A wedding is one of life's big occasions. Anyone getting married wants their wedding to be an event they can look back on later with wonderful memories. Hakka people have a regard for custom and etiquette even in the small things of life -- but especially so for something as important as a wedding!
Hakka people are somewhat traditional as well. And because of this, Hakka wedding customs still bear the hallmarks of ancient Chinese tradition. Some parts of the rituals have been simplified over the years. But the main principles behind the wedding ceremony have been retained. And so a man wishing to marry a woman must still go through a number of steps. These include proposing a marriage, where introductions are made and the marriage discussed. Then there is the betrothal, where an engagement is formalized. Then the date of the wedding is set and finally the wedding itself, which involves sending and welcoming the bride and the wedding feast.
In today's program, we'll have a look at some of the features of a Taiwanese Hakka wedding.
In earlier times, Hakka marriages were set up by the couple's parents with the help of a matchmaker. Nowadays young Hakka people are free to arrange their own love matches. That being the case however, the wedding still follows the formalities of the traditional process.
First comes the stage of proposing a marriage. When two young people decide they wish to get married, they must first seek the approval of their parents. The male suitor finds a matchmaker to go to family of his desired in order to propose the match. Then, at a selected time, the matchmaker goes again, this time accompanied by the young suitor's parents and the prospective groom himself. This is to allow the two sets of parents to get to know each other.
Then the bride writes on a piece of red paper eight Chinese characters signifying the time and date of her birth. The matchmaker gives this to the prospective groom as a form of marriage contract. The suitor then places it respectfully on his family altar and burns incense to inform his ancestors of his intentions. After around three days, if nothing bad has happened in the male suitor's house, plans for the engagement may continue.
After the marriage has been proposed and accepted, the engagement is formalized. The matchmaker continues to mediate in matters of the size of the gift of money, the bridal cake and the wedding gifts.
The bride's family would often use the gift of money from the groom's family to buy her dowry, or give it to the bride herself for her own use. Nowadays the money is often given only as a formality and given back to the groom's family after the engagement is concluded.
The bridal cake is given to the bride's relatives or friends to eat. Usually those who get a piece of the cake will give a present to the bride, as a form of dowry. This is known as tianzhuang (in Mandarin) or 'adding to the dowry'.
On the day of the engagement the matchmaker accompanies the groom's party to the bride's family's home. The party usually consists of the groom's elder relatives. Including the groom himself, the party should be of an even number -- usually six, eight or even ten people. They bring the gift of money, the bridal cake, golden decorative gifts as well as cigarettes, candy, betel nuts, and sticks of incense.
At the engagement ceremony the bride-to-be, wearing new clothes, is brought out by her parents. She serves sweet tea to the guests. She then returns to her room, emerging again a short time later to collect the teacups. At this time, the members of groom's party each place a red envelope containing money on the tea tray, which the bride-to-be receives. Then the groom's parents place a red envelope with the main gift of money on a tray which is given to the bride's parents via the matchmaker. When the gift is received, it signifies that the bride's parents agree to the betrothal of their daughter to the groom's parents' son.
Then it's time for the exchange of the decorative or ornamental gifts. For this, the bride-to-is is seated on a tall and round chair or stool, with her feet resting on a lower stool. She puts on a ring and a necklace given to her by her future husband. The tall round chair is significant -- in Chinese, 'round' signifies perfection or completeness while 'tall' suggests the dignity and high ideal of marriage.
Finally the bride's family serves a meal for the guests -- and here there is a particularly interesting custom. During the course of the meal the groom's party should leave. They do not even bid farewell to their hosts but rather slip away quietly. The intent is to show that the groom's family does not wish to eat the bride's family out of house and home. It also suggests that there will be no remarriage.
After formalizing the engagement, the next step is to set the date for the wedding. This is set by the groom's family, who inform the bride's family. The groom's family then prints wedding invitations to send to friends and relatives inviting them to come.
Then at last comes the wedding itself, which means going to the bride's home for the ceremony known as welcoming the bride.
For Taiwan's Hakkas, the wedding is usually conducted in the morning. On the day itself the groom's party takes some special gifts and red envelopes as an offering to the bride's ancestors and goes to the bride's house. Before the party arrives, they let off strings of firecrackers to announce their arrival. As the bride's family greets them, the groom comes down from what was traditionally a sedan chair or palanquin. The matchmaker then presents gifts to the bride's family.
The bride is then brought out, supported by her elder relatives. The bride and groom then pay their respects to the bride's ancestors. The bride's uncles then light incense sticks for the couple while speaking traditional blessings. This is known as 'reciting the four phrases' or in Hakka, 'ngiam xi gi'. When this is done, the bride's parents give the newlyweds red envelopes. The matchmaker recites a traditional blessing, 'Buy fields and land for the groom and bride. Great honor and wealth from this day forth.' The bride then says farewell to her parents and mounts the palanquin. As she does so she should be weeping for the life she leaves behind. Traditionally the bride would be lifted on the back of her elder brother, though this is not done any more.
On arrival at the home of the groom, the newlyweds are greeted by the groom's family. They also recite the 'four phrases' as they dismount the palanquin. A small pot is placed on the threshold of the house in which is burnt incense such as sandalwood. As the bride crosses the threshold, the fragrance cleanses any untoward influence from the body. After entering the house the newlyweds pay their respects to heaven and earth and their ancestors before entering the bridal chamber.
Next comes the wedding banquet, which for Hakkas is usually held at lunchtime, so the guests can have the afternoon free for other things.
Taiwan's Hakkas have a few wedding customs which are rather amusing. Customs such as 'hanging the sugar cane tail'; 'the guiding chickens' and 'the splashing of the washbasin.'
'Hanging the sugar cane tail' involves taking a pair of sugar canes and binding them together from top to tail with a red ribbon nine feet long. This is then hung on the side of the bridal carriage, symbolizing that the couple will likewise be bound together for the rest of their lives. Hopefully their life together will be as sweet as the sugar cane itself! The length of the ribbon -- nine feet -- is also symbolic, as the Chinese word for 'nine' is pronounced the same as the Chinese word for 'longevity'.
The so-called 'guiding chickens' are a cock and a hen, placed in a basket, representing the propagation of life. The birds in their basket are placed underneath the newlyweds' marriage bed.
The following day, the basket is taken out and opened to see which bird will jump out first. If it is the cock, the newlyweds' firstborn child will be a boy. If it is the hen, it will be a girl. This custom still exists -- but now that Taiwan is no longer primarily an agricultural society, it has been changed somewhat. Fake chickens are often used instead of real ones. Or if real chickens are still used, they probably won't be kept in the room on the first night!
And what about the 'splashing of the washbasin'? Well, this is a custom performed by the bride's mother, who splashes water from a small washbasin towards the bridal carriage. The meaning is similar to the Chinese idiom, 'spilt water is not easily retrieved' -- in other words, a marriage once contracted cannot be dissolved easily.
Another tradition is that, not far into the palanquin journey the bride tosses from the carriage a fan with a red envelope tied to it. This symbolizes that any bad traits from the bride's former life as a single woman are being dispersed like wind by a fan. It should be picked up by a younger male relative of the bride and kept as a memento.
Hakka Language Lesson
Today's Hakka language lesson is all about asking directions. To ask someone the way to get somewhere, we'll start with a word we've learned before:
Sorry or excuse me:
Then the sentence, may I ask:
jia mun id ha or alternatively:
qiang mun id ha
then the place you wish to ask about, for example, the train station:
fo ca teu
the bus station:
gun ca zam
the metro or underground station:
jiab iun zam
then the phrase which means 'where is?' which goes at the end:
cai nai vi?
cai teu qian
How do I get there?
Ion ban hang?
Just go straight ahead:
Ced ced hang qiu do le.
So, putting it together we say: Excuse me, may I ask how to get to the train station?
Sed li! qiang mun id ha, fo ca teu cai nai vi?
The train station is up ahead, just go straight on til you get there:
Fo ca teu cai teu qian! ced ced hang qiu do le!
That's all for today's Hakka Files, thanks for joining us and see you next week!