Back in September I posted about “helping” with the negotiation of an arranged marriage of a distant relative ( choeunandbeth.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/please-become-my-in-laws/ ). On Feb 15th, we attended his wedding. Actually it is more frequently referred to in Khmer as “so-and-so’s child’s wedding” (Ie -Ta sang’s child’s wedding). Unfortunately we had two weddings to attend on that day at the same time so I don’t have every detail to share. (Yes- their wedding proceedings take long enough we could attend parts of both.) So, I’ll share as much as I can. And ad a bit from previous weddings to which I’ve been.
All the relatives show up at some point. Most of them at least by the night before ‘preparation day’. A few straggle in during the early morning. Supplies are bought including 50+ dozen bottles of water, 30+ cases of beer, 50 kg rice, one pig (for meat), a lot of fruit and much more. The morning was spent making 100s of ‘cakes’ for the wedding. I actually ‘learned’ some and there will be a follow up post on that.
That afternoon all the stuff and people get transported to the Bride’s village. The event tents go up, some of the food prep is done and kept till morning. Especially things for an extended family breakfast.
An early morning wake-up call blares in the form of songs over the loudspeaker. Hopefully the cook is up already and the animals (pig/cow/chickens) are being slaughtered for the wedding feast. The parts not used in the wedding feast are put into a soup for breakfast which is served about 6 am. The bride is getting her hair and make-up done (the groom has a bit longer before he has to get ready).
After everybody is all dressed up and ready, the proceedings start with the fruit procession. The groom and all his guests (at this point family and close friends) arrange fruit, meat, beetle nut and sometimes other things (cans of Soda pop) on platters in pairs and walk over to the bride’s location carrying the fruit and playing music in a big parade. I am told there are 3 traditional songs that are sung during this part.
The ceremonies then begins. Usually only Family elders and special guests are in the room with the bride and groom. Outside, you can still hear the proceedings thanks to the amazingly loud loudspeakers. There is some back and forth between the representatives of each family in the form of traditional chanting like songs.
I think the next step is the hair cutting. Then a small bit of hair from both bride and groom is cut. It is a cleansing ceremony believed to bring the blessings of angels and begin the marriage with a clean slate. There are a couple more chant-songs that go with this.
Then there is the hand tying ceremony. Here the bride and groom kneel for a long time while relative and close friend bring words of blessing and gifts (money, gold, silver) for the couple. The givers usually come in pairs, one to each side, kneel and present the gifts in an envelope. These gifts meant to provide a start for their life together (business start-up, purchase of house hold items, etc.) and are kept by the young couple. Again there are traditional chant songs for this part too.
There are outfit changes (aka breaks for the participants) between each part. Lunch happens at some point but tends to be light as most preparation is going into the evening wedding feast. So this part takes most of the day. For Koy’s wedding, the ceremonial parts ended about 2 pm and the feast was to start from 4pm.
We were in the first set of tables to eat as we had another wedding to attend. These wedding feast can be both sides combined or done separately depending on the available space and desires of the families. As this is a ‘middle poor’ wedding, all the servers are cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles. Really most of the extended family is involved in some way (we, um … my husband, did a lot of work through out the morning so he could say he had giving his part – all I did was spend about 20 min cutting veggies). Mostly the teen to thirty crowd are running to serve the tables and the older/younger relatives help in other ways (greeting, counting money, cooking, watching little ones, collecting recyclables). The feast is almost always served on round table that seat 10 people. Usually a table needs to be full before they will start serving (it is nice if you plan to arrive with friends and can fill/mostly fill a table). Then there are 3-7 courses (I think they had 4) served along with rice, beer, water, and sometimes soda (pop). It is polite to wait until everyone is finished eating before getting up from the table. Some (usually men) will hang around and continue to drink even after the table has disbanded.
At some point in attending the feast (either when you arrive or just before you leave) you need to give money, preferably in the envelope that came with the invitation. Even if you are unable to attend you need to send the money. It is a little like a community savings tool. In my husband’s home town they record who gives and how much (other areas of Cambodia do not record it). If a person/family came/gave to your wedding or you want them to come/give to your future wedding, you need to give the going rate. Thus the giving obligation circulates as a sort of community finance thing. Yes, my husband knows who gave to our engagement ceremony/party and remembers if it was a normal or generous amount. We ‘give back’ accordingly. I just have to trust his judgements on the amounts as it all seems confusing to me. All the money collected in connection with the wedding is hoped to cover the cost of food and such for the wedding. In my husband’s circle you are doing well if you can cover all cost and a bit of the dowry. Usually this money is not for the newly married couple (if there is extra, they may get some).
After this we left to another wedding feast. But I know that if we had stayed, sometime shortly after dark the dancing would start. At the beginning of the dancing there is often a dance around the cake and/or fruit (set up on a round table in the middle of the dance floor) by the bride, groom, and wedding party. The fruit and/or cake is then served to guests while dancing continues. There are usually a few traditional songs to which you dance around slowly in half steps to a two steps forward one step back pattern. Then a few ‘modern songs’ to which mostly young people bob up and down (um… dance?). Then back to traditional song and dancing. This goes on until the wee hours of the morning with dwindling participants. The bride, groom and older people tend to head off to other locations relatively early (maybe after the first hour of dancing). Usually the volume is extra loud the entire time and can be heard even up to 5 km away in rural areas (don’t ask me how I know!).
I am told the proceedings used to take three days (with feasting/dancing each night). Now it can take 1-3 days. For this wedding the main part was all in one day.