哭嫁 or “Bridal laments” refer to a female custom that was performed by the 圍頭 (Weitou) people, the first settlers of Hong Kong. As marriages were arranged, becoming a bride signified a kind of death for a woman. Not only would her ties to her natal home be severed, but she would remain an outsider to the groom’s family.
To mourn this profound sense of loss, Weitou women would perform a bridal lament cycle before their wedding day, a ritual which involved singing and weeping in front of family and friends over the course of three days. Since this tradition ended in the 1960s, the last group of women to embody this knowledge are in their 80s or 90s today.
I have Weitou ancestry through my mother who never learnt the laments. To learn more about this ritual, I’ve been working with elderly Weitou women in the Caritas Lung Yeuk Tau Community Development Project over the last few years. As I have not been able to travel back to Hong Kong this year, I’ve had to continue my learning via digital platforms and virtual communications.
For 52 ACTIONS, I reimagine a bridal lament through a contemporary lens. I have learnt this melody by repeatedly listening to a CD recording performed by Weitou elder, 文鳳琼婆婆, Man Fung Kun. I realise now that this was, in fact, how I first started making music. My favourite pastime as a kid was working out how to play Top40 pop songs on the piano completely by ear. Titled “魚文,鳥文Fish Song, Bird Song” this action is a personal exploration of distance, memory, and matrilineal knowledge which is on the brink of disappearance.
Chun Yin Rainbow Chan is an interdisciplinary artist working across music, image, video and sculpture with an interest in the intimate connections between representation, technology and myths in the globalised world. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Sydney, Australia, Chan lives and works on Gadigal land, Sydney. Coming from a background in pop music performance, her art practice often engages with the aesthetics of mass media through music videos, movie posters, fashion shoots and other mediums. But, she also troubles aspects of consumer culture through mistranslations, historical reimaginings and technological interventions in her works, which are inspired by bootlegs and knock-off culture.
哭 – huk1 / kū
To weep; to cry, to wail.
“魚文,鳥文” (Fish Song, Bird Song) is performed by 文鳳琼婆婆, Man Fung Kun, aged 84. Audio recording and photographs courtesy of Caritas Lung Yeuk Tau Community Development Project, funded by the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust. @bridal_laments
Directed by Chan Kwok Ming and Ng Lok Chi, Jeanne
“Yesterday Once More” is produced by Caritas Lung Yeuk Tau Community Development Project, funded by the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust.
Catfish, flat-headed, in an unfamiliar place.⠀
Eel, without scales, like you I am bare.⠀
While Crucian Carp swam breezily in clear waters,⠀
Pond Loach slithers in dark clouds now.⠀
Translation by Rainbow Chan, adapted from “A Glimpse through Ming-Wa-Kou: The Bridal Laments of the Last Walled-Village Brides.”⠀
Cherished is Rice Bird who tells fortunes,
Glorious is Grouse, your feathers so splendid.
Lonely is Francolin who sighs bitterly,
Sorrowful is Huamei, chirping in the dead of the night.
I do not possess the wisdom of Confucius,
A broken nest, I am swept away.
Oh! This new world, I am yet to know,
A princess married off to barbarians, I am lost.
“魚文,鳥文 Fish Song, Bird Song” paints a picture of sadness as the bride mourns the death of her former self. Sung in the Weitou dialect, this lament is layered with allusions and wordplay. The bride’s feelings are vividly symbolised by the characteristics of native fish and birds. Joyous memories of her natal home are contrasted with her new life in the groom’s home, which is likened to turbid waters. My favourite line is when the bride compares herself to Eel, who is all alone and stripped of its “scales” (which is a homophone of “neighbours” in the Weitou dialect.) In a society where women had little to no rights, bridal laments afforded a rare opportunity for village women to express their grievances publicly.
Graphics, video and music by Rainbow Chan. 3D model by Craig Stubbs-Race
WARNING: This video contents strobing lights
嫁 – gaa3 / jià
(Of a woman) to be married off; to transfer; to shift.