Thanh The Vinh
Love is the most important requirement for marriage among the Black Ha Nhi.
For the Black Ha Nhi in Lao Cai, a province in the mountainous Northwest of Vietnam, young men and women coming of age are free to fall in love before tying the knot. Once there is sincere interest, a couple will ask for permission from their parents to get to know each other better. If sufficient trust is established, the couple can even have a baby before the wedding. This is a very open view about relationships and marriage by an ethnic group whose way of life is attached to mountains, forests and fields.
Before the wedding, the soon-to-be bride and groom will inform their families about their intentions. The groom’s family will invite two matchmakers to speak to the bride’s family about the procedures for picking up and receiving the bride and informing the ancestors about the groom’s family. Before she is picked up for the wedding, the bride stays with relatives living in the groom’s village. While living there, she will receive beautiful wedding clothes prepared by her friends and relatives and have a farewell meal with them. The delegation to receive the bride on the wedding day consists of the groom, the groomsman and the groom’s younger or older sister.
Once arriving at the bride’s house, the groomsman will enter to announce that the groom is waiting outside and invite the bride out so that she can be picked up. The bride’s delegation, which includes one bridesmaid and some close friends of the couple, will then take the bride to the groom’s house. When they arrive, the groom’s mother will go to the door and offer a bucket of clean water to wash the hands of the groom, the bride, the groomsman, the ,bridesmaid and other members of the delegation before letting them in. After the bride goes inside, the groom’s mother places a papoose containing two packs of sticky rice on the bride’s shoulders. The groom will stand behind the bride so that when she lowers the papoose, the groom is able to receive it. According to the Black Ha Nhi, this demonstrates the harmony between a man and a woman and signifies marital bliss.
Next, the groom’s mother gives the bride a mortar containing chili and salt. The couple then grinds a pestle in the mortar three times together, implying that although life is full of hardships like chili and salt, the husband and the wife will work together to overcome them. After these steps are done, the groom’s older brother will perform a ritual to inform the ancestors of the arrival of a new family member. The groom and bride then kowtow in front of the altar, praying for the ancestors’ approval and protection.
The wedding ceremony of the Ha Nhi is quite simple, with offerings to the ancestors sometimes only consisting of a rooster. Many Ha Nhi families organize a second wedding once they have become more well-off. There are cases where elaborate weddings only take place after fifty or sixty years to strengthen the bonds between two families. By then the bride and groom have already had children and grandchildren.
Not only is the wedding ritual of the Ha Nhi a unique way to showcase their cultural values, but it also illustrates refreshing ideas about marital bliss, where love is the most important requirement.