Marriage rituals of the Tais of Southeast Asia : A study

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 though 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 of status or movements into new statutes, 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 is a humble attempt to throw light on the marriage rituals of Tais inhabiting 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 in 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. 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 which says 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 have been collected from 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) arranged 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 a 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, tobacco, 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.

(To be contd)