Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Lisu Wedding

One of the wonderful things about having a local translator/ friend is that one gets access to all sorts of everyday cultural events that one wouldn't be able to experience as a run-of-the-mill tourist/visitor. Case in point: Xiao Cui, my Lisu older sister/translator was invited to a traditional wedding on one of the days that we visited her village outside of Fugong to hear stories from the town's elders. Having just read a book about Han customs ("Flow of Gifts: Reciprocity and Social Networks in a Chinese Village" by Yuxiang Yan) in which Han wedding traditions are detailed, I now have considerable perspective on the way Lisu and Han customs were combined within the wedding I attended. For example: the wedding was held in semi-traditional Lisu building with woven floor and concrete walls. But the invitations were lucky red, with a "double happiness" character (if you've ever seen Chinese New Year decorations, that shape of very common). Similarly, there was a table set up out front where every gift of 10 or 50 or 100 yuan was carefully written down on a list (which, I learned in the Yan book, is for purposes of reciprocity), but then guests were greeted in a recieving line by the wedding party in traditional Lisu dress and prevailed upon to drink a cup of Lisu beer.

Of course, everyone at the wedding had other things to do besides pay attention to the waiguoren (foreigner) in their midst-- plus, I wasn't feeling all that well, as I had had stomach upset for the past week or so. So I made myself comfortable in a corner and watched the proceedings. There isn't any particular moment in which a Lisu couple is officially married (no vows, for instance): they just have a big party, everyone celebrates, and by the end of the day they're married. At least, that was the impression I got after repeated questions. The party was basically everybody milling around schmoozing and eating big platters of traditional Lisu food in little circles. The platters were made by going through a buffet line of enormous proportions. The picture below will give you an idea of how much food there was/how many people they expected-- the silver vat on the left is completely full of rice:

Traditional Lisu wedding feast. The food is put together buffet style into platters. Several people sit or squat around these platters and eat the food either with their fingers or (nowadays) using chopsticks

I didn't end up staying at the wedding for very long, as after my first shot of Lisu whiskey (whew, strong stuff) my stomach started to rebel. Also, I think I might have insulted them by not offering a gift, but the situation was just too complex. At that point my spending money was very limited, as I was waiting for a wire from my teacher in Kunming (to my chagrin, my AAA check card, which had worked in almost every ATM throughout Yunnan, was not accepted at any of the three ATMs in Fugong city, and I was forced to borrow money or waste a day taking the 4-hour bus to Liuku and back to Fugong.) If I did offer a present, I would not know what amount would be appropriate and what would be insulting, and I could not afford to be generous. Instead, I took a motorcycle cab back down the winding river road to my hotel, where I proceeded to feel nauseous and contemplate the day's photographs.

The groom in traditional dress

The bride in traditional dress

Father of the bride in traditional dress

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