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Chinese Minority Weddings--Part V: Korean, Bai, Hani, Kazakh, Li, and Dai Peoples

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Summer Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(2) page(s): 34 - 36

Articles about foods and related customs of large Chinese ethnic nationality groups, those with more than one million people in China, looks at their wedding practices. this series began with Part I in Volume 18(2) discussing the Zhuang, China's largest ethnic minority population. Part II, in Volume 18(3) explores the Manchu, Hui, Uighur, Miao, and Tujia peoples. Part III, in Volume 18(4) includes the wedding and related food practices of Mongol, Tibetan, and Buyei people. Part IV, in Volume 19(1) discusses Buyei, Dong, and Yao ethnic minority populations. This final one, Part V, completes this magazine's discussion of the eighteen ethnic minority populations with more than one million people each, in China. Enjoy and learn from them all!

Considered one of China's fifty-five ethnic minority nationalities, most of the two million of Korean-Chinese people live in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China's Jilin Province. Primarily rice growers, these people are mostly Buddhists or Christians.

There are many differences in their courtship practices, but one thing in common is just before a wedding when bride and groom offer the other a cup of wine. In their nuptial chamber another difference is not the wish but the way it is shown. A table is covered with fruits and cakes to wish the newly married couple many offspring. Wedding feasts used to be groom-family-only affairs, more recently they have guests of both families and friends attending. These days, it is often held in a restaurant rather than the groom's family home.

After the wedding, as in other Chinese ethnic minority populations, newlyweds go to stay in the bride's birth home for three days. At its end, the last meal there is special, specially prepared for the bride, and called the 'Last taste of your mother' meal.

This minzu or national minority population calls itself 'white people,' hence the name Bai, while the Han majority call them Minjia people. Most of the almost two million Bai, live in the Yunnan Province in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. There are many branches of Bai, and they practice many different courtship and marital customs. Most often, the man asks the woman to marry and if she agrees, together they tell her parents. A wedding date is set after both sets of parents deem birth-dates and birth hours compatible; if not, there is no wedding.

For some Bai, before the marriage a nuptial chamber is built to the left of the groom's home. Immediately after the marriage, the couple drink liquor laced with chili peppers or something exceptionally piquant, each taking a long gulp of it. The rest is brought to the parents and then to the wedding guests, each of whom also get to take a gulp and toast the couple. Should you wonder why, it is because in their language, the word for pepper or spicy and is a homonym or same sound as the word for intimacy. After the wedding, some grooms move into the bride's family home, most others move into that nuptial chamber to the left of his family home.

There are a about a million and a half Hani people. Most of them live in the southwestern part of China in the Yunnan Province between the Lancang, also known as the Mekong, and the Yuanjiang Rivers.

They have many courtship practices and see themselves not as one but as an amalgam of many different ethnic groups. Some even call themselves different names including Aini, Biyae, Hasoni, and Kaduo Hani. One thing they share is a language belonging to the Yi branch of Tibetan-Burmese. They now write using Chinese characters or Romanized ones, the latter finalized in 1958.

Most Hani are farmers, now all are monogamous. In years past, many Hani men had two wives and there were no prohibitions about relations with the opposite sex before marriage. Matter of fact, men said that girls with no sexual experience were not popular and had limited bridal potential. Thus, boys and girls sought each other out at young ages and had many suitors. Many girls were married by age sixteen, boys before age eighteen.

When decisions to wed were made, 'walking engagements' took place after the boy's family sent a bottle of wine or liquor to the girl's parents. If accepted and an exchange of birth dates were acceptable, both parents took a walk together. On this walk, if they did not meet a single wild animal and if there were no other negative thoughts or issues, the wedding was a go.

Celebrated at the groom's home, the girl's parents gave them a pig's head for the family altar; it was an honor for them and their ancestors. On the wedding day, the girl would arrive with eight to sixteen attendants and bring glutinous rice, wine, liquor, meat, and sour vegetables to her new in-laws. The groom would await, legs parted, and everyone there would watch her crawl between them. This was a witness of transfer of authority from her parents to him and his. After this, she went to his family altar and saw that the pig head is placed properly there. She kow-tows to his ancestors and then goes to the kitchen hearth and kow-tows to their kitchen god.

The grooms family made her wedding dress and she goes to either the nuptial chamber or a room set aside for this and dresses for the wedding ceremony. It begins when an elder cuts a hard-cooked egg in half and gives bride and groom each a half. They exchange yolks and eat them before the actual religious ceremony begins.

After the ceremony, everyone dances carrying a bowl or bottle of an alcoholic beverage. They sip some between dances or after each song. Weddings last well into the night and beyond, and in the morning, the bride takes a handful of the rice she brought from her home and goes with her sisters-in-law to wherever they get their water and throws the rice in. After this, the bride is considered a member of the groom's family.

The next day, bride and groom go to her parents home bringing gifts. These show that she will be well off and well taken care of. Both return to his home and live with his parents or in a house or room next door.

Most Kazakh minority people, about a million and a quarter in China, live in the Northwest of China. Those that do not live there, live in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, near Qinghai, or in the Gansu Province. It is said that these people are Muslim descendents of ancient tribes including the Khitan (now spelled Qidan), the Tujue, Wusan, and others. Most still participate in arranged marriages and remain monogamous for life.

As to courtship, if a male does know a girl he wants to marry, he can discuss her with his parents. If they agree, they hire a matchmaker to go to the girl's family and suggest this to her parents. The matchmaker is usually a woman and she arranges for silks, horses, and other gifts to be exchanged for their daughter. If accepted, they select a wedding date and make all formal arrangements.

Before the wedding, an Imam chants appropriate incantations, gifts are exchanged, and a party helps celebrate the upcoming event. Usually in the home of the bride, it is most common for the couple to be considered pre-married, even sleep together, and if a child is conceived, they think that is very lucky.

The next wedding event is in the groom's family home; there a formal wedding takes place. On that day the girl bids farewell to her parents and family for a 'pouring the oil' ceremony intended to bless her with fertility and many offspring. This is when two women pour some oil on a huge fire, rub some on their bellies and on that of the red-cloth head-covered bride-to-be. The priest chants incantations, and the groom's men, using whips, unveil the bride with them. Additional festivities take place, games are played, and when they end, the wedding is declared over.

Some time afterwards, rich families of the male, if he is the first-born, give half of their land to the young man enabling the couple to live nearby for their entire married life. He is to take care of his parents, the girl to tend to their food and other household needs. Later sons, can get smaller parcels of land.

This minority population, about one and a quarter million, live mostly in South-central or South-east China, or on Hainan Island. Most are descended from ancient Baiyu people, many hold animistic beliefs, and most do not have arranged marriages. However, if they do not meet someone they want to marry, then arrangements can be made for them. One thing for sure, they never select nor are they ever matched with a cousin.

Though Li do not live or get together often with other young folk except at local festivals, there are a few courtship rituals. When they do marry, males come to fetch the bride and bring baskets of rice, large cakes, meat, wine, and a few non-food gifts. His friends and relatives descend on his parents and bring wine, rice, meat, and cakes to them. These gifts are the basis for feasts in either or in both homes.

Friends of the bride bring betel nuts wrapped in leaves for the wedding guests. They also set up a living gate on the wedding day for bride and groom to walk through. Its purpose is to scare away evil spirits lurking around as they will not let anyone not an invited guest pass through. As bride and groom go in, they are fed glutinous rice which must be eaten with their hands, no chopsticks allowed. This is to show their closeness to nature.

On the day after the wedding in his home, the bride needs to kill a chicken as a wifely gift to her groom, that is after she needs to find one first. He or his friends have hidden them all. She needs to behead the chicken. Then more betel nuts are given out to celebrate her prowess. The next day, she carries wine and meat from his parents to hers showing she will be well taken care of. In return, they give her many gifts, often food and clothing, and she returns to live with him and his parents.

In China the numbers of this ethnic minority are growing quickly and will should soon approach two million. Most live in the Dai Autonomous Prefecture, many in Kunming, and most others in the Dehong Dai and the Jingpo Autonomous Prefectures; some further south in the Yunnan Province.

As young girls, they are allowed to have many boy friends, and can select a spouse from among them. They meet boys at festivals such as the Dai Water Splashing Festival, and they play many games together. When a girl finds a boy she likes, he can sneak over to her house and she is allowed to let him stay over night. If he is gone in the morning, both may have gone to stay part of the night with a married sister or a friend of her mother.

One day, he will go to her parents bringing betel nuts, other snack foods, and some finery, perhaps jewelry. When her parents agree to his proposal, they give the couple a long piece of cane sugar. Hand-over-hand, they use it to determine the day of their wedding.

Days thereafter, after feasts at both homes, this couple are considered married. Before the first feast at her home, the groom is escorted there bringing gifts, often on a low table. Her friends hide her and when he finds her, the event called 'tying the knot' occurs and parents or friends use a thread to actually tie them together.

After a feast at his home, she returns to her parents and he comes along to live. At one or both of the above feasts, there is much rice wrapped in banana leaves and lots of meat and fish dishes to enjoy. Lumps of sugar are given to the bride by friends wishing her a life of sweet harmony. Some also give bunches of bananas to wish for many children. When they both decide, they move to live with his family. As to when, when they wish or after the arrival of their first born.

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