Cantonese Wedding Comb Tradition

My mother said that when she was about to get married, she learned of a tradition that takes place before the day of the wedding.  Her older sister combed her hair the night before, and said the following lines:

一梳梳到老 (yi shu, shu dao lao)

二梳白髮齊眉 (er shu, bai fa jing wei)

三梳兒孫滿地 (san shu, er sun man di)

四梳有田有地 (si shu, you tian you di)

Each line is delivered with a stroke from a comb.

The first line translates to, “one stroke, stroke until old age.”  The first stroke comes with a wish for the bride-to-be to have a long life.

The second line translates to, “two strokes, your brows become white together.”  The second stroke wishes for the bride-to-be to have white eyebrows at the same time her husband does.  In other words, this stroke wishes for the couple to grow old together.

The third line translates to, “three strokes, children and grandchildren cover the ground.”  This third stroke wishes for the bride to have many children, and children who survive to raise grandchildren.

The fourth line translates to, “four strokes, you’ll have fields and have land.”   This wishes for the wife-to-be to own property.

There are other significant gestures in this ritual as well.  The reason why my mother’s older sister combed her hair was because she was happily married, had children, and had a home.  Elder members of either family can comb the wife-to-be’s hair so long as they’re happily married and generally have experienced the wishes of this combing ceremony.  Widows or sickly wives can not perform this action.

After the combing ceremony, the wife-to-be can not sleep and must preserve the hair until the wedding.

There’s a lot going on in the gestures of this combing ceremony.  A happy marriage and future is very important, so it would make sense that this combing ceremony takes place.  The stressed need for a happily-wedded wife to perform this ceremony shows that theres is a form of contagious and homeopathic magic going on in the performance.  Since homeopathic magic follows a “like produces like” rationale, a happy wife combing a wife-to-be’s hair hopefully produces another happy wife.  On the other hand, the wife combing the wife-to-be’s hair acts as a form of transferrence.  She is transferring her happiness and successful marriage to the wife-to-be.

My mother noted that the fourth line was a recent addition.  With expanded rights and social roles for women, the wish for her ability to own property became very relevant.  This shows that the incantation and the practice of combing the wife-to-be’s hair is adaptive to changing circumstances.