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My big, fat Hmong wedding
Exploring the culture and traditions of matrimony for the Hmong people
By Monica Ly, staff writer

1 | 2 | Photo gallery

 

(Photo by Joe Nguyen) Negotiators drink after the end of a topic during the night before Chen Vue and Nhu Lor's wedding July 23 in Westminster. Negotiations determine the price of a bride in Hmong culture. Lor was priced at $6,000.
Photo by Joe Nguyen

Negotiators drink after the end of a topic during the night before Chen Vue and Nhu Lor's wedding July 13 in Westminster. Negotiations determine the price of a bride in Hmong culture. Lor was priced at $6,000.

[Photo gallery]

It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.

 

“You have to have money,” Colorado School of Mines student Tongci Mouanoutoua said. “It’s about $5,000 to $6,000 right now.”

 

Mouanoutoua isn’t talking about a semester of his college tuition. He’s referring to the Hmong ritual the night before the wedding where the groom’s family settles on an offering with the bride’s family. Considered an important aspect to the entire wedding ceremony, men who know how to negotiate, also known as mej koob, are used to determine a suitable bride price while others sit and listen.

 

“If you’re the only girl in the family, you cost more,” Mouanoutoua said, “a lot more.”

 

The Process
As easy as it may be to simply exchange vows and a couple “I dos,” weddings in the Hmong culture are often elaborate and may occur over more than one day. Chen Vue and Nhu Lor invited friends and family to join them for their wedding on July 13 and 14.

 

Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue do not apply in this case. Lor, the bride, arrived in a traditional Hmong dress her mother-in-law gave her. Her bridesmaid, a taib gao literally translated into English as “green grandma,” was also wearing a Hmong dress. In order to pay respect to the family, Lor and her bridesmaid asked for permission to remove the headdresses to change back into civilian clothes.

 

Upon Vue's arrival, a basket containing a blanket, food, tools, oil and salt was slung over his shoulder. Each item is a symbol for what Hmong people once carried with them on the long journey to marry their spouses. The knife in particular signifies a birth of a boy grandchild.

 

Shortly before the negotiations began, guests devoured food prepared by the women on the bride’s side of the family. As a tradition, all meals on the actual wedding day cannot contain pepper.

 

Families are separated into different rooms depending on their affiliation with the groom or bride while four men, two from each family, sit down to settle on the bride’s price. Based on her “wife material,” which concerned her education and ability to cook and do housework, Lor was priced at $6,000.

 

“Before the wedding, there was already a set price for a bride,” said Lor. “I knew it was a tradition, so [the negotiation] didn’t bother me.”

 

On the day of the actual wedding, heavy drinking with the negotiators and men of the families began. The purpose of this tradition is for Vue to build respect and become familiar with his new relatives. To keep the consumption of alcohol at a manageable level, Vue utilized his best man, or “pilah,” and his friends to ward off the potential effects of intoxication.

 

Toward the end of the drinking celebration, Lor went to her room to change into a different Hmong dress her mother presented her with. Women flooded in to give Lor advice about being a married woman. Tears were rampant.

 

“We decided on this marriage a month ago,” Lor said. “He kind of proposed, took me home, and then he called his dad.” >> continue

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