Then the bride’s father shakes the groom’s hand and says: “I marry my daughter, Mahriem to you, Sarol, with I tael of gold and 5 million”. After that everyone prays for the good health and happiness of the couple. The ceremony lasts for only about 15 minutes in the mosque.
Taking the groom to the bride’s house
The Cham people in An Giang follow matriarchal customs, so they take the groom to the bride’s house, instead of taking the bride to the groom’s house as the Kinh people do. From the mosque, the groom is taken to the bride’s house. Here everyone stands on the ground, then one person of the bride’s family comes to take the groom to the bride’s room.
The wedding room is beautifully decorated. There are three children holding three boxes in their hands who accompany the groom. The bride is beautifully made up and dressed in traditional costume. She sits on the bed, waiting for the groom. On entering the room, the groom sits next to the bride and places three boxes in front of her. Frankincense is burnt. The women and girls in the bride’s family pray for happiness for the newlyweds.
At this time, the groom takes one of three long haipins from the bride’s hair then puts them in her hand. This shows that the bride is now his wife. Then the groom changes into dress provided by the bride and comes out of the room to greet the bride’s family. After that, they return to the groom’s family. The bride goes with an aunt of the groom’s family to greet the relatives (the aunt come to the bride’s family before the groom gets there).
After taking the groom to the bride’s family, the groom and the groom’s family return home.
By this time, the guests are all present. The mother greets the female guests and the father greets the male guests. The guests will a sum of money to share the happiness with their family. Then everyone prays and enjoys the feast. The menu of the feast includes rice, beef and sour vegetables (onion, pickled scallion heads, ginger, red cabbage and white cabbage) and salted lemon with pepper, which is the traditional food of the Cham people who follow Islam. According to Islamic regulations, the Cham people are not allowed to drink wine. Their feast is very simple and finishes quickly, unlike the wedding feast of the Kinh people.
That evening, four female elders of the groom’s family take the groom to the bride’s house. The wedding night is spent here and is the final stage in a Cham wedding. After three days, the groom’s family brings many useful things to the newlyweds for their life together. On the next night, two women in the bride’s family go with the newlyweds to visit the groom’s parents. The parents give the bride money and jewelry. The bride’s parents also give money or jewelry, like the groom’s family. Then their life together as a married couple begins.
This article is written by lan nguyen from Vacation to Vietnam