For Cao Lan ethnic people in Ba Che district, Quang Ninh province, a wedding is the result of a boy and a girl falling in love with each other while singing an alternating love chant called Sinh Ca.
A wedding is an important turning point in a person’s life. A Cao Lan wedding in the past was quite simple, but culturally distinctive.
Both families of the boy and the girl asked for help from a matchmaker. Normally it required that half a kilo of peanuts and 10 eggs be delivered to the bride’s house. An uncle from each family was responsible.
After delivering some betel nuts, the groom’s family asked the girl’s family to put them in two bowls, one containing four betel leaves and one containing some money. Then the groom’s representative spoke politely to the bride’s representative about marrying the girl.
If they agreed to the marriage, the bride’s family filled the two bowls. If not, they left the two bowls as they were. Then the two families discussed the date of birth of both the bride and groom in order to choose a lucky wedding date.
“After the two families agreed to become united by marriage, the wedding preparations continued,” says artisan Luc Van Binh of Ba Che district. “The girl’s family set a date for the boy’s family to come. An offering should be made of 72 Giay cakes and three capons to officially ask for permission to marry. After a lucky day was chosen, the matchmaker went to the bride’s house to set a date for the wedding ceremony.”
The marriage procedure of the Cao Lan people in Ba Che district today has been simplified to suit a modern lifestyle, but it preserves many traditional values. In the past a wedding ceremony continued for several days, but now it’s done in a single day.
Betrothal gifts depend on the financial situation of the groom’s family. The bride’s family does not burden them unduly.
On the wedding day, the groom’s family sends a group of 7 to 9 people to bring the bride home. But the matchmaker and the people carrying the offerings cannot be there.
“On the wedding day, the groom gives the bride’s family all the necessary food to prepare a party the next day. The groom comes to the bride’s family home in the afternoon will spend one night there,” says the artisan.
In the past when the groom’s delegation came to the bride’s house, they all slept there one night. The groom was not allowed to go out of the house that whole night, even to go to the toilet. He had to eat dry food with ginger to avoid stomache trouble and drank very little water. Today, the two families can choose to follow the rule or not.
“In the past if the groom went outside on the first night, people would consider him a bad or clumsy person. The idea was to challenge the man’s patience on that first night. If he passed the test, he would be a faithful husband,” explains Binh.
Before the bride leaves her room to follow the groom to his house, the matchmaker performs a ritual in her room to mark her new life. After that her bed is no longer hers.
At the groom’s house, the matchmaker performs a ritual to officially recognize the couple as husband and wife. The groom’s family prepares a small offering, including two bowls of food, two pairs of chopsticks, and a bottle of wine.
“The ritual casts a charm on the husband and wife. The matchmaker takes chopsticks in his left hand to pick up food for the wife and in his right hand to pick up food for the husband. They drink some wine,” Binh further elaborates.
Three days after the wedding, the Cao Lan couple visit the wife’s family with a groomsman. The wife’s family prepares a meal and invites relatives and villagers to take part.
“Young people come and sing call-and-response songs all night. The next day, the couple returns to the groom’s house with a bridesmaid. They have a party and people sing through the night. Many people meet their future husband or wife at a call-and-response singing session like that,” says Binh.