In Mile Xishan of Southwest China's Yunnan Province is mainly inhabited by the Axi people, who are a subgroup of the Yi ethnic group. With a population of 170,000, Axi people, different from some other Yi branches, enjoy a simple marriage procedure. A young man and a woman who fall in love with each can marry without a matchmaker and betrothal gifts. So long as they both want to get married and are approved by their parents, their marriage is permissible.
Based on where the man and woman live, there are two kinds of marriage customs of Axi people.
Gong Fang: Young People's Paradise
Gong Fang (a public building that is also called Girl Room) is a place of amusement for youth living in the same village. Before marriage, young people often come here to look for their mate. As night falls, they sit around the need-fire (the beginnings of a bonfire) to sing and dance. If a youth who has reached the age of courtship (about 16 years old) does not go to the Gong Fang to look for a lover, he or she will be blamed by the public, and regarded as an incompetent.
After much observation and comparison, when a young man decides that a certain young woman is the one for him, he will use a blanket or sheet to wrap around himself and his lover, which shows their destinies are linked together tightly. Then under the watchful eyes of the people, the happy pair will go out of the Gong Fang to find a secret place to reveal their feelings for each other or discuss their plans for the future.
It goes without saying that getting married is a great event in one's life. In the morning of the marriage, the woman comes back from Gong Fang early and changes into an elaborate attire suitable for the occasion, then waits for the arrival of her spouse at the gate.
Not long after that, the young man, wearing brand-new clothes, arrives carrying a container of clear cold water. He then have wait for the woman's parents' approval. If the father of the woman let the daughter open the door and welcome the man to pour water into the jar in the yard, this indicates they agree to let the girl marry him.
Then the man will go to work with the woman in the field or go up a hill to cut firewood until noon. After supper, the man takes the woman to his home, which means they have married. As the Axi people saying goes, "one cup of water fixes one life."
Generally speaking, in the Axi culture, parents respect their children's choice of spouse. When a girl and a young man falls in love with each other, their parents will usually agree on their choice.
Axi Dance Under Moonlight
Those who don't live in the same village are unable to look for a spouse in the Gong Fang. In this case, the most common way to meet other young people is by taking part in some singing and dancing parties.
While the boys play the three-stringed plucked instruments, the girls clap their hands and dance enthusiastically to the drumbeats in the strong-rhythm traditional dance " Axi tiaoyue" (Axi Dance in the Moon). During the dancing, the young people choose their lovers. When their love matures, they will agree on the date of getting married.
In the morning of their marriage, the woman and man tell their parents respectively about their marriage. Then the man takes the woman to his home and invites another woman to accompany her. The next morning, the new couple does the farm work together.
There are two purposes in this day's work. For one thing, it is a way to see the woman's attitude towards working. If the man is not satisfied with the woman, their relationship will end after the day.
Second it is to sound out the attitude of the woman's parents. If the parents object to the marriage, they will come to find their daughter, and politely advise the boy to keep away from her. If both sides are satisfied, in the morning of the third day the man will go to the woman's home for the woman to see the man's attitude towards working.
After the two young people leave to work, the woman's parents discuss at home. At lunchtime, they go to the farmland to observe whether the young man has a proper work ethic. If they find the man doesn't work well and is frivolous, they will have their daughter part company with him. On the contrary, if the man works well and is honest, the parents will come back home to cook and tell the young couple to have a meal early.
Traditionally, after supper, the father of the woman will tell the young man something like this: "My daughter is not very beautiful, and cannot do needlework well. But you two already want to marry, so we cannot say anything more. We only hope you two love and respect each other in the future. My family is poor, without a dowry. According to the Axi custom, our daughter will take her tools go with you. Though it is not worthy, it can help you to have ample food and clothing."
After listening to the parents' exhortation and blessing, the new couple then goes back to the man's home joyfully, indicating the start of their new life from then on.