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Official Gazette

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Gau xong, unique bridal singing of the H’mong

Updated: 15:34’ - 29/11/2012

Ta Thi Tam
Ethnology Institute

Wedding is an original cultural feature of the H’mong, the fifth largest ethnic minority group in Vietnam with a population of over 1 million.

For the H’mong, an ideal partner is a person who has good health and morals and is hardworking. A H’mong good wife must know how to grow flax, weave and make clothes and dresses while a perfect husband must be good at tilling and carpentry and conversant with traditional customs and habits, and particularly, be an excellent singer and flute player.

As spring comes, one can hear the sound of flute and jew’s harp in H’mong villages at nightfall, which is H’mong men’s charming way of expressing love for their sweethearts. Through a man’s flute sound, a girl can understand how deep his love for her is.

H’mong lovers make date during fairs and festive occasions where they exchange objects of belief, which can be rings, silver bracelets, mirrors or chatelaines. After winning the heart of his lover, a man asks for his parents’ permission to marry her.

A H’mong wedding goes through three main formalities, namely the proposal ceremony, the wedding present exacting ceremony and the wedding, which are characterized by particular folksongs called gau xong to be sung by the families of the groom and bride, making H’mong wedding rites so attractive and unique as compared with other ethnic groups.

A H’mong marriage starts with the proposal ceremony in which two male matchmakers visit the girl’s family to propose the marriage on behalf of the boy’s family. Setting out on a good date chosen by the boy’s family, the matchmakers, who must have a ready tongue and be good singers of gau xong, bring the offerings including a rooster, a hen and a bottle of wine, and some pipe tobacco and a pipe. They must also carry along umbrellas which are clamped under their arms with the umbrella tips pointing to the front.  If the matchmakers see a snake or hear a muntjac’s sound on the way to the girl’s home, their trip is believed unlucky. Arriving the girl’s home, the matchmakers stop at the gate, singing a song asking her parents to open the door for them: “Having heard that you have a pretty girl, we come to see you for an engagement.” Entering the house, the matchmakers sing another song, asking the host to give them some water to wash their faces and feet and a place to hang their umbrellas which is usually the back wattle in the middle part of the house. After that, they offer the host pipe tobacco and sing again, asking for his permission to talk about their matchmaking.

After being agreed by the host who will send two representatives to talk with them, the matchmakers ask for the birthdate of the girl to see if the couple is a good match. The matchmakers then kill a chicken to foresee the marriage by seeing the fowl’s feet. A couple is believed to be happy if the chicken’s toes huddle together. If the marriage is thought to fail through seeing the chicken feet, the matchmakers must stay overnight at the girl’s home. Before going to bed, they have to apply soot on their faces in the belief to keep the girl family’s spirits from recognizing them, which will take revenge on them for taking away a member of the family. The next morning, the matchmakers sing a song saying goodbye to the girl’s family and asking to take back their umbrellas, which they must carry with their handles pointing to the front on the way back home.

If the couple is a good match, then comes the wedding present exacting ceremony in which the girl’s family gives the boy’s a wood stick inscribed with its exacted wedding presents, symbolizing the girl’s value and her parents’ credit for raising her. During this rite, the wedding day will be chosen by the two families, which must be at least one month later to give the girl’s family time to make careful preparations.

The wedding presents, which usually include silver, money, meat and wine, and jewelry and clothing for the girl, are brought to the girl’s family one day before the wedding. The matchmakers of the two families must sing songs to give and receive the wedding presents.

The wedding day of the H’mong must not fall on a thundery day or the birthday of the bride or groom because if so, the couple is believed not to live long.  The groom’s procession to escort the bride usually comprises between 13 and 17 people, including a couple representing the groom’s parents, two matchmakers, the groom, a groomsman, a bridesmaid and some relatives and close friends of the groom. The groomsman carries a rooster, a hen, a knife and a hoe to be given to the bride’s family.

When the procession arrives, the bride’s family sends their matchmakers to receive the offerings. After that, the groom is invited to pray in front of the ancestor altar of the bride’s family and kowtow the bride’s parents. The two families then have a wedding feast together during which relatives of the bride and groom sing gau xong to congratulate the couple.

At a chosen hour for escorting the bride to her husband’s home, a brother or cousin of the bride, who must be a married man with children, takes the bride from her room and hands over her to the representative of the groom’s family. The bridesmaid from the groom’s family opens an umbrella, readily to escort the bride. The bride in a red blouse, a flower-patterned skirt and a green headdress bursts into tears when leaving home. The matchmakers of the groom’s family offers the bride’s mother two bowls of wine while the groom kowtows his parents-in-law and his wife’s relatives. The bride’s family also offers wine to the groom’s family while the matchmakers sing a song to say goodbye.

The procession to escort the bride from her home which must be in an even number is led by the groom’s matchmakers, followed by the bride, the bridesmaid, the bride’s matchmakers, the groomsman and finally relatives and friends of the two families. The procession must stop on the way for a meal dedicated to forest and village spirits so that they will not follow the bride. Before the procession has this meal, which includes rice, boiled chicken, salt and wine, representatives of the two families must make offerings to the spirits by throwing rice and meat around. When the procession approaches the groom’s home, the groom must go ahead to reach home first and light a lamp covered with a winnowing basket. Arriving the groom’s home, the bride and bridesmaid must stop at the entrance door for an uncle of the groom to move a chicken around the bride’s head three times. This formality is to admit the bride’s spirit to her husband’s family which will be now protected by the spirits of his family. The groom’s family sings gau xong throughout that night. The next morning, relatives of the groom are invited to a party, praying for happiness for the young couple.-

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