USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘wedding traditions’
Customs

Taiwanese Wedding Tradition

Background

The informant said that she learned Taiwanese wedding traditions from her grandparents and as a part of daily life by going to weddings. She emphasized that it is very important to her that she learns these traditions and keeps them up, even though some of them conflict with her own religious beliefs, because they are part of her cultural heritage. She said that it makes her sad when she sees Taiwanese-Americans who do not know or practice any Taiwanese traditions, because they are missing out on something that is a part of who they are and helps to define them.

Text

Usually, uh, traditional weddings, there will be like, um, multiple different.. like.. stages. So, usually the first– like, after, um, you engage, you have to meet each other’s parents. Like, you have to dress formally, like, usually traditional, uh, Taiwanese dresses. And girls, uh, the wife will make tea for the parents of, um, the husband’s side. So, making tea is a sort of respect, and to show that you have the ability to cook and stuff. So, you make tea, and you kneel down and you serve them the tea. For, um, the husband’s side parents. And, uh, if they accept it, it means that, like, this engagement will be made. And then, um, if.. If it’s a traditional wedding, sometimes.. It’s… it’s most of the time it happens at the southern part of Taiwan, they have really big, like, wedding ceremonies. They’ll invite hundreds of people. And they will go to like plazas in front of, um, temples and they will have a lot of tables of food. So, it’s like a huge, um, festival that invites all of the people. Your neighbors, friends you know. So, they’ll, uh, all go there. They will give out “hongbao,” which is red envelopes with money inside. So.. so, they will give those monies to, uh, the wedding couples and stuff, so they can have money to, you know, buy houses, buy stuff. So, that’s usually a part of, um, the gifts you give them. And during those… um…. dinners– So, there will be a lot of people who cook right there. And, uh, usually they will look at… they will enjoy, like, traditional Taiwanese operas, as well. So, yeah, that would be a show stage over there, and people would just eat, and there would be a performance going on.

Thoughts
The informant seemed to hold great respect for Taiwanese wedding traditions. When I asked if she saw her future wedding resembling these traditions, she said that she plans on likely staying in America, so whoever she marries might have traditions of their own, but that it would be important to her to include some of her Taiwanese traditions in the wedding process. Continuing Taiwanese wedding traditions seems to be a way for her to maintain her Taiwanese identity even while in an American setting.

Customs
general
Material

Henna and Jagua

Context:

My mother and I were wandering the streets of Lahaina, HI, and we noticed an abundance of Henna Tattoo parlors. My mother, who had lived in Pakistan for a year in the late 1980’s, had told me a little about henna, and I was curious as to what it was used for and why there are tattoo parlors in Hawaii that use it, when it was originally something that came from the Middle East.

 

Interview:

Me: Can I ask you a few questions about henna?

Informant: I’ll have to ask my boss, as sometimes people come to ask questions and she worries that people will steal her methods, how she does things, that kind of thing. [After a couple of minutes] Okay, she agreed.

Me: Ah. Yeah, I’m not an artist, and I’m not from around here.

Informant: Yeah, I can tell. So her worries are unfounded. So we do not only use henna, but also something called jagua. And jaguar is a fruit fro the Amazon, so it is different from henna. IT is more aboriginal while like henna is kind of traditional. I can’t remember exactly what country in the Amazon it is from, but it comes from the rainforest, which is kind of cool. So all those pictures you see of kids with what looks to be tattoos all over their faces, it’s not actually real. Which is actually surprising to most people, so it’s like, no, no one’s letting their kids get face tattoos even when they look like they are. But I do traditional henna, so if you want a little bit of information on that, as we don’t always have it. Cause jaguar will last for about nine to ten days, whereas traditional henna will last like two to three months.

Me: Oh. Wow. That long?

Informant: Yeah. So most people aren’t ready to make that kind of commitment. Traditional henna, I am trying to think of where it started, I believe in India and I know that it was used for weddings, parties, and ceremonies, and rituals, and stuff like that. There must be some exact reason for why they used it, and I’m thinking that it’s because of, uh…I think that at one point in time the designs used to mean something. You know what I mean?

Me: Uh huh. And perhaps still do.

Informant: Like whoever had this sort of design, that meant that they were getting married, or that they were married.

Me: That it had some sort of cultural significance.

Informant: Yeah. I don’t exactly know it, I just make things look pretty. [Laughter] But I know that…which fingers the design goes up mean something, but I don’t know the exact meanings. I have never actually worked with someone from India who could tell me more about it. We just know more about the jagua fruit.

Me: Then talk about the jagua fruit. If that’s what you know more about.

Informant: Yeah. It’s…I just know that like, they used to do it for ceremonies, like for, I’m trying to think…Like when the boys were reaching adulthood.

Me: Like manhood ceremonies.

Informant: Yeah. And they would do it full bodied ones. And sometimes they would be completely covered and it’s kind of nuts.

Me: Wow, that must have taken a long time to prepare and such.

Informant: Not really, as all it is is just mashing up a fruit. It’s pretty organic and most people don’t really get irritated by it, while henna, a lot of people will because people don’t really know what a lot of people mix their henna with. You know? Because different people mix it with different things. While we just mix. Like our jagua is just a fruit. She buys the fruit and ships it here. IT’s super organic and just mashes it up and puts it in a bottle. I wish I knew more about this, as we are more aesthetic than we are anything else.

Me: I understand.

Informant: I can tell you that there is a difference between the traditional designs and the kinds of stuff that we do, the more picture stuff. You know, the more Western kind of stuff that Americans would get as tattoos.

Me: Yeah, the traditional stuff is much more abstract, floral designs.

Informant: Sorry for not being able to give you more information.

Me: No, that’s alright. This is good. Thanks a lot.

Informant: You’re very welcome.

 

Analysis:

I have noticed over the past several years that henna tattoo parlors are cropping up more and more. To me, this is quite odd, as henna was used, originally, for mostly ceremonial and ritualistic purposes. Also, the fact that the use of henna has spread so far from where the practice began is interesting. This, to me, is an example of something from a non-European culture that has been taken out of context by the Europeans, by the Americans, and turned into a form of body art that has little to no connections to its original purpose, and to the extent that most non-Indian, non-Pakistani, etc. people do not know or understand the cultural significance, the history, the traditions that henna ties into. Also, it is interesting to note that other cultures halfway across the world have a similar means of temporary body art – jagua – that has also been taken out of context to be used for simple decoration, with little care or regard as to the origins, the traditions behind its use. I think that the reason that henna, and to a lesser extent jagua, has become so widespread in American culture is because of its temporary nature. It is not permanent, and so it is a perfect tool for those people who are not sure as to whether or not to get a tattoo, or those people who are not sure they want something of a permanent nature. I think that this is the main reason as to why henna parlors have begun to spring up in the past few years.

Adulthood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Seven Circles Around A Fire

Item:

“In a Hindu wedding,  a non-negotiable component is the saat phere, or seven rounds around the sacred fire. What happens is that the bride’s dupatta (scarf) is tied to the end of the man’s scarf, symbolizing their bond, and they walk together around the fire seven times while the priest prays for their union and blesses them. It is so emblematic of a marriage that people who elope consider themselves married, without an official ceremony, if they have walked around a fire seven times. I think the religious significance in Hinduism is that people who get married are supposed to stay together for seven lifetimes.”

Context:

The informant told me what sparked his interest in this tradition – “I had seen this happen in so many Bollywood movies that I was very intrigued as to what it actually meant. So when I was getting married a few years ago – no, actually more like seven…no pun intended, ha ha – I made the mistake of telling my mother that I didn’t want to spend so much time in circling the fire so agonizingly slowly seven times. I…really shouldn’t have said that. Amma was so scandalized that she didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day, at which point I was driven to find out what was so special about this tradition. So I did.”

Analysis:

This wedding tradition has deep roots in the Hindu faith – the ‘tying of the knot’ between the bride’s and groom’s scarves symbolizes their bond and the seven circles around the sacred fire are emblematic of, as the informant said, the belief that two people who are married will be reincarnated as literal soulmates for the next seven lives. This is reflective of the deeply-entrenched Hindu principle of the rebirth of the aatma, or soul, into several lifetimes. In addition to this, the number seven has particular significance in Hinduism and folk religious practices, playing out not only in the tradition of weddings, but also in astrology – the Saptarishi (Pleiades) constellation, meaning seven rishis or saints – as well as in proverbial phrases, such as “Seven steps with a stranger and you become friends. Seven more, and you are indebted to one another.”

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