Monday, January 14, 2008

A Foochow Wedding

(NOTE: This image is taken from one of the 1960's Peace Corps' websites. I hope he does not mind sharing this marvellous photo which is rather rare now. I have yet to go back to sibu to take some photos of these ubiquitous motor launches which are unique and special for the Foochows of Sibu.)

One of the memories triggered by an image of the Chinese wooden motor launches of Sibu is my cousin's wedding downriver which required the help of a motor launch like this as part of her wedding party.

The term "downriver" in Sibu means all the village houses which were located on the river banks of the Rejang below Sibu. The various villages were interestingly named as Pulau Keladi,Kwong Hua, Lee Hua, Tui Hu, Nan Chong,Bam Ma Or, Ah Nan Chong,Tiing Nang Chong, Wong Shu Lai or Ensurai, Bukit Lan, Ah Ling Pah, Sg. Bidut, Paradom, and Bawan Assan, the furthest point and also the end of my memories of the villages .

She was married from my uncle's house in Ensurai or Wong Shu Lai. the wedding ceremony was officiated by the local Foochow Methodist Pastor, and the wedding feast was held at home, in every available space the house had.

My aunt and uncle , and their helpers started early in the morning getting the wedding feast ready. Hundreds of eggs were shelled, vegetables were washed and sliced, canned foods were opened up,several pigs, chickens and ducks were slaughtered and cleaned, chopped and ready for the cooking and every able bodied male relative was there to help with the cooking.

The ubiquitous Foochow stove as usual its huge kuali roaring and ready for steaming. Other makeshift stoves were also built, both upstairs and downstairs. It was very much later that I realised how efficient these ad hoc chefs were. They were so good at preparing a banquet for more than 100 people!!

Relatives had come early to see the preparation and to send off the bride. They brought with them their packets of ang pows or money gifts. The amount of money given would depend on their relationships.

A grand uncle or grand aunt would give a gold ring and a fairly big angpow. An immediate uncle or aunt would give a gold ring and a sum of money. A married sister or brother would even give a small bracelet and a small sum of money. This would mean that they had been presented with a Number Five Wedding Biscuit (ngu hor pian) which is very much like a hefty summon today. At that time, the bride's family would actually have these lovely biscuits (leh pian) made and distributed as an announcement that a daughter was to be married.

whenever a woman was asked "Wedding biscuits are in the oven?" (Leh pian huen lah?) it meant that a daughter was getting ready to get married.

Another set of relatives, cousins, aunts,would be presented with a Number three Wedding Biscuit. These relatives and would come nad present a small angpow.

Other more distant relatives and close friends would receive the Number One Wedding Biscuits.

In actual fact a wedding of a good family would always be a "gain" as relatives were generous and would dig deep into their pockets to help out. Very often a "profit" would be made and this sum of money would help the new couple in their new life.

Cousin Yen had her face made up by another relative. and of course, her hair was sprayed very properly to get it bouffant. She wore the long dangling rhinestone earrings, very fashionable at that time,and smart elbow length white gloves which a Foochow girl would probably wear only once in her life time. By ten o'clock in the morning, every one was sweating in the tropical humid heat. But we soldiered on getting her all dressed up in her best for the most important day of her life. My aunt was choking and needing a glass of water, when the motor launch was heard chugging towards the family jetty. And soon the brass band came on the plank walk making such a din!!

The drum and cymbals only made our hearts beat faster and the clock just seemed to go faster and faster. The brass band decidedly made the event more merry and more noise was made above all the din.

The bridegroom came with his entourage of matchmaker, helpers and other attendants, including a photographer,best man and bridesmaid. The simple wedding ceremony included the normal wedding vows and exchange of rings in the western style and was over by about ten.

My cousin Yen was ready, dressed in bridal white, veil and all to embark on her next stage of life. I thought she was beautiful like a queen with her long white lacey gown. The bridegroom was smart in his suit. In those days, all the wedding attires were rented from a bridal shop in Sibu after the engaged couple had had some fittings.

A good family after receiving the dowry from the intended son-in-law would prepare what we Foochows call "peng" or provisions. These were numbered in "gong" as traditionally the provisions or gifts were carried off by bamboo poles by the groom's relatives. Fire crackers would be let off when the gifts were carried out of the house of the bride. My cousin was given a dressing table, a set of bedding with mattress, a sewing machine,a bicycle,and a wardrobe, led by two chairs onto which were tied two lanterns which had these inscriptions on : thousands of sons, ten thousands of grandsons. Five gifts were considered a medium set while seven would be considered large set. A small set was made up of three basic gifts. In later years, the married women would measure their parents' love for them by the number of such gifts. Sometimes it was very sad for a woman to remember that her parents were so poor that they could not even afford to give a single gift after accepting the dowry from the man's family.

The dowry paid by the groom was called Leh Lin, or ping gin, gold for the proposal of marriage. A dowry was usually a sum of money demanded by the bride's family. How much it was depended on the negotiations between the groom's family and bride's family usually.

The newly wedded couple left soon after the ceremony at about eleven. The motor launch, Sin Hai Huong,(the New Poseidon ir New Sea King), was dressed elegantly with a red cloth banner in the front and lots of bantings tied from the front to the back. when people saw a motor launch dressed in such a gay manner, they knew that a wedding was on and the gerukan or boat drivers would blast their fog horns to add to the merriment and cheer.

We all went to the jetty to wave good bye to the bridal group. The bridegroom's wedding feast would be held in a restaurant in Sibu, about two hours boat ride away. As was the custom, the motor launch had to move forward and backwards three times before finally moving off to show the reluctance of the bride to leave her family. the younger brother of the bride would also pull a red cloth away from the motor launch so that the family would keep their fortune.

Tears were discreetly shed as usual and the men would slap each other's backs. The match was a good one as my cousin was fairly well educated and had behaved very well. The groom was a humble quiet man,and had a good head for business - very matching indeed.

My aunt would miss her a great deal, as it was like losing an arm when a good daughter married off. She would miss her whenever she had to wash her clothes on the jetty, or carry water by the pail to the house about 20 meters from the river. And at night, when everything was quiet, she would miss the conversation with her daughter.

5 memories:

FrancisN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FrancisN said...

Sarawakiana, your post has again jolted my memory of a village wedding I attended with my aunty when I was a young teenager.

My aunty was invited to one of her relatives' wedding and I asked her to take me. We had to take a motor long boat next the Tau Pek Kon temple in Sibu. It was an exiting trip since it was my first trip on a long boat to a village wedding.

I can identify with what you have written and of course the hospitality of the hosts were unforgettable.

You must have kept a diary all these years. The details you wrote of past events are so interesting and intriguing.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

I did keep a diary but my effort was rather sporadic. However my mind has captured vivid pictures which tend to just appear all the time.

when I was a teenager,I was shamelessly a keen observer of things and people. Sometimes my mother would be very embarrassed and she would pinch me and told me not to look!! She cursed me and told me that my eyes would fall out. and my thick skin would prevent me from marrying a good Foochow man!!

I suppose all Foochow men must be extremely good and they all married extremely good Foochow girls who just looked down on the floor at all times!! :) :) :)

I must also attribute my writing to my very good English teachers who gave me a lot of encouragement and freedom to think and write!!

Greg Wee said...

Gosh that is just so interesting. i have only heard my parents talking about it. Such warmth and joy that can be felt in the heart.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Gosh, Greg and Nee,

I was in Kuching last week. And I had a good time walking along Bishop's Gate, and the vicinity.

Bought a 50's kerosene lamp from the family which has been making them for the last 60 years...

Been smiling the last few days.

I had nice prawn siu chiaw in Padungan.

Hope to read more of your blogs soon.


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