Hmong wedding negotiation
When Hmong families are joined by marriage, a complex tradition of rituals is observed that resolves any existing problems between the clans and sets new rules for the future. The ritual defines relationships between people and is important in maintaining harmony in Hmong society. Representatives for each side of the marriage, the bride’s family and the groom’s family, conduct each step of the negotiation in a “specialized” language and songs. The negotiation process of a Hmong wedding is quite lengthy, taking up to three days to complete and using more than 140 songs, all memorized.
Chia Her learned wedding negotiation songs from his father, who was known for his skills in the tradition. Living in a refugee camp with lots of time on his hands for practice, Chia started memorizing songs at age 14 in Thailand, where the Hmong had fled after leaving Vietnam. Because of his knowledge of the wedding negotiation songs, he has become prominent and important within the Hmong community in the San Diego area. His expertise is in great demand by Hmong parents, who see the traditional wedding as essential to a successful marriage for the bride and groom.
In 2001, Chia was a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program with apprentices Nengge Vang. Unable to learn the tradition from his own father, a master wedding negotiator who died when his son was young, Nengge sought the opportunity to study with Chia. Having already participated in group lessons at the Bayside Community Center in San Diego, Nengge says, “I have learned the basics for most of the songs, but need additional practice time with the master so that I can truly master the intricacies of the songs and the ceremony.”