Tag Archives: marriage

Burmese Marriage Ties


I talked to my aunt about some Burmese folk traditions and superstitions and she told me it’s bad luck to gift knives or scissors to a married couple. If you do, you’ve ensured their separation (so I guess it’s a last resort if your crush is taken). This is related to the symbolic tying of a couple’s hands together with cloth at Burmese weddings. The bind signifies that it is their duty to love and protect one another – that they are a team now and forever. But, you may ask, what about that amazing set of knives you never use that you just KNOW your newlywed best friend needs? In that case, they can buy it off of you, for whatever price you agree upon. It could even be a quarter, as long as it’s received as a transaction and not as a gift.


My aunt and my extended family abide by this tradition. My aunt remembered someone exchanging a quarter for some knives once, but it doesn’t really come up that often. It’s avoided because it’s easy to avoid – better safe than sorry. I don’t think anyone in my extended family would be horrified if someone gifted a sharp object by accident. They might be a little nervous, thinking “well what if it’s true?”, but not horrified. My aunt’s grandparents might have been, however. 


I definitely didn’t know about this superstition because I don’t think I’ve ever really been responsible for crafting a wedding gift. I think this superstition signifies how important marriage is in Burmese culture. What’s equally as important is family image, because in Burma, that somewhat determines who your friends are and how successful you are economically. Having a marriage end in divorce (which is currently legal in Burma) brings shame to the families of the former couple. This is because it’s the parents who give approval regarding who to marry. It isn’t exactly arranged marriage, but parents always have the final say. If you get divorced it looks bad for them because they were the ones who deemed your spouse right for you. 

“The Yellow Ribbon”

Genre: Folk Narrative – Ghost Story


A man named Johnny was going out for coffee one day when he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He introduced himself to the woman, whose name was Jane, and the two of them began to fall in love. Everything about Jane was perfect, but there was one thing that confused Johnny: every single day, Jane wore a yellow ribbon around her neck.

“Do you ever take it off?” Johnny finally asked her after a month of dating. Jane told him that she never takes it off, even to sleep, and that he should never untie it. But even though Johnny pushed and pushed, she would never tell him why.

“One day, I’ll tell you,” Jane would always say whenever he asked.

The years went by and Johnny and Jane fell deeper in love and eventually, Johnny proposed to her. Yet every day, Jane still wore the same yellow ribbon around her neck.

The night before their wedding, Johnny finally had enough. He decided he absolutely needed to see what was under that ribbon, that he couldn’t wait a single day longer.

That night, Johnny waited for Jane to fall asleep. When he was certain she was sound asleep, he reached over to her neck and gently tugged on the end of the ribbon to untie it…

But when Johnny pulled the ribbon undone, he realized why exactly Jane had worn it every single day: because without the ribbon to hold it in place, her head rolled right off her neck and onto the floor, where Jane’s eyes slowly opened.

“Oh Johnny,” she said, even though her severed head was now a few feet away from her body. “I told you not to untie the ribbon.”


“I first heard this story from my older brother when I was growing up, but I heard it a few times throughout my childhood at places like childcare centers and in elementary school. I think it’s a pretty common ghost story among kids. I always thought it was creepy to think about a woman’s head being held onto her body by only a ribbon, and for a while, I was scared of anyone I saw wearing a ribbon or a thick choker around their neck.”


The theme of this story seems to be trust within a relationship: Jane withheld a secret from Johnny – the only apparent “fault” about her. But Johnny could not trust her enough to live without knowing what the secret was, and it was his scheming/distrustful nature that led to him trying to discover the answer on his own and accidentally revealing that Jane’s neck was severed. The implication of this happening the night before their wedding suggests that a lack of trust within a couple is potentially ruinous to a marriage. However, another possible interpretation is to take the opposite stance: that it is withholding secrets from one’s partner that destroys a marriage, and that the skeletons of one’s past will always end up being revealed.

Two Weddings

It is apparently common for Nigerian immigrants to the U.S. to have two weddings when they get married: one here in the States, either in American traditional style or in hybridized cultural fashion, and one back in Nigeria, following (often pre-colonial) traditions of their tribes. 

For example, the Nigerian (Igbo) immigrant parents of Chika, a Bay Area native, had a typical “white wedding” in the U.S., and another in Nigeria during which his mom and dad “walked through his [dad’s] neighborhood with everyone playing music and dancing on the way to the ceremony.”

This practice makes complete sense in the context of ceremonial rites of passage like weddings being ritualized and performed publicly in order for transitions and new identities to be communicated to and recognized by community members. Being that Nigerian immigrants often have at least two international communities, each with their own cultural norms and social categories, it can be affirming of new relationships developing on the intersection of both to have two weddings.

The Undressing of Draupadi


Draupadi wanted to marry one of the 5 main brothers from the Mahabharatha, but another man, Duryodhana wants her to marry him instead. He proposes to her, but is refused. Upon this refusal, one of his brothers begins trying to rip Draupadi’s clothes off. Krishna sees this, and decides to save Draupadi by maker her clothing infinite. No matter how much cloth Duryodhana’s brother rips off of her, there is always more that she is still wearing. 


This story is from the Mahabharatha, and is a plot point in the main storyline. An extremely simplified synopsis of the Mahabharatha is that it’s about the war between 5 brothers and 100 of their other brothers (Note that brother and cousin are essentially synonymous in this context). The “good guys” are the 5 brothers, and they eventually end up winning the war. 

This story is a simple lesson that one should respect women, and that to undress them is not okay.


In Indian culture, arranged marriages are a common practice, and the final decision on whether a marriage happens is given to the family as a whole, not the woman getting married. This story encourages respecting a woman’s desires for her marriage, even if the cultural norm or law doesn’t fully require it, and backs that up with a god taking the side of Draupadi. This makes even more sense to me that this story is found somewhat in opposition of the cultural norm when I remember that many tales come from being told by women as they do busywork. They used what ways they could to better how they were treated, and instilling good habits and respect in their children is a very powerful way to do so.

Indian Wedding Ritual: Sisters Demanding Money

Context: The informant, AV, is an 18 year old student with parents who immigrated from India, specifically Gujarat. She’s been to multiple weddings in India, and observed this at her first cousin’s wedding. She remembers being somewhere around 5th grade-aged, and so she recounted what she remembered, with a general explanation. She doesn’t know if this is an Indian ritual or just a Gujarati one.

Text: AV said “When our cousin got married, he didn’t have any sisters, so me and my sister stood in front of his horse and didn’t let him through until he promised us money and silver chains. We were really young so I don’t remember it as well, but I remember it happening” and explained that essentially, when either your brother or a close cousin who has no sisters is getting married, you’re supposed to stop them from going into the wedding. They usually enter on a horse or in a car and they’re meant to walk into the venue, but before they can, you physically get in front of the horse/car, stop him, and tell him he’s not allowed to pass. He then is supposed to bargain, offering you money or gold or silver to let him pass. When it’s enough, you let him pass — usually now, it’s ritualized in the way that you push back like three times and on the second or third time you let them through.

Analysis: This ritual feels somewhat similar to the pranks traditionally played on couples during weddings, as a way of disrupting that liminality, except it’s specific to the groom and his side of the family. It’s a ritual for the groom to also leave the family; as the groom goes to the bride, the sisters will no longer be the most important women in his life, and they cede that position in a joking ritual that requires the groom to bribe them, proving how much he wants the bride. It’s a wedding ritual that rearranges the structure of the families that will be combining, and visually reorders the groom’s priorities. For the sisters, it’s also a form of letting their brother go, knowing that their relationships will fundamentally change, but disrupting that transition with this joking ritual.