Last weekend was my host dad's little brother's (Seyla) engagement ceremony. I had hung out with Seyla and his fiance Sokha quite a bit, so it was really sweet to see this step of the process and the ceremony was also a very interesting cultural experience. I spent a good part of Saturday helping the family prepare almost 30 fancy bowl/ platter things of fruit and gifts as presents for Sokha's family so that Seyla could literally “buy a wife.” It reminded me of the Old Testament, when it would take several chapters to describe the luxurious gifts given to someone. I was curious, so I kept careful track of what we prepared:
86 mochi (pounded rice) and coconut cakes—4 bowls
12 Noon saum jek (steamed banana rice cakes)—2 bowls
12 Boom saum sait jiroop (steamed pork rice cakes), each one is meant to be a meal—2 bowls
24 Chinese festival moon cakes (sweet potato and egg yolk in a pastry)—4 boxes= 4 bowls
18 persimmons—2 bowls
18 pomegranates—2 bowls
18 Oranges—2 bowls
64 bananas (4 half-stalks)—2 bowls
24 apples—2 bowls
2 land-of-Canaan-sized bunches of huge grapes—2 bowls
86 longans (lychee-type fruit)—2 bowls
A bowl of various things to smoke or chew, like tobacco, leaves, palm fruit, and a bag of mysterious white powder. (These were used in the ceremony)
And the last addition was a bowl/ plate full of cash--More that $7000
They also prepared some fruit and incense to offer to the Buddhist alter box in their house to bless the engagement. The offerings were so beautiful and intricate and cost the family a small fortune. I kept thinking how wasteful it was to offer food to a Buddhist alter. I looked at Banan, who just stood back and stared at the transaction sadly. But is also was a good reminder to me, as they picked out only the choicest of fruit and polished them up for the alter, that we can learn something from the reverence and respect of these Buddhist traditions. Often protestant Christians from the west can settle into the comfort of knowing we are saved and having a casual, intimate relationship with God. But God is not only our papa. He is our King and Almighty Messiah. He is indeed gracious, but still expects no less than our firstfruits and our full devotion to him. It made me think back and wonder of I had been picking out all my very best fruit to give over to him, on the alter that seems wasteful to the rest of the world. Was I intentionally going above and beyond in my offerings for the one I love?
We woke up at 5:30am to leave for the parents' house, where the whole family piled into 2 cars and a truck along with all the gifts. Yosue rode in the back to protect the gifts.
We drove to Sokah’s family house. Her parents came there for the day from the far province they live in. Once at the house, we unloaded the gifts, and laid them out in the middle of the room. Everyone gathered in a circle around them and sat down, with the 2 sets of parents in the front, facing everyone else, and lots of beautiful old ladies chatting on the sides.
The officiator did some kind of reading, a speech, a time for the parents to say a few words (not so unlike the ritualism of a traditional western wedding ceremony). There was also some praying and chanting, which made it quite unlike a western-style ceremony.
There was a ceremonial tea serving and clinking for the four parents, followed by the chewing of tobacco in rolled up leaves taken from the "drug bowl."
Then Seyla and Sokah came out, dressed very nicely, bowing to everyone, and taking their place in the center. Everyone held their hands together in prayer, so I did too, but I prayed to Jesus to bless their marriage and to somehow show himself to this wonderful family.
The families exchanged the money pot, and then the couple joyfully exchanged rings.
Then the bowls of fruit and gifts left the room and were replaced by a multitude of food dishes, so everyone feasted together merrily. Banan's sister and sister-in-law are on the left.
Just another Sunday in Cambodia. I'm continually fascinated by this culture, and I'm thankful that my host-family is willing to share exciting events like this with me.