Story: Nam Anh
Photos: Thanh The Vinh

An old saying advises: Wise men and mature women are bound to get married.” This is a natural step in our circle of life. However, wedding traditions vary in different regions,  creating a rich and diverse cultural landscape. Please join our trip to Muong Khuong (Lao Cai) to experience a Phu La wedding.

Men and horses carry the bride to her husband’s family

Like Kinh people (Vietnam’s ethnic majority), young men and women of the Phu La ethnic group are free to fall in love without their parents’ intervention. However, unlike their lowland counterparts, once the young woman gives consent, the man can sleep at her house. The young man will then return home and ask his parents for permission. If they agree, the parents will invite a matchmaker to hold discussions.

While lowland people have an acquaintance ritual, proposal and wedding, Phu La people have their own customs. A Phu La wedding takes place over three days. The first day involves an exchange of offerings. According to old traditions, the groom’s family will present gifts of 100 kg of pork, 100 liters of liquor, 40 kg of rice, 40 kg of soy beans, two ounces of gold and several other items to the bride’s family. When the groom’s family arrives with their offerings, the bride’s family throws water to wish the pair conjugal happiness and harmony.

En route to her husband’s house, the bride is shaded by a black umbrella. She wears a red veil and mirrors on her chest and back to ward off evil spirits.

The next day, the bride’s family hosts a procession. Nine people from the groom’s family participate, including two male and female matchmakers, two horn-blowers, brothers and friends of the groom who will lead horses to receive the bride. The bride’s family hosts the groom’s family over night for conversations and exchanges.

On the final day, the bride’s family prepares a feast for the groom’s family who eventually perform the bride consent ritual. At an auspicious time and date, the matchmaker will lead the bride to greet the parents, grandparents and all members of both families before she embarks on her journey to the groom’s family. The bride’s older brother will carry the bride on horseback while the groom’s younger brother will lead the horse and his new sister-in-law home.

A woman in the bride’s family

For lowland inhabitants, paper crackers are meant to bring joy at a wedding. Meanwhile, Phu La people rejoice in the sounds of Pi Le horns on this important day. A Phu La wedding features two horns with a repertoire reserved for nuptials: one melody on the way to the bride’s family and upon reaching her home and another to take her out of the door and chaperone her to her new home. The horn melodies should stir strong emotions, either robust and vibrant or melancholy, like the bride’s feelings as she bids farewell to her family. En route to the bride’s family and when carrying her home, the horn blowers always lead the procession in order to clear the path so the bride can easily reach her new home.

An integral ritual is performed by the groom’s family the night before going to the bride’s family. This is the exchange of pink threads. This ritual definitely sets a Phu La wedding apart from a Kinh wedding. This ritual is held and witnessed by all family members and groomsmen. The first person to hand over a pink thread is the groom’s mother. The groomsmen will wrap each thread around the groom with good wishes. Attached to each pink thread is a red envelope. The groomsmen will collect these envelopes and place them on the ancestral altars. This custom is designed to teach youngsters that marriage forms an inseparable bond.

Silver jewelry (xa tich) is traditionally included in the wedding dowry

  After the exchange of pink threads, the groom’s family will prepare a feast to pray for the newlyweds’ happiness. The feast involves the groom and groomsmen and their friends, including eight young men. It not only demonstrates brotherhood and friendship, but also wishes the newlyweds a  happy life together.

Visitors to Muong Khuong – Lao Cai should drop by a hamlet to learn about wedding traditions and rituals of Phu La natives. We hope the locals can preserve and promote their invaluable local traditions.