A Cross-Cultural Wedding – Hakka Groom and Paiwan Bride

In 2020, Hakka TV filmed a documentary about a cross-cultural wedding between a Hakka groom and a bride from the Eastern Paiwan (Paqaroqaro) tribe.
Hakka groom and Paiwan bride
(All images: Hakka TV)

Chang Yao-tung (張曜東), son of the Hakka poet Yeh Sa (葉莎), is a Hakka from Longtan District in Taoyuan City, while his wife Tsai Ya-wen (蔡雅雯) is the daughter of the chief of the Eastern Paiwan tribe in Taimali Township, Taitung County. They initially thought of holding a simple wedding, but at the insistence of the bride’s family they eventually wed according to the traditional Eastern Paiwan custom.

Among Indigenous people’s groups in Taiwan, the Paqaroqaro are descendants of intermarriage between Puyuma and Paiwan tribes, while the Hakka were early immigrants to Taiwan from Guangdong Province in China. On this island, these two groups differ in matters of faith, language and culture. So what kinds of cross-cultural exchanges would the families of this couple have in the process of preparing for the wedding?

A few days before the wedding, the tribespeople went up the mountain early in the morning, bringing chopped bamboo cut to size to the wedding venue, waiting for the priest to pray and select a place to build the swing. In traditional Eastern Paiwan weddings, one of the most important rites is taking a turn on the swing. This is not done for fun but carries the significance of harmony and completeness. The master of the ceremony says the higher a bride swings, the more blessed she will be in her married life.
The bride swings

The bride’s father Tsai Nien-jih (蔡念日) explained that in the customs of the Eastern Paiwan, when a daughter of the chief or noble family is wed, she takes a turn on a swing and this represents her dignified position.

The bride’s mother Hsieh Hsiu-hua (謝秀花) said the majority of local people tend to hold Western-style weddings. But as the family of the head of the tribe, she hoped that holding a traditional wedding would let her children experience a culture that is fast passing away. When her daughter leaves her hometown, she at least will carry this history to pass to the next generation.

Yeh Sa, the groom’s mother, likes to keep things simple in life. So when she learned that her son had decided to wed a princess of the Eastern Paiwan people in a traditional Indigenous wedding ceremony, the tribe’s elaborate rituals came as something of a shock. But she was deeply moved by the bride’s family’s sense of mission in wanting to preserve their traditional culture. Yeh said Hakka people’s ancient rites are also elaborate, it’s just that they have been gradually simplified over the years, and some of the rite are even becoming forgotten.

Yeh Sa came to Taitung along with her relatives and friends to prepare for a Paiwan wedding together with the bride’s family. First, they had to make “cinavu” – aboriginal millet rice dumplings, a little similar to Hakka “ban” or rice cakes. Everyday common rice is a must for New Year’s celebrations and worship ceremonies alike. They then had to make 100 garlands to give to the bride’s family members during the ceremony. Indigenous peoples are very particular about headwear – more than just representing status and beautiful appearance, it stands as a type of blessing and so garlands are essential for the ceremony. In addition, the Hakka groom’s family learned the steps that the bride’s vuvu (grandmother) would dance at the wedding.
“cinavu” – aboriginal millet rice dumplings
Wedding guest wearing garlands

The bride Tsai Ya-wen said the process of planning the wedding, which took more than six months, was very complicated and there was sometimes friction with family elders. Especially at the beginning, when she herself didn’t have so much understanding of her own traditional culture, she felt there was maybe not the need to go to so much trouble. But as her mother said, it was necessary to experience and feel her own culture for herself to have the feeling for her own ethnic group and to pass that on to future generations.

This Eastern Paiwan traditional wedding allowed a Hakka family to experience a different culture, but beyond that it demonstrated the careful intent of a group of people to pass on traditional tribal culture.