Khamsouk invited us to attend her pre-wedding ceremony, held around 7.30 pm in her parents’ house on the day before the wedding. The wedding itself was going to be ‘a generic Lao style ceremony’ but the ceremony the night before was going to be ‘according to Khmu culture’.
When we arrived at the little shop near the road, they were just getting ready to walk up the steep hill to her parents house. It was dark, but luckily there were a few torches, because for someone who doesn’t know the path (what path?) its a bit of a challenge at night time.
Entering the house, we found quite a large group of people already there, I’d say a couple of dozen – men sitting around the room in a semi circle, the women congregating in the corner near the kitchen fire, behind the parents. Some discussion went on, mainly between the men, but occasionally input of the women was heard.
The ceremony’s purpose was to make an offering to the parents of the bride and to decide on the remainder of the bride price. This seemed more good hearted to us than the serious deal it still is in India, but as Khamsouk was our only English speaking informant we could not be sure. We’d welcome any comment from our readers on the importance of this for Khmu. The offering consisted of a new sarong for mother, a note of 20,000 Kip (about US $ 2 1/2, five large old silver coins (probably out of the French colonial era) and a small plastic red box, containing a gold necklace.
The “husband to be” offered the necklace to Mother, and fastened it around her neck. Then the parents were offered a glass of Lao Lao (rice alcohol), which mother drank with slight trepidation showing on her face.
Following that, the debate about the “bride price” continued, the men on the far right producing arguments, the women on the left quietly whispering about it, Dad and the uncle countering the arguments. To my surprise, the other vocal contribution (very vocal at times) was made by the bride. In any earlier bride price negotiations we have witnessed (two so far, one Tai dam and the other with Kalom on one side of the family), the entire negotiations take place between the elders of the two families. The engaged couple tends to sit quietly and let the elders deal with the decisions. In this case, I wasn’t certain if the groom had any family representing him, but it seemed his bride was willing to take on the elders. She is probably the only one in the village with some higher education, and is quite assertive in her own right. When finally a conclusion was reached, everyone relaxed. The women in the far corner seemed to agree about the outcome, and drinks were poured, and food was served.
One of the young women serving the food wore a large white shirt, with lettering in English on it. Kees could read a bit of the centre, but her jacket obscured the rest. He deciphered “Welcome”, and asked her to slightly open her jacket to let me read the rest. She was a bit shy and slinked away to get another dish. Finally, a few minutes later, he caught another glimpse of her and could read the rest. It read in big typeface “You are Welcome’ Then under it in smaller script “If you want, we go straight to my room”.
We are pretty certain the young woman would not understand enough English to be able to read and understand what the shirt said. The only one in the village who would, was of course the bride herself. We wondered where the shirt came from…