Marriage rites of the San Diu
The San Diu, a Sino-Tibetan language ethnic minority group, lives in the northern provinces of Bac Giang, Thai Nguyen, Vinh Phuc, Tuyen Quang, Phu Tho and Bac Can, with a population of nearly 127,000.

>>"San Diu" ethnos with its customs, practices and customary law

Ta Thi Tam

Ethnology Institute

The San Diu, a Sino-Tibetan language ethnic minority group, lives in the northern provinces of Bac Giang, Thai Nguyen, Vinh Phuc, Tuyen Quang, Phu Tho and Bac Can, with a population of nearly 127,000.

The San Diu, previously called San Deo, Trai Dat, Man Quan Coc (wearing shorts) and Man Vay Xe (wearing split dress), originated from Chinese San Diu who migrated from Yangzhou, Guizhou and Guangxi in China to mountainous areas of the northern province of Quang Ninh around 300 years ago.

San Diu people grow rice on wet and terraced fields at the foot of or between low hills. They also do upland cultivation and grow subsidiary crops on alluvial grounds along rivers and streams. The group has a relatively developed animal raising, rearing fish and a lot of buffaloes and cows to serve farm work.

San Diu villages lie on flat hills or at the foot of low mountains near water sources. Each village has a Buddhist temple and a common house to worship the village deity. A San Diu house, which is made of earth, small and simple, often faces a rice field with a hill at its back.

The San Diu lives in a patriarchal family where the father and husband makes decision on all family affairs. Influenced by Confucianism, gender discrimination is seen in San Diu families where only sons have inheritance. Women have no rights over the family’s financial and other issues even though they are the main labor. They are even not allowed to have meal together with men, or sit in front of the family altar or at the entrance door.

San Diu families have strict regulations on the relation between the father- or brother-in-law and the daughter- or sister-in-law, under which a father- or brother-in-law is not supposed to enter his daughter- or sister-in-law’s room. A daughter- or sister-in-law is not allowed to give anything directly to her father- or brother-in-law.

According to San Diu customs, a son-in-law may live temporarily or permanently with his wife’s family. A son-in-law who lives permanently with his wife’s family may inherit assets of his wife’s family although he does not necessarily have to change his family name after his wife’s. But he has to worship ancestors of her family and may also worship his own ancestors in his wife’s house. The altar of such a family has two incense burners. The one in the middle is for the wife’s ancestors and the other on the left is for the husband’s. In some families, the altar of the wife’s ancestors is placed in the main part of the house while that of the husband’s is in the left part.

San Diu family names include Ly, Tran, Truong, Ninh, Tu, Le, Diep and Ta, each of which has seven or nine middle names. Each middle name corresponds to a generation. After seven or nine generations, the middle names are used again. The use of middle names allows San Diu people to easily know their kindred even if they meet for the first time. People with middle names of the same system are not allowed to marry one another.

San Diu young people, who are free in love and marriage, often find their partners through soong co (alternate folksongs sung by boys and girls) during festivals and ceremonies.

A San Diu wedding has many steps. One day before the wedding, representatives of the groom’s family go to the bride’s family to prepare for the wedding. After a dinner offered by the bride’s family, the two sides discuss preparations for the wedding on a double bed placed in the middle of the bride’s house. The discussion is followed by a quiz, which is one of the most exciting parts of a wedding. The bride’s family will pour wine, which is taken from its altar, mixed with two boiled chicken eggs, into cups for participants in the quiz. The bride’s maternal side has the right to pose riddles first, followed by her paternal side. The groom’s family members must solve these riddles, which are usually related to weather, production and social manners. The groom’s family members will be fined with a cup of wine for every riddle they fail to solve. Since the groom’s family is in the passive position, they usually lose the quiz and have to drink a lot of wine. The quiz closes when the wine is drunk out. After that, village boys and girls will sing soong co throughout the night.

In the old time, before leaving for her husband’s house, a San Diu bride would cry for several nights to express her gratitude for her parents’ rearing and her sadness for leaving her family. A girl who did not know how to cry even had to hire somebody to do so.

On the wedding day, the bride’s family makes offerings to its ancestors to inform them of the marriage and invites relatives and friends to a party. Before leaving her house, the bride will kneel on a mat laid next to the double bed where the quiz is held the night before. Relatives and friends of the bride will sit in turn on the bed, on which is a new basin, to wish her health, prosperity and happiness. After making a wish, they will drop a silver coin or a note in the basin.

Before leaving the house, the bride will be covered with a red cloth on her face and an umbrella over her head by the bridesmaid of the groom’s family. This is believed to keep the bride away from evil spirits while making her less shy and moved.

The oldest brother (or the second oldest brother or a cousin) of the bride will then carry her on his back from the mat to the eaves of the house in three steps. A bride who does not have a brother or cousin will go by herself from the house to the eaves where she also has to walk three steps on a shoulder pole. This formality implies that from now on, the girl is no longer a member of her own family but her husband’s and will come home only as a guest.

A San Diu funeral also has formalities for children to show their gratitude to their parents. When the coffin is lowered into the grave, sons of the deceased must crawl around the grave from the right side of the deceased while daughters and daughters-in-law crawl in the opposite direction. While crawling, they will throw handfuls of earth into the grave. After the burial, each child with a handful of earth on his/her hand will compete in running home first in the belief that they will bring luck to the family. Each of them will throw the earth into the poultry house and buffalo stable with hope that the deceased will support the family’s animal raising. After that, they will sit in two baskets full of unthreshed rice which have been earlier placed in front of the coffin. The more rice that sticks to their clothing and hair, the happier their life will be.

The San Diu is influenced by Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. Families of wizards worship Thai Thuong Lao Quan (God of Taoism) and Tam Thanh (three ranks of Taoism: Ngoc Thanh, Thai Thanh and Thuong Thanh).

San Diu people believe in fate, causality and metempsychosis, highly valuing relations between father and child, king and subject and husband and wife. They worship the deities of kitchen and land, who are believed to protect domestic animals, and the deity of door, who protects the house. That’s why, next to the entrance door of a San Diu house is hung an incense burner. They also worship the deity of farming and have other agricultural ceremonies.

In a year, the San Diu has different festivals, each of which has a typical dish which is not available in ordinary meals, such as banh troi (dumplings made of glutinous rice paste with brown sugar fillings scalded in boiling water), which is served only on the lunar new year’s eve. During the lunar new year festival, breeding facilities and big trees are stuck with red paper which is believed to bring luck to families in the new year while protecting them from evil spirits.-

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