In the past, arranged marriages were commonplace among the Bai people but fortunately nowadays Bai youths have the freedom to choose who they want to marry. That being said, the customs and procedures of their wedding ceremony are still largely adhered to, so they haven’t entirely escaped tradition. Once a young man and woman have announced their engagement, the groom will hire workers to begin building a stage in his home, because apparently weddings aren’t expensive enough without turning your house into a theatre!
In a display worthy of a British stag-do, the groom arranges for local singers and actors to perform on this stage on the eve of the wedding and invites his relatives and friends to celebrate his last night as a single man. Providing the wedding stage doesn’t get completely trashed, on the wedding day itself the groom will get up early and prepare a banquet for the guests. This sumptuous feast is punctuated by live music, which is a shame because the bride isn’t there to see it! At this point, in some areas the groom will travel to the bride’s home accompanied by his best man and a bridesmaid, while in other areas he is forbidden to see the bride before the wedding so sends his entourage in his place.
On arrival at the bride’s house, the welcoming party is received with the playing of lively music. This is where one of the strangest customs comes in, as the party are greeted by the bride’s elder relatives with series of odd questions, such as “where are you from?” and “what did you see on the way here?” Their responses must be quick and humorous, or else they will be playfully mocked by the bride’s family. As if getting married wasn’t stressful enough! The bride’s family then hosts the famous Bai tea ceremony known as San Dao Cha or Three Courses of Tea. Four to six men from the bride’s family will make toasts to the groom and his entourage, followed by the groom making toasts to the bride’s family.
According to custom rather than feeling, the bride then has to cry intentionally and sorrowfully in front of her family. As she cries, she should express her gratitude to her parents for having raised her. The bride will then leave her family home and go to the groom’s house, accompanied by more joyous music. That is, if all the mocking and fake crying hasn’t given them cold feet! Once the bride has arrived, she is taken to have her make-up done. While this takes place, children at the wedding are given fire torches and are free to play until the wedding ceremony begins. After all, what could be more fun than giving a bunch of children flaming torches?
When the bride is ready, the children accompany her into the bridal room, which will have been decorated with auspicious symbols. Horse saddles imply diligence, a mirror symbolises bravery, and three arrows indicate happiness. The bride then pays respect to the gods and the groom’s parents. The couple must then rush to compete for a space on a large pillow in the bridal room. It is said that whoever sits on this pillow first will be master of the house, although this is commonly regarded as a joke.
The couple then eats a bowl of incredibly spicy noodles together, which leaves them tearful and is designed primarily to make the guests laugh! From mockery to forced crying to burnt tongues, Bai weddings seem to be pretty sadistic affairs! Finally the couple will cross their arms together and drink wine, which symbolises that they will respect and love each other forever.
In the evening, an intimate dinner will take place between the bride, the bridesmaid, and the elderly women from the groom’s family. After the meal, the bride pays respect to the groom’s elder relatives and gives each of them a pair of embroidered shoes that she has made. In turn, they reward her with monetary gifts. The bride’s younger relatives and neighbouring children will then gather and pay respect to her, and are rewarded with candies and fruit.