We recently had the opportunity to go to a traditional Newari ceremony, which was a great experience, but it did dig up a lot of challenges on the cultural context front. So to continue the theme a little from my last post, here’s the story:
My coworker showed up with a very pretty red and gold envelope with my name on. She explained my “daughter’s getting married party” and that I was invited to come to the event. I thought I understood that it was her daughter’s engagement party.
I took the invitation home, but it was written completely in Nepali, so I couldn’t understand a word. I showed my Didi as I was looking for advice on what to bring. She looked at me and said, “Mam, its Newari wedding. There are two daughters.” Oh..I thought. I misinterpreted her words. She had not said “my daughter’s getting married” but “my daughters (are) getting married”… ok. Got it. The next morning I spoke to an American and she told me that it was a Newari custom for the girls to both marry because it saved problems with widowhood, should the husband pass away. (Widows are vilified here.) So ok….the two daughters were getting married to one man, or they were perhaps marrying both husbands at the same time. Something like that, I wasn’t sure.
Next day I spoke to my Didi again. She told me “no, no…no husband, mam. They marry proots.” Now I know that Nepalese have a problem with “p” and “f” (just like Filipinos and she really must have meant “fruits”. But of course, that made no sense, as no-one marries a fruit. “They are marrying fruits?!” I asked, sure I was getting it wrong somewhere.
“Yes, mam. Proots”
“I don’t understand. They are marrying fruits. Like a banana? I don’t get it?!!”
“No not banana, mam. Bell. They marry bell.”
Now I’m really confused. “They’re marrying a bell or marrying fruits? There’s no husband…and its a marriage?” I gave up. I was obviously missing something.
I asked for a recommendation for a gift. My didi suggested maybe some toys, or we could give some money in an card. Now I was buying toys as a wedding gift. Why?
“They are little girls, mam. You can buy toys or give money. Now people prefer if you give money”
So now we had a child wedding…two child brides and no husband. It was getting really odd.
It was only in the car on the way back to work that my driver explained it so I understood. Young Newari girls are married before puberty to the nut of the Bel Fruit, an actually fruit, which is worshiped as a symbol of Lord Vishna. And, yes, the ceremony is done to prevent widowhood. As they are married to an immortal god, the Newar girls never become widows should their human husband die first, for they are still married to the god. In the same way it helps to prevent child marriages – there is less need to marry very young girls since they are already married to the bel fruit and, later, to the sun, and are protected. So actually, traditionally, Newar girls marry three times in their lives. The first marriage is to the bel fruit, then they are also married to the Sun and finally when they marry a real man, it is their third marriage. So who knew?! Its a little strange…and also strangely practical…and I learnt something new this week.