Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Christian Wedding In Isaan

Yesterday, Saturday, we went out to Tahsang Village to witness a very rare event here in Isaan - a Christian Wedding. One of Duang's 93 cousins was getting married in the small Christian church that is next to the Tahsang Village Elementary school. With 22 surviving Aunts and Uncles along with 93 cousins there always seems to be some family celebration to attend to. With Buddhist celebrations along with my brother-in-law music shows, our life is kept quite busy.

Duang's sister is a Christian and attends the church which is across the country road from her farm. Through Duang's sister we have met and got to know the minister and his family. Typically when I am about ready to return to the USA, the minister, his family, Duang's sister and her husband come over to our home for dinner. They apologize for coming over but I tell them that they are always welcome to dine with us especially since they bring the food. As part of their visit there is a prayer for my safe journey as well as return to Thailand.

We arrived at the church along with Duang's son, his fiance, and our grandson, Peelwat, after the ceremony had started. The ritual was conducted entirely in Thai so I am not familiar with what was actually said. The ceremony itself did not seem to be anything out of the ordinary from what I had experienced at Christian weddings back in America.

There was music, singing, candles, flowers (beautiful flowers) and sermons as part of the ritual. Flower petals had been strewn along the aisle leading up to the front of the church. Chairs on each side of the aisle had been decorated with ribbons, bows and decorations. After what appeared to be the proclamation that they were man and wife, different aspects of a Christian wedding in Isaan appeared. The Baii Sii ritual, the Animist ceremony so prevalent here in Isaan, was not performed but unique aspects of Lao Loum culture were respected.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T is pervasive in Lao Loum society. The respect that I observe and cherish now is not the respect driven by intimidation of the old Aretha Franklin song of the 1960's but a respect from acknowledgement of one's place as well as accomplishments in this life - more of a respect motivated from love.

The newlyweds faced the congregation, families, and guests and bowed as they each offered a wai.

The Bride and Groom, then left the raised area where the ceremony had been conducted and went to the large wood bench at each side of the church. The Groom's parents sat on one side of the church and the Bride's parents sat on a similar bench on the opposite side of the church. The Bride and Groom walked to each set of parents and knelt before them, offering them a wai (Thai gesture of respect). Private words were exchanged between the young couples and the parents. It appeared that the young people in addition to demonstrating their respect, they were requesting the elder's blessings. The parents offered them best wishes and good luck for their marriage. One of the fathers had a surprise. From a small plastic case that is well recognized here in Isaan, he pulled out a gold chain and placed it around the groom's neck.

The Bride and Groom then returned to the center of the church in front of the raised area. Together they held a silver colored pressed metal ceremonial bowl. It was a bowl identical to bowls that are used in Buddhist rituals. In Isaan, newly married couple do not receive gifts such as irons, waffle irons, crystal, silverware, china, bedding, furniture, crock pots, or fondue sets. Besides not having much practical use for such items and appliances, it is not the Lao Loum custom. Newlywed couples are given offerings of cash by wedding guests. For Saturday's wedding, the guests took turns singly or as couples to walk up to the Bride and Groom. It appeared that part of the ritual was for the other guests to witness your offering to the couple. After expression of joy and conveying best wishes to the newly married couple, the cash offering in the envelope that the invitation was kept was placed into the ceremonial bowl.

Once the guests had completed making their offerings, the Bride and Groom went off to the side of the church. They then made offerings to the Minister, their parents, and I suspect Aunts that had helped to prepare for the wedding. Parents and the Minister were given sleeping mats while selected Aunts were given a bath towel along with a Lao Loum pillow called a "mon". The "mon" is more than just a mere pillow for it is very often given as offerings to Monks in merit making rituals.

After distributing their offerings to selected people, the Bride and Groom exited the church to the guests waiting for them outside. It was time for the Bride to throw her bouquet. Just as weddings in America, the single women enthusiastically scrambled to catch the bouquet.

It was at this point that I had a surprise. Two of the guests came over to speak with me - two American men living here. One man was from South Boston not all that distant from where I was born and raised. The other man was from Oklahoma. We had a long conversation and it was a great way to end our Christian Isaan wedding experience. Duang joked me about having a tired mouth because I had talked so much.

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