In Vietnam’s Central Highlands, Gie Trieng women can spend years collecting wood to ensure they catch a good husband.
In Dak Duc Commune, Ngoc Ngoi District, Kon Tum Province, women belonging to the Gie Trieng ethnic minority cannot miss the woodpiles that are stacked neatly in front of almost every house.
Besides the obvious function of serving as firewood, these woodpiles are also collected as dowry by the women of the Gie Trieng ethnic group to “capture” the husbands they desire.
Y Cuu, 62, does not know how and when the custom began, but even as a kid, she would see young girls pile up wood on the house’s porch.
“Back then, girls 13 and 14 were already thinking of love. We would choose a nice place to stack up the wood, which was a signal to our families and relatives that the girl is looking to capture a husband,” she said.
Collecting the wood would take months or years. Typically, the collection would begin as early as 13 until they get married at 20. During the wood collecting period, the girl can date the boy she likes. Once the future husband is chosen, the girl begins to save up things like corn, sugarcane, melon and other valuables to gift her loved one.
If the union is approved by the family and the village patriarch, the engagement ceremony is usually held discreetly in the evening with parents and siblings of both families bearing witness. The person officiating over the ceremony will be the matchmaker.
After the engagement ceremony, it can take three months to a year until the actual wedding day. The girl will call up on her relatives and friends to help to ensure there is enough dowry for the wedding day.
“I only made 50 bundles for my wedding, but it took me five years to prepare,” Cuu recalled. She said some families had to prepare up to 100 to 200 bundles of wood years ago.
The custom was that the woodpiles had to be of the chestnut tree because it would maintain a slow burning fire with good heat. Usually, each stick of wood in a pile would have a diameter of 10-15 cm and a length of 85-90 cm.
The women can choose wood from the blackboard tree if chestnut wood is hard to find. But beside these two varieties, no other type of wood is accepted.
It’s a sign
Looking at the nicely bundled woodpiles, the groom’s family can assess whether their future daughter-in-law is strong, skilful, hardworking and able to handle her household duties.
The boy also shows off his talent by weaving baskets and other tools, and hunting wild animals to prepare a meal when the bride’s family brings the wood over.
The bride family brings wood as dowry to the groom’s family. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa.
After receiving the wood on the morning of the wedding day, the groom’s family will return the favor with clothes, bedsheets, and several woven items. They will invite those who have carried the wood to enjoy a meal of pork, forest rats and squirrels.
The wedding party officially starts in the evening.
Just in case the marriage turns sour and either the husband or the wife wants to separate, the Gie Trieng custom is that the party that wants the separation should give the other side a white buffalo or a golden bowl.
Of course, the custom of using firewood piles as dowry to catch a husband is undergoing gradual changes.
Sitting next to her husband, Y Thuy, 25, recalled her wedding eight years ago. As her wedding approached, Thuy and her mother cut down some boi loi (litsea glutinosa)trees, sold some parts of it and used their main trunk to serve as the dowry for the wedding.
“Since there are no chestnut trees to be found in the forest now, my family made just a few bundles of woods from the boi loi tree,” Thuy said.
Like Thuy, many Gie Trieng girls are also shifting to using the boi loi tree for their dowry, and it might happen that these become a symbolic ritual in the future.