Marriage rituals of the Tais of Southeast Asia : A study
Dr Budha Kamei
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 give 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 representatives 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 climb 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.
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.
After observing the above facts we can conclude that marriage is an 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 different parts of Southeast Asia are to a certain extent similar. However, there are some variations in the ritual practices. It may be because 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.
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