Pu Quan is surrounded by hills, separated from the main roads. The roads connecting houses are small, winding, and rocky.
Clouds of steam come from the kitchen of Trieu Sanh Trien, who is preparing for the wedding of his son Trieu Van Lai and his future daughter-in-law Phan Thi Nay.
Before the three-day wedding ceremony, the two families performed a number of rituals, the first of which was the match-making ritual. Mr. Mo, the match maker from the groom’s family, visited the bride’s home to find out if the ages of the couple were suitable for marriage.
The groom’s family then visited the bride’s family to discuss the offerings. All steps of the match-making ritual were completed nearly a year ahead of the wedding ceremony.
To prepare for the wedding feast, the groom’s family had to raise pigs and chickens, cook some wine, and grow vegetables and rice. The Red Dao need a year to raise a 30-kg pig.
Trien said, “We need to prepare five or six pigs for the wedding. Our money is spent on fruits, which don’t cost much.”
In the Red Dao’s culture, the bride is the busiest person in her family because she needs to sew and embroider her own wedding costume and clothes for her husband-to-be’s family using the fabric and yarn they have given her. In this way, the bride demonstrates her skill and her love for the groom’s family.
The bride-to-be Phan Thi Nay said, “I need to embroider a scarf for my father-in-law, a pair of pants for my mother-in-law, and some more items of clothing for other family members”.
Two days before the wedding, the groom’s family prepares offerings for the bride’s family including a cleanly-butchered pig, a chicken, some white wine, and some “votives”.
The special “votive” of the Red Dao is made from resin. After being boiled, the resin is flattened, dried in the sun and patterns are carved into it.
Five representatives of the groom’s family bring the offerings to the bride’s house. The groom’s family selectes people with large families in the hope that the newly weds will have a large happy family.
Trieu Thi Me, one of the groom’s family’s representatives said, “I’m very happy to be a part of the offering delegation. I wish the couple good health, luck, and happiness.”
The Red Dao very much value hospitality. Upon arrival, representatives of the bride’s family offer their guests wine and tobacco. Then they offer fresh water and clean towels so the groom’s delegation can wash their faces after their journey.
Then the offerings are placed on the ancestor’s altar and the shaman performs a ritual the worship to inform the ancestors that the bride is no longer a member of her mother’s family and now belongs to her husband’s family.
Shaman Trieu Van Cau said, “The family needs to inform the ancestors about the marriage of their daughter and pray for her peace and happiness in her new family”.
The ritual lasts several hours. The groom’s family then burn the votives and treat the bride’s family a feast using the offerings. The only ingredient of the feast used to be meat. Nowadays, they add some vegetables to make the meal more delicious.
The representatives of the groom’s family don’t eat the meal with the bride’s family. They just cook the food and treat their hosts to wine until the hosts finish the feast.
Tang Van Lo of the groom’s family said, “When the hosts finish the feast, they invite their guests to the same feast in return. We believe the way guests and hosts treat each is more important than the size of the feast.”
When night comes, the bride goes out of her house to stay with a neighbor or relative. The bride does not go to the groom’s house until the wedding day. And she’s not allowed to go back home within the first month of marriage.
Trieu Thi May, the bride’s mother, said, “Since my husband passed away several years ago, I have taken care of my children myself. Now my daughter has grown up and found her Mr. Right. I’m happy for her. At the same time, I’m worried about whether she can adapt to a totally new environment.”
Mrs. May spends some of precious moments with her daughter, giving her advice before her “little child” becomes a wife.
The next day, a number of rituals take place at the groom’s house. There are two altars full of offerings. At the first, the family informs the ancestors about the wedding and asks them to bring luck to the couple. The second altar is used to perform a groom-naming ritual.
A Red Dao man needs to have three names in his life: a born name, a marriage name, and a maturity name.
Shaman Trieu Quoc Minh said, “The shaman and the groom’s parents agree on the groom’s marriage name prior to the wedding. This symbolic name is used on his wedding and death day, but not every day”.
The Red Dao believe a shaman is able to communicate with supernatural forces so a shaman usually leads all rituals at a wedding.
In the early morning on the next day, the bride’s family finishes the last preparations for accompanying the bride to the groom’s house. In Red Dao culture, the groom doesn’t pick up the bride at her house.
The bride walks to his. The bride, at her most beautiful on her wedding day, covers her head with a large scarf to shield herself from evils along the way. Upon arrival, the hosts offer the guests fresh water and clean towels to wash their faces.
The shaman then performs a ritual which welcomes the bride as a member of the groom’s family. He declares them husband and wife and offers them two cups of wine. When the newly weds have drunk the wine, they will live happily together forever.
The final ritual of the wedding involves the two families and the village elders enjoying a feast together. The bride offers the guests wine and receives money from them as wishes for a happy life. Everyone joins in traditional dancing.
The difficulty of life in Pu Quan village seems not to dampen the spirit of the people living here. A wedding brings joy to the two families and everyone in the village.