Sapa is really a renowned attraction for mainly its customs, including the marriage custom. Cat Cat is a village of the Hmong in Sapa which attracts tourists for its unique custom of marriage called “wife kidnapping”. A man who likes a girl can ask his friends to help him to attract the girl, lure her to his house and keep her there for 3 days.
During these 3 days, if the girl agrees to become his wife, a wedding will be held then. In contrast, she can easily goes back home after 3 days if she doesn’t like the man.
Traditionally, when a boy wants to marry a girl, he will make his intentions clear, and will “snatch” (zij) her during daylight or night at any opportunity that is appropriate. This is traditionally only a symbolic kidnapping.
Getting marriage within a group or a clan is not encouraged. Specifically, the Hmong may not marry within their own clan. A marriage partner must be from another clan. For instance, a Xiong is not allowed to get married to another Xiong.
However, they are allowed to settle down with the blood relatives from their mother side. For example, the children of a brother and a sister can marry each other because they would be from different clans.
The boy who wants to kidnap the girl he likes must give her a gift a couple of days in advance. If not, the girl can come back her home with any one of her family member who comes to save her.
In fact, this is an old tradition that is rarely practised today. The parents of the kidnapped girl are not being told about the kidnapping. A messenger from the boy’s family is sent to inform them of the location and the safety of their daughter.
This person tells the girl’s family about the boy’s background and asks about the girl’s background. For example, the envoy may tell the girl’s family that the groom is from a Stripe Hmong family from Luang Prabang, Laos; the bride’s parents reply that they are Mong Leng from Nong Het, Xieng Khoang, Laos.
When the girl agrees to become a wife, the broom officially takes her to his house. Before they enter the house, the father performs a blessing ritual to get an allowance from their ancestors to accept the girl. Some other rituals take place. The girl then is not allowed to go anywhere for 3 days.
After those 3 days or more, the wedding for the newlywed takes place, lasting for 2 days. After this wedding, the couple comes to the bride’s family and spend a night there.
Before visiting the bride’s family, the girl is required to wear the traditional clothes of the groom. For example, when a Hmong Leng girl gets married to a Stripe Hmong boy, she has to be in stripe clothes in back to her family.
She will also wear her birth family’s traditional clothes. For instance, the bride visits her parents by wearing stripe traditional clothes but when she is going back to the groom’s house, she will be wearing her Hmong Leng outfits.
On the second day at the bride’s house, the parents celebrate the second wedding for their children. Marriage customs of the Hmong here in Ta Van are a bit different from those of the global Hmong community due to their residential place. However, the same thing is the exchange of a pride’s price from the groom’s family to the bride’s one.
The pride’s price is the compensation for the bride’s family which has “lost” their daughter to become the daughter in law of another family. She would be in charge of household chores or other family works. The price of a girl is counted based on her values or on their parent’s prestige. The old people of two families negotiate over the bride’s price which is often presented on the engagement’s offerings like bars of silver or livestock.
At present, this price is often paid in terms of money. The usual price of a Hmong girl in American could depend on her values or mainly on her parents. The amount can be up to $5 grand.
Before the time the newlywed depart back to the groom’s house, the bride’s family members will offer the boy beer or wine until he cannot drink anymore. While offering drinks, they will say something to the boy who is going to become a part of their family and ask him to promise to treat his new wife well, to never hit her and so on. Frequently, the groom will bring his brother along to help him in some drinking. However, the groom will never leave the house without being drunk.
When backing to the groom’s house from the bride’s house, they have another party as a thank to the negotiators, the groomsman and bridesmaid.
To be continued…