Marriage rituals of the natives of South East Asia with special reference to Tais

Dr Budha Kamei
1. Introduction
The turning points in the life cycle of an individual are the critical transitions of birth, marriage and death. These rites of passage, as Van Gennep called them, are practiced universally through their number and stages of life selected vary from society to society.
They consecrate the crises and marginal situations in individual and collective life. The gravity of these events is also marked by a whole repertoire of idea regarding pollution and purification.
He argued that alterations status or movements into new statues, such as in pregnancy, childbirth, at initiation, betrothals, marriage and funerals, disturb both the life of the individual and that of the society in which he lives.
Danger lies in transitional states, as transition is indefinable, it is neither one state to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to other. The purpose of the rites of passage is to trim down the harmful effect of these disturbances.
 The paper attempts to throw light on the marriage rituals of Tais inhabiting in different parts of Southeast Asia.
2. A profile of the Tais
Southeast Asia is a vast fertile land inhabited by different ethnic communities. The Tais are one of them and they are wide-spread. They live in the plains of southern China and the valleys of Vietnam.  In Laos and Thailand, they are the dominating people. They inhabit most of the low-lying areas of northern Myanmar and a number of Tai groups are also found in northeast India.
Thus, the Tais are found innumerable groups and sub-groups under various regional names such as Shan, Thai, Lao, Dai, Nung, Bouyi, Tai Dam, Tai Deng etc. In India, the Tai people are found inhabiting in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and are known as Ahom, Khamti, Khamyang, Phake, Turung etc.
The institution of marriage is regarded as the backbone of all forms of human society with which we are acquitted.
To the Tais, marriage is considered as one of the important social events in the lifecycle of an individual; it serves the purpose of union of a man and a woman to set up family.
It is a necessity and customary duty for every man to get married to continue the society, although, he has to follow clan exogamy that a man must have his spouse from outside his clan and marriage within the same clan is strictly prohibited.
3. Methods and materials
The study is purely ethno-historical approach. The necessary data are based on available secondary materials of published works.
3.1    The Yuan and Lue Tais
The Shans, Ahoms, and other Tais follow two types of marriage: (a) informal and (b) arrange marriage.  Among the Yuan poor farmers, they simply decide to live together and send parents along with areca, betel leaves, candles, and flowers to the groom’s parent house in order to propitiate the spirits of the house.
If the groom’s parents give approval to the match ‘suitable gifts’ are given to the bride. Bride and groom live in the house of the bride’ parent until a next daughter gets a husband. And among the Lue Tais, a betrothal date is fixed by ten elders representing both parties involved.
On the marriage day, the groom brings a cluster of one hundred betel nuts and the bride will do the same. When agreement is reached, the man deposits two hoi as bride price and the girl will present a dish of flowers and four pairs of wax candles.
The two clusters of betel nuts are distributed amongst the families of both parties and vows are exchanged between bride and groom to behave well towards each other.
The elders, together with the groom, then leave the bride’s house but at dusk the groom and some of his friends return.
At this stage the groom must carry a sword and bag for carrying betel nuts as symbol of being a real man. The groom stays for three years at the bride house, and after three years the young couple decides to set up their own house.
3.1.1    The Shans
Among the Shans of Namkham, on the morning of the wedding day bride and groom must be bathed near their respective homes. The wedding takes place in the bride’s parents’ house and early in the afternoon the groom is escorted in procession to that house by a group of men. The elder members of the groom offer to the bride’s father a number of baskets full of different kinds of foods. Amongst these articles the important are four eggs and two salted fish.
The representatives then formally ask for the bride and after a proper hesitation and show of reluctance, the bride’s family give in to the request. The groom leads the bride to a low table and the couple eats curry and rice in the presence of the wedding guests.
The reminder of the bride price is paid and in the procession the bride is escorted to the groom’s house where she is led to her parents-in-law.
Before the evening she will be advised by an old woman who will tell her where the wedding bed must be placed, and that she must sleep on the left of the bed, even if her husband is not present.
3.1.2    The black Tais
When a boy does wish to open negotiations they send an intermediary with presents like betel, tobacoo, some victuals and a gold ring or necklace if they can afford it.
If the proposal is accepted, wedding details like bride price and dowry would be discussed.  In an auspicious day, the groom goes in procession to the bride’s house, clad in traditional festive attire, complete with a knife in his belt. The go-betweens carry the bride price. 
The sealing of the marriage traditionally consists of a ceremonial exchange of betel between the two young people, the presentation of the bride price and its acceptance in the presence of the witnesses. The important part of the wedding ceremony is also the presentation of the young man to the spirits of the forefathers. The bride also will venerate her husband ancestors and promise to respect them.
It is done at the groom’s house. After the marriage the couple should normally settle in the groom parents’ household if no other married children live there, otherwise the married couple may settle anywhere. According to Somsonge Burusphat, Jerold A Edmonson and Megan Sinnott, “Marriages are arranged by the parents. Custom requires that the boy spend a service period working for his fiancée’s parents. Sons of nobles are expected to do from 8 to 10 years of service, while a briefer period is required of commoners.
After the service period, the marriage takes place and the girl’s parents must present the groom with a dowry.
The only exemption to the service rule is when the fiancée’s family does not have males to assist with cultivation, in which case the marriage may take place immediately after preliminary arrangements have been completed, and the groom goes to live with his wife’s family.”
3.1.3    The white Tais
On the day of the marriage, the mediator walks in front, followed by the groom and people carrying the gifts. At the house they prostrate themselves before the girl’s parents and are received in the house. At the same time as a pig is cooked, the father of the bride lifts the tray with betel nuts up to the ancestors, and the groom accompanied by his intermediary, will be introduced to them.
After that a meal is followed and then the procession will return to the residence of the groom along with the bride, her representative and her parents. The bride will be introduced to the ancestors of her husband and a festive meal does conclude the ritual. The bride lives in the house of her husband’s family. “Many wealthy White Tai have more than one wife.”
3.1.4    The red Tais
 The marriage rituals begin when the envoy of the boy arrives at the girl’s house. The envoy will bring a tray covered with presents like alcohol, tea, betel, chewing bark, sticky rice cooked in banana leaf cones and some money. If the response of the girl’s family is positive, then the boy’s family will send him again.
In the second visit, the mediator brings somewhat more important presents like sticky rice, chewing bark, and forty or fifty tubes of Pa Xum (river fish mixed with salt and rice powder and preserved in a segment of bamboo). Again the envoy of the boy’s family will arrive at the residence of the girl accompanied by some eighty tubes of Pa Xum, four dresses, a piece of silk, a roll of cotton, a pig, one or more jars of rice-wine and some money.
This time the girl’s family is represented by its own envoy. After this the two families are allied. In a separate occasion, the groom along with his parents, mediator, and friends will visit the girl’s house with presents like one or more bars of silver, a robe and a vest, silver bracelets, alcohol, tea, a buffalo or a pig, areca and betel, cakes, some thirty tubes of Pa Xum etc. Young girls will bombard them with fruits and douse them with water so as to prevent from entering and therefore the main guests will be permitted to enter via a back door. The boy is presented to the girl’s parents and the ancestors of the house. The actual wedding takes place on an auspicious day. When the girl arrives at the groom’s house, the mediator of the boy’s family will wash the feet of the bridal couple before they claim the stairs. A ritual specialist will conduct a ceremony in which the Khwans of the bridal are strengthened. The bride and groom eat some cakes and drink some alcohol together. Then the ritual specialist takes two eggs and presents them to bride and groom with a few good wishes. According to Somsonge Burusphat, Jerold A Edmonson and Megan Sinnott, “Polygyny is allowed. Among the nobility a man may have up to four wives acquired through first rank marriage. Marriage is exogamous with respect to the chao. Marriage between a noble woman and a commoner man is forbidden.                
3.1.5 Bride price/bride wealth
Bride price is referred to the gifts presented by groom’s Kin to that of the bride. It may be interpreted into two ways: labour price and soul price. By a marriage, a productive member of a family is lost. Compensation is to be given in the form of bride price to the family for the loss of a daughter by the groom’s family.
According to Indira Barua, the bride wealth compensates the bride’s family for the loss of an active member, because among the Indian tribes, the female members of the household make a substantial contribution in the production as they are active members of agricultural and other household works This compensation is not for the use of the bride.
It is utilized by the family because sometimes, it is employed to get a wife for a son of the family.
And in some societies, even the father of the bride uses it to marry himself another wife.
The payment of the bride price is permitted to the groom right to marry the bride and the right to her children. In most patrilineal societies, a marriage is marked by the transfer of bride wealth (in cattle, spears, money or other goods) from the groom’s family to that of the bride. Bride wealth ensures that the children of the union shall be legitimate and affiliated to the husband’s clan or family.
Bride wealth is not, of course, purchase of a woman but a means of legitimizing the marriage. The payment of bride price, a woman has to lead to remain a wife rather than come back to live as a sister in her parental family.
Bride price is also a guarantee that the young wife will be well treated in her new home.
Among the Tais groups of Assam and Southeast Asia, bride price is compulsory and it usually consists of like a sum of money, silver bars, valuable draught animal etc.
Sometimes, bride service takes place instead of a bride price. Bride wealth is not, of course, purchase of a woman, but a means to legitimize the marriage.
3.1.6    Location of wedding ceremony
Regarding the location of main wedding ceremony, the Tais, celebrate at the bride’s parents. It is there that the bride price is received and shown to the ancestors and senior members of the family.
Tais avoid the inauspicious date for the wedding.
3.1.7    Divorce
Divorce means the complete division of a marriage tie and that permits remarriage. William j. Goode writes, divorce may be seen as a personal misfortune for one or both spouses in any society, but it must also be viewed as a social invention, one type of escape valve for the inevitable tensions of marriage itself.
In every society divorce takes place although the prevailing rules or social norms discourage it. Divorce is permitted by the custom, but it is very rare among the Tais.
4.    Conclusion
After observing the above facts we can conclude that marriage is the important event in the lifecycle of a Tai.
Monogamy is the common form of marriage. However, wealthy Tais have more than one wife. Bride price is an important aspect of their marriage.
The marriage rituals of the Tais inhabiting in different parts of Southeast Asia are to certain extent similar. However, there are some variations in the ritual practices.
It may be because of, they lost contact with each other since the days of their migration, there is, however, no longer homogeneity in the Tai culture maintained by them. Moreover, habitat plays very important role in shaping the culture of man.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]