The marrying season for Miao people, an ethnic minority in China, is coming. It's common that many Miao couples have children before marriage, even among Christian families.
This is due to Miao customs in proposal and marriage:
When a young man is attracted to a lady, he proposes a marriage to the woman's family with two fellow villagers, one of whom is older than him and the other of whom is younger and single. Arriving at the woman's village, he asks a married villager (usually one of his relatives) to join their group. After dark, the four people dress in traditional Miao clothing and head to the woman's house by torchlight, with gifts of course. It's an important custom that they must use a torch made of dried bamboo as a light rather than an electric torch.
When they enter the door, they have a casual chat with the woman's family for a while. Then the married man of the woman's village explains their intention and next, another man, on behalf of the young man's parents, makes a marriage proposal and the lady's parents ask their daughter to think about it. Basically, the young man remains silent. If the lady says yes, the young man sleeps with her at her house. It's has been a tradition for Miao people for thousands of years.
The next day they return home. A month later, the man and his father come to her home with an engagement gift. The woman's family makes dinner for them and asks all the people in her village and her friends and relatives to come. After a year or so, the man and at least three of his fellows bring gifts and discuss marriage in detail with the elders of the woman's family. The woman also invites all the villagers, relatives, and friends to eat and drink.
Cohabitation is a normal thing in the eyes of Miao churches. While uncommon with women of A-Hmao (or "Big Flowery Miao," a subgroup of Miao living near Kunming), it's common among A-Hmao women inhabiting the Wumeng Mountain Area to have carry babies on their backs during their own weddings ceremonies, an impoverished area across Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan.
The local church doesn't express opposition to the practice since it is a tradition. Some Miao pastors just pronounce a benediction over new couples on their wedding day instead of presiding over a wedding. However, a large percentage of pastors and elders still hold Christians weddings for them.
I disagree with cohabitation because I had premarital sex and can see its danger. I also see that many Miao couples work in big cities for a living, but only the husbands return at the end of the year. Their wives leave them. Therefore, their left-behind children lose the mothers love. I hope that more Miao pastors can regard cohabitation as a thing that displeases God and share more about Christian marriage and parenting education in the church.
- Translated by Karen Luo
(The author is a Christian from Zhaotong, Yunnan. The original article's name is "A Brief Introduction of Miao Marriage Practices and Christian Faith".)