Khmer Weddings – the Traditional Combines with the Modern
A traditional wedding required stamina and for the families involved, plenty of money. The celebrations were spread over several, very long days, and involved many changes of intricate costumes. The length of the weddings was dictated by the wealth of the bride and groom’s families. The ceremonies the lucky couple went through were based on ancient myths and stories from the country’s Khmer past. Weddings started with the groom’s party traveling to the home of the bride for her dowry. Three traditional Khmer music were played, followed by an elaborate tea ceremony. The hair of both bride and groom was then symbolically cut and their wrists bound together with blessing strings. Some parts of these celebrations were intimate and private, for close family only, but most were open to a large audience.
A lot of these Khmer traditions have been lost in Cambodia or become merely symbolic and wedding celebrations are now generally condensed into one or two days. Cambodians still like, however, to invite as many people as possible to their wedding, hoping to impress with an extensive guest list. Depending on a family’s wealth, these large gatherings might be in rented halls or in the street under elaborate canopies. The family doesn’t have to cover the entire cost, however, as it is traditional for guests to put a cash gift into an envelope for the happy couple. An eagle-eyed member of the wedding party, very often the bride or groom’s mother, carefully notes the gifts given. This isn’t dictated by greed or a wish to write a thank you note, but simply by the desire to give an equal amount when they in turn are invited to the guest’s wedding. They don’t wish to offend by giving too much or too little.
People dress conservatively, but not elaborately for weddings. Long sleeved shirts and formal trousers are usual wear for male guests and women wear skirts or dresses that cover the shoulders. Both in Cambodian rural areas and towns, some women still choose to wear traditional Khmer dress. At some stages during the ceremonies there will be sit down meals and lots of drinking. As guests become more relaxed and loosen up, dancing will become livelier with lots of intricate local steps, all guests will be encouraged to join in. The happy couple will have lots of photographs taken and try to include all their guests, even if they don’t actually know them!
Photographer : Jean-François Perigois