A wedding today… Others, 40 years ago.

Today I was invited to the wedding of Tiya, whom I have known for a decade and grown found of over the years. She also happens to be the grand daughter of Mouh Som and Ong Leb, who have been watching over me along the way, both as teachers and substitute grand-parents. Tiya and Adam’s wedding is also the last one of a series I recently attended and filmed, simply entitled ‘3 Weddings’, and that will soon be uploaded in the video section of this blog. Before those come in, I thought about a couple of old wedding pictures I had, that would perfectly match the mood of the day in complete continuity.

Those pictures were dug up in 2007 in O’Russei (Kompong Chhnang Province) with the help of researcher and friend Leb Ke (also grand son of Mouh Som and Ong Leb), as the idea of a village exhibition filled the air (you may have actually seen those pictures already in this post dedicated to the exhibition). I like them because they are not really jarring with what I have seen today. Of course I won’t say that weddings haven’t changed in 40 years, actually quite a number of things have changed, but the snapshots that are left from those years and from nowadays resonate with similarities.

Well now, without further ado, the pictures my friends!


The first picture is very damaged and a little difficult to study. But the embroidered and  sequins neckline and diadem clearly recall those I saw again today. They are just the same, separated by two decades. I love the eyebrows and the very proud pose the bride is affecting! She is sitting on her matrimonial bed: soon the groom will come to her (along with probably the whole village… or so…), and it is on this very bed, that the Imams will perform the wedding ritual that will unite the couple. The year – just as the bride’s identity – is unknown, but I would say sometime between the end of the 60’s and 1972, as the bridesmaid on the right is actually our next picture’s bride.

OrusseiPortrait_15The second picture represents Miss – soon to be Mrs – Eul Paen in 1972 during her own wedding. She is 22, and again posing in front of her bride’s bed, which will be the centre of the wedding (socially and ritually speaking…). As such it is usually paid a lot of attention and decorated with care by the bride, her girlfriends and the sisters-mothers-aunties-crowd during the days preceding the ceremony. The most beautiful (nowadays pinky and shiny would be an accurate synonym) linen is combined with mountains of pillows (yesterday home-made and embroidered, today more likely to be ‘Hello Kitty-ed’ or ‘Snoopy-ed’ and the like). And finally, more important and magnificent are the Tgrai… Those banners are also usually home-made (nowadays less and less, only a couple of old craft-women still make Tgrai) and take hours and days to be finalised. During a normal day, they may be put aside somewhere in the house, or hanging across the doors. But it is really for the wedding days that they come alive, watching over the bed and the couple, not only as a simple statement of beauty, but also often as an element of protection and even… fertility when Nagas get involved! (You may want to visit this post and click on the various Tgrai pictures to learn more about them). And finally here comes the bride… The same diadem again… Sequins, flowers and pearls ladies… So you may wonder why isn’t she wearing the traditional tunic and silk sampot, or even the neckline. My guess would be that even in the 60’s-70’s weddings, there may have been a photo-shoot during which the bride would switch into different outfits and have her picture taken. Today it often assumes the proportions of a fashion show, with many – many – outfits and as many colours, sequins, pearls, make-up, hairdos…

And this is when this post – I hope – leaves you hungry for more: snapshots from today, behind the scene images, tracking down changes – let’s dare the word: trends! – and compare the before and the now. My apologises for the bittersweet suspense… Bear with me and soon the videos will bring you there.

Phnom Penh, April 3, 2013, Emiko Stock.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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