Woman working

Tourist experience in a Black Hmong wedding

Black Hmong people are a minoritary ethnics that live in small villages or communes in Sapa. Usually the live in the mountains, there are other ethnics that live nearest of thre rivers, etc. Located at north Vietnam mountains these are one of the pople that already mantains a lot of their old traditions. So that, if you have the opportunity to join them it’s one of the most interesting things that you can do in Sapa.

Everytime more this weddings have more similities with the western ceremonies. Brides use the white dress or Hmong people can marry foreign people. This is not already common, but looking information there are previous cases of this. This begins to be common because the Black Hmong people is coming out of their villages searching for tourist, to try sell their handmade products, convince them to take a trekking tour or stay with them at their homestays. But when love appears, frontiers dissappears.

Today, you are going to read about my real experience joining a Black Hmong wedding during my experience as a volunteer at Zizi Homestay. My name is David García Campos, I’m from and I’m 27 years old (at least at the moment that I’m writing this post). One day I decided to leave my country and work as a volunteer abroad, and now I’m a digital nomad discovering and writing about Hmong people and their traditions.

 

About this Black Hmong wedding

In this website, you are going to find more information about Black Hmong weddings. But this post is about what I had experienced yesterday. The wedding took place in Ban Pho Village, at Hai Thao commune. The protagonists were a young couple of 20 and 17 years old, who were being married because of their love and both pertains to the same Black Hmong tribe, but from different communes.

Black Hmong weddings takes place during two days. The first day the celebration it’s on the girl village, and it’s when the boy go to t ake her to his village. The groom comes around with some negotiators to try to achieve the marriage. Usually, in this ocassion, they are discussing about the price that the boy have to pay to the girl family. The parents of her are going to lose one member of their family, and this suppose more work for them. So that, to let her go new need money in exchange. That’s the tradition.

 

Black Hmong wedding preparations

This is the most important step in every wedding. In this case, both families need to aport things (food, stuff even furniture). I went with my Zizi, my hostess at hte homestay, and she apports a table, benchs and some stuff to allow the people eat: like sticks or bowls. She told me to help taking the table where the weddings were going to take place. But I was lucky and finally another guy did that. Although they were carried with a lof of things and stuff around that steep roads, and they are wearing slippers.

After the celeabration my luck was not the same, and I have to carry with the cube with stuff in one hand and a table in the other hand. That happened because all men drinked a lot of rice wine during the ceremony.

I’m not angry because if good for training, becuase the next weeks I’m not going to be near of any gym.Furthermore, I attracted the attention of all the woman and they wre saying how strong I am. That was really good for my self-esteem.

 

The way to the wedding

The ways in this villages are very different that the roads that we know. So that, you are not going to find a wedding car or people with high-heel shoes.

Hmong people walking

They homestay where I’m staying it’s just in the middle of the road. So, during the morning, we see a lot of people in their way to the celebration carrying with food, things for the celebration and wearing the Black Hmong costume for the wedding. The people were coming by walk or with motorbikes.

To arrive to the place there were two ways: a good road but a longer distance and a little hike to avoid many distance. Of course, we went doing hiking carrying with all the stuff. To come back we chose the good way, because the hike with the table was really complicated.

 

Black Hmong wedding customes

Black Hmong woman wedding

 

Most of the assistants were wearing the common and characteristic Black Hmong custome: black clothes. The Black H’mong women are famous for making cloth from hemp and dying it a deep indigo blue. They wear long blouses decorated with batik flowers over short trousers, and wrap long scarves around their legs. They wrap their long hair around their head and wear a blue turban. The men wear long jackets with shirts and a long waist coat embroidered at the collar, and a small hat. Today some H’mong wear Viet or western clothes. 

But is not strange to find people wearing western clothes. At the wedding the looks that result more impresive to me were a girl wearing a Frozen dress and that a lot of men were wearing trouser and shirts, like we usually dress in every european city. Also, you can find men wearing a suit. Of course, that’s not a problem if it’s black: their colour.

Friends of Black Hmong wife

Another curious thing it’s about the shoes that they wear for the ceremony. It’s really difficult to find someone that not wear slippers. But, as you can see on the previous photografy, I found a group of girls that were wearing  nice shoes. And before the wedding, at the homestay, I had noticed that there were another girl who wear high-heel shoes.

It’s crazy but the day that you will take a trekking and see how they can hike better than you and their slippers or sandals don’t slip as your amazing trekking boots, you aren’t going to believe it.

 

La ceremonia

When we had arrived to the place where took place, there were a lot of people already waiting. There were in a neighborhood of three houses. There were people waiting two of them, and all protagonists were at the home of the bride parents. Everyone it’s waiting because in this moment the groom and the parents to proceed with the wed.

People is waiting sitting in chairs. At this moment tables are not ready already. Personally, the waiting wasn’t too much for me. I was really enjoying seing this happy and lively Black Hmong village while I was enjoying the stunning views. I wasn’t able to speak with the people there because my Hmong language skills are null, but I was enjoying. During this time, the most curious thing that I noticed, were a big group of man sitting in the living room watching the TV together. This it’s really similar to a western waiting. But how crazy is that they can watch the TV in the middle of a lost commune in the North of Vietnam? For example there’s no TV at the homestay that I’m staying. It’s already a common thing in every Hmong house.

As I am a really curiose I continue my way to the bride house. Where everything was happening.

The first that I noticed, it’s that while most of the people are waiting a lot of people it’s working to preparate everything. There’s a lot of movement, speacially in the kitchen, where there’s a lot of people cooking all the food that the assistents are goig to enjoy later.

Kitchen before wedding

This was the first time where I found more man than woman working in something. But there were the womans the responsibles of put the food in every table.

Man drinking tea and smoking

Outside the bride’s home there is the focus where all the people it’s waiting for the couple and to begin the ceremony. There was a table where a lot of man were drinking and smoking with a big pipe, something really common around Vietnam.

In this case, the groom were together with his father and the father of his girlfriends to try to achieve the wedding approval and get her to his home. Yesterday, this wasn’t hard to achieve becuase when I arrived all were drinking rice wine together, the sign that the bargain it’s finished and he’s going to marry his bride. In this first part of  the wedding, he have to wear the original custome of the village of his future wife. In this case they were a couple from a long time, and they don’t have to do “Zij”, this is like a “kidnapping” of  the girl to try to convince to marry him. So, it seems that love will be going to succeed.

Family drinking together

Meanwhile all this thing was happening, there’s another important thing happening at this time.

Picture of couple and box for money

Near the principal door of the door there’s a table with you can see everything related with the wedding. In this case there was a picture of the couple together, this is one of the signs that showed me that the wedding was already approved. Under this picture there were two boxes, this is where all the assistants deposit a letter wishing to the couple best and include money for them. Usually, as they told me, the average ammount it’s between 50.000 VND – 100.000 VND. I’m not really and don’t know what’s the factor to pay more or less. They also told me, that if you pay more probably you can join them drinking rice wine. Do you want to know if this it’s true?

Picture and video of couple

There are already more similitudes between Black Hmong weddings and western weddings. And one of them it’s the audiovisual content, all of us know that all the asiatic people loves to take pictures. As you can see in the picture above, the bride it’s wearing a white dress like in our traditional weddings. And, like most of the weddings here, they have a complete photographic report to show to their family and friends their love. The video it’s playing while the people it’s waiting. One of the differences, it’s that their photographic report it’s made before the wedding and not after. So if you are walking around Hanoi during the weekends, you are going to find a lot of couples taking photographies.

Before the ceremony begins, all the women begun to put the tables, all the bowls and sticks in their site and to put the food in the tables. Without their work the ceremony can’t be ready to begin. For me was curious because I wasn’t to notice which was the moment to begin to preparate everything. I think my inexistent knowledge about Hmong language was the responsible of that.

Putting food on the table

Another thing that you have to take in mind it’s that you don’t have to expect any luxure. Thre are no professionals waiters or catering in these ceremonies. They serve the food in big bowls, to share with all the other people; plastic tuppers or even plastic bags. To put the food on the table women use sticks or their hands. But there’s something true, the food it’s still delicious.The only thing that affect their flavour it’s when it begins to be cold.

Table with stunning views

That’s the table where I had lunch in this special occasion for the Black Hmong of Ban Pho Village. We were eating at the same time that we were enjoying the stunning views, it’s a thing that I will allways remember.

Before the ceremony begun, I was lucky and I had found more tourists: a couple and a guy from Israel. They were staying in a homestay that was at the same place that the wedding was. So they dind’t know nothing about the wedding, so it was a great surprise for them. In fact, they had to leave very early the wedding because they have to take a train to continue their travel. But for was amazing, because Black Hmong people seat us together and I had the choice to speak in english with someone for a while. They were totally inmersed in the ceremony, they had to gave to the couple the letter with the money and the girl was wearing the Black Hmong custome. We had noticed that their sking was turning blue, that was because the custome was new and it’s usual with the indigo (at least until the 5th washing).

 

During the ceremony, it’s curious to see how the women and men sit separate of each other. There are no tables with couples or mixed. And it’s also incredible how they are making toast during all the ceremony. It’s incredible the quantity of rice wine that Black Hmong people can drink.

The food was really tasty and amazing. There was good variety. You can find a good bowl of rice, the most famous food in Vietnam, barbeque, roast meat, fish, chicken and things that I never saw or tasted before. And, of course, a bowl with chili sauce to dip all that you want. Here, people was diping also the vegetables.

If there’s a thing that have to be always that’s the rice wine or “Happy Water”. It’s really funny to see how the fill the water bottles with this. So take care if you want to drink water in a Hmong wedding. That’s why I think they chose really well the name of the drink. There are also soft drinks, but only children or people who drunk a lof of “Happy Water” are drinking that.

Also if you don’t want to drink you have to drink. That’s what the tradition says and nobody can scape of this:

When you sit on a table you have to know that the only moment when you are able to drink slowly or at your rhytm it’s during the lunch. If you are far from the families or friends, it’s better to avoid a big number of toast in a really short period of time.

When everyone finish to eat, everyone it’s thirsty and it’s when the “Happy Water” begins to be empty. You have to take in mind that when anyone in your table finish his/her rice wine shot, they are going to begin a round to fullfill every shot in the table. If yours are not empty you have to drink it in one time, and when you finish you have another available. So, my advice it’s that you have to turn on the cruise speed and be drinking slowly without stop. Because too many “Happy Water” in one gulp it’s not good for anyone.

Woman drinking till late

When the time pass it’s incredible to see how man are leaving because they can’t drink anymore and how women continue drinking. In the picture above you can see my drinking friends that resist to be the last people there. There is not any secret to survive, but if you eat after each rice wine probably you are going to be able to resist to the happiness. So, eat although you are not hungry.

There’s an international thing, but at the beginning I wasn’t feeling really integrated. But when they drunk they began to speak english and drink with me. And the woman begin to ask me to take pictures with them, that’s the same thing that happens to me in Hanoi. So I think that I’m water, and I can adapt to every situation. It’s good because Black Hmong people have a good english level, so I can learn a lot about them.

The ceremony really finish when the couple and friends leaves to go to the groom village. He took a nap becuase he can’t drink anymore and when he and his friends are better they leave. Another special moment, it’s also when the leader of the clan it’s too drunk and have to leave. I was there to see this moments, but we continue drinking.

If you follow my tips and advices you probably will survive to a Black Hmong wedding, and tell your story to the rest of the world. If you hear them and let the wice rine be in your body. You are not going to be when are you going to finish.

Sleeping after ceremony

Black Hmong wedding it’s a ceremony that begin at 9.30am approximately and finish at 2.30pm. This is not accurate and depend of every ceremony. I left the place later, because my friends were drinking and speaking with me. But this is the story of my beset days working as a volunteer in Vietnam.