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Traditional Wedding in Red

By Rahmat Bin Haji Abdul Rahman


The bride and bridegroom in traditional wedding costumes which are red, a color considered lucky since the Ming dynasty.

The bride with his parents-in-law during the wedding ceremony.

The traditional Chinese wedding ceremony performed by the Tionghua community in the Tutong district during His Majesty 57th Birthday Celebrations held in the district was an unforgettable event.

The fascinating and colourful ceremony gave the spectators an opportunity to gain an insight into Chinese culture especially customary practices.

There are etiquettes in the Chinese wedding like proposing, birthday matching, presenting betrothal and wedding gifts, picking auspicious wedding date and the wedding ceremony

To announce a marriage in a Chinese wedding, the groom's family would provide special cakes for the bride's family to send to family and friends. Today, many Chinese bakeries in Brunei can make these cakes by special order.

At dawn on the wedding day, after a bath in water infused with various grapefruits, the bride puts on new clothes and wears a pair of red shoes, waiting for the so called good luck woman to dress her hair in the style of a married woman.

Her head will be covered with a red silk veil with tassels or bead strings that hang from the phoenix crown. Then she waits her future husband to escort her home, with married women talking around her how to act to be a good wife.

On the other hand, the bridegroom prepares himself to receive his wife. He gets capped and dressed in a long gown, red shoes and a red silk sash with a silk ball on his chest, the groom knelt at the ancestral altar as his father put a cap decorated with cypress leaves on his head to declare his adulthood and his family responsibility. Then the bridegroom set out to receive his bride. Usually he will be crowded among his friends as escorts and musicians who play happy music all the way to radiate happiness.

Dancing lions, if any, precede the troop. In the ancient time, a bridal sedan chair (or a decorated donkey due to poverty or bad traffic) would be used to serve the bride. There will be a child carrying a bridal box among the people, reflecting the bridegroom's expectation to have a child in the near future.

The most interesting part of the reception really takes place at the doorstep of the bride's residence, heavily guarded by the bridesmaids or sisters of the bride. It is customary for the bridesmaid to give the bridegroom a difficult time before he is allowed to enter.

Usually wisdom and courage and his friends will help the bridegroom to succeed in the quizzes. After passing the tests and singing for his bride, the bridegroom is finally allowed to meet his bride.

However, there is one more pass. He has to negotiate with the bridesmaid and sisters of the bride by distributing red packets, with auspicious money enclosed, in order to take his bride home.

The wedding ceremony is the hottest point. The bride and bridegroom are led to the family altar, where the couple pays kotows to Heaven and Earth, the family ancestors and parents, successively. Then they bow to each other and will be led to the bridal chamber. The ceremony proceeds under a director's prompts and applauses of the audience.

Then there will be a grand feast for relatives and those who help in the wedding.

The newlywed couple will resume to drink wedlock wine. Generally they are required to cross their arms to sip the wine and then exchange their cups to gulp down. They will also toast with guests to pay their thanks. Good wishes of the guests rush to the couple. However, well-intentioned people will try their best to fuddle the bridegroom who is dodging to avoid the embarrassing scene.

The dominant colour of traditional Chinese wedding is red, almost every thing. Chinese tend to apply red to happy atmosphere in such big days.

Chinese wedding dresses are red, a colour considered lucky since the Ming dynasty. But, in modern day, the wedding ceremony is performed in western style where the bride uses gown and the bridegroom uses vest and jacket. Traditional costumes can be rented from dress stores in Bandar Seri Begawan. The price begins at B$1,000.

A simple Chinese wedding ceremony will cost about B$10,000 just for the wedding costumes, excluding other expenses like the wedding feast. The actual overall expenditure could reach B$30,000 to B$50,000, depending on how lavishly the wedding is celebrated.

For the Chinese, the wedding banquet is a way to show off the riches of the host.

Dish after dish of succulent meats, sea-foods, noodles and rice dishes emerge from the prominent restaurants and hotel kitchen to serve guests at the banquet. Extravagant delicacies such as bird nest soup, shark fin soup and abalone attest to the host's generosity and wealth.

Foods are also served for their symbolism. Whole fish is almost always served. The word for fish, 'yu', sounds like the word for "abundance". Noodles, their length signifying long life, are also often served. Desserts that contain lotus seeds are served as a wish for the couple to have many children.

Another customary practice during the traditional Chinese wedding is preparing the bridal bed. A man of good luck, usually from a nice family, will help to install the bridal bed in the right place in the bridal chamber on a selected day before the wedding day. And a woman of good luck will arrange the bridal bed and scatter candies, lotus seeds, peanuts, beans and fruits of good meanings on the bed.

Nobody is allowed to touch the bed until the couple enters the bridal chamber after the wedding ceremony. Children will then be invited onto the bed to bless fertility of the couple.

Usually the bride's dowry shall be sent to the bridegroom's family by the day before the wedding day. Sometimes the dowry will be brought by the bride's escorting troops on the wedding day to show off. Traditional dowry normally consists of items such as jewellery, embroidered beddings, kitchen utensils and furniture.

The package of dowry is always changing except those basic items of symbol. For example, dozens years ago, sewing machine, bicycle, and recorder were musts in a marriage. Now, they are totally out of fashion.

Traditionally, the newlyweds are to return to visit the bride's parents one or three days after the wedding. They will be hailed with a banquet and it is the bridegroom's turn to suffer teasing from the bride's relatives and friends. That is still well-intentioned.

Today, traditional customary practices have lost its popularity due to the collapse of feudal marriage custom and its complexity.

However, traditional Chinese wedding ceremony can still be seen in the countryside, despite innovations. In fact, the custom of traditional marriage has revived in some places and attracts will-be-couples.

Source: Borneo Bulletin Weekend



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