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Chinese Minority Weddings--Part IV: About the Buyei; Dong, and Yao People

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Spring Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(1) page(s): 30 and 31


Food-related engagement, wedding, and related discussions continue in this issue. Part I was in Volume 18(1) about the Zhuang, China's largest ethnic nationality, after the Han. Part II followed in Volume 18(3) discussing Manchu, Hui, Uighur, Miao, and Tujia peoples. Part III, in Volume 18(4), was about Yi, Mongol, and Tibetan nationalities folk. This volume includes the Buyei, Dong, and Yao people. The next issue will conclude this series with Part V and discuss Korean, Bai, Hani, Kazakh, Li and Dai peoples. Each of these eighteen ethnic nationalities of the fifty-five recognized by the government, has a population greater than one million people. That is why they are included in this series.

BUYEI:

Also known as Puyi and other names (see Flavor and Fortune's Volume 16(4) on pages 19 - 21, and 33. This nationality of more than three million people are mostly farmers living in the South and Southeast of China's Guizhou Province. They now have their own written language, after 1956 the government did help them develop this Romanized written one. This helps them study their own culture both in Chinese and their own language.

When courting, many Buyei women select their own mates. They meet eligible men in the marketplace, in rice fields, or at song and dance events, but only seek someone out if an uncle has not pre-selected a mate for them. If the girl does not want to marry her uncle's choice--often a cousin or another relative, she needs to pay him off. When her parents do not accept her choice, she has a problem. If they do approve, the young couple exchange gifts setting the stage for a long monogamous marriage. Bouyei people do not condone divorce, and in most households, the woman is in control. No matter how the spouse is selected or settled upon, the man's family makes a formal proposal to hers and they give them gifts of sugar, wine, meat, and money.

After assurances that birth dates and times are compatible, the couple or her parents determine an acceptable wedding date, and when agreed to, the groom asks the woman for a pouch to symbolize their engagement. This token, usually beautifully embroidered, is filled with many nuts and seeds symbolizing her hopes for the early arrival of a male heir.

After the wedding, the bride returns to the home of her parents, and often stays there for several years. She does visit her husband and he visits her until an offspring is born. During this time, she can date as before, but now her hair is in a bun and covered with a white cloth indicating she really belongs to another man.

DONG:

Most young boys and girls of this nationality, sometimes called Tong, live in the Guizhou and Hunan Provinces. There are about three million Dong, and most grow rice or work with wood. They meet their mates at village public houses set up for this purpose. When males and females find each other there or elsewhere and want to marry, they exchange gifts. They are considered engaged when each accepts and keeps the other's gifts. When they do, a relative informs her parents and helps them plan the wedding. If her parents object, some marry in secret and beg forgiveness later.

On the night before the planned wedding, one or more old suitors can arrive at the girl's home to share glutinous rice cakes, sing farewell songs, and drink wine and/or oil tea together. This evening can last late well into the night and after it, this boy and girl never see each other again.

The wedding takes place at the home of the groom. These days brides arrive in a limo, years back it was in a buggy. After midnight, gifts are exchanged. Many are food items from invited guests on one side or the other, most are meats and vegetables, many pickled, some not. Then there is the wedding feast. When the bride finally does offer oil tea, a Dong speciality, the guests know she is signaling the feast is over.

The next day, the bride returns to her parent's home, and except for visits in either direction, she stays there until pregnant or until her baby is born. This can be for a number of years. Divorce and remarriage are common among the Dong, as are marriages between maternal cousins. What rarely happens, however, is marriage between peoples of different generations.

YAO:

This nationality has close to three million people, most of whom live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region or the Hunan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Jiangxi, and Guangdong Provinces. People of this ethnic group are said to be descendants of several ancient tribes so there are many different courtship behaviors. A common one is being free to make love before marriage. Many girls of thirteen or fourteen live alone making this easily accomplished, but speaking about it is a no-no.

There are other rites of passage, the only one we learned about relating to food is that males need, using no tools, to fish one or more objects out of boiling oil to be considered a man, and only after this and other non-food-related protocols can he marry.

For most Yao, the female seeks out her man, and if she likes him, she demands or snatches a present he may be toting. If he likes her, he does not try to get it back. After they see each other a few more times, they exchange what are considered their engagement gifts. However, this is only done after his parents make a formal statement of approval giving her a green tobacco leaf. If she keeps this token that represents his feelings of love for her, another will arrive. If these are kept, then a marriage proposal accompanied by three silver coins is given to her family.

Weddings are most often at midnight and in the groom's home or the home of his parents. When she gets there for it, he washes her feet putting on new socks and shoes to indicate to all she is pure and innocent. Next, an elder kills a rooster and sprinkles its blood outside the house for good luck. Then, the couple bow to heaven and earth, to each of their parents, then to all guests, and to each other. Then they exchange cups of wine. With these protocols behind them. the wedding ceremony can and does follow as does a huge feast often lasting until morning.

                                                                                                                                                       
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