One ring-maker keeps a pre-wedding kidnapping ceremony going
Ya Tuat prepares moulds made of buffalo dung and clay to cast the Sri ring, a must for engagement and wedding ceremonies among the Chu Ru people
Men in the Chu Ru community do what men generally do.
They grow up, get married, and take care of the farm and their families.
There is one crucial difference though. They do not have much of a say in their marriages.
But the brides do. In fact, a man a girl and her family set their sights on is abducted and his family approached for his hand in marriage. If they say yes, the man moves into the girl's house and spends the rest of his life there.
Ma Tuyn, 37, from Lam Dong Province's Don Duong District, explains that Chu Ru parents start looking for a compatible husband for their daughters when they reach 16 or 17, and the "young girls have a right to accept the marriage or not."
If the woman is interested in the man, her family engages a match-maker to go along with them to the bridegroom's house in the dark of the night to conduct the engagement, or the "abduction" ceremony.
Ya Ngon, patriarch of Pró Ngóh Village in the district, says: "The engagement is held at night so that the girl and her family will not lose face in case the bridegroom's family does not accept their proposal. It is dark at night and no one can see them."
According to Ya Ngon, to "abduct" the man, the young woman and her family prepare a pair of silver rings, called Sri, and bracelets made of courbary beads. as wedding presents. The bride puts the ring on the man's finger. If he resists, they leave and come back a week later. This process is sometimes repeated several times until she gets the man to wear the ring, and then the wedding is held. It is said that an outright rejection by the man is unheard of.
Since the husband has to live in his wife's house, his family exacts a dowry, the value of which depends on how big and important his clan is in the community and on the "quality" of the man himself. In the past, buffalos were an important part of the dowry, but since the number of buffaloes as well as their use in farming has decreased, money and gold have taken their place.
Typically, the dowry includes one or two ounces of gold, 20-40 Sri (costing about US$7.5 each), several bracelets and head coverings to offer the relatives of the husband's family.
If the wife's family cannot come up with the dowry, she cannot bring her husband to her house, but would have to live in his house instead till the requirements are met.
At the wedding ceremony, the couple exchange rings. Seven days after the wedding, the rings are given to the couple's mothers as an indication that their marriage has been witnessed by others. The bride's mother keeps the bridegroom's ring and vice versa. In case the couple wants to separate, they cannot simply get rid of their rings and claim they are not husband and wife.
Divorce is allowed in monogamous Chu Ru society but it costs the wife 60 percent of the dowry to leave her husband. If the husband initiates the divorce, he has to return one hundred percent of the dowry.
Those who commit adultery must compensate the offended party with at least three buffalos. The number of buffaloes paid as compensation will multiply based on the number of children that the couple has.
A pair of Sri rings
Ma Huong, an official of the Tu Tra Ward where many of the 15,000 strong Chu Ru community live, said there is only one man Ya Tuat who can make Sri, the silver rings needed to solemnize the marriage. So, for the time being, the fate of two key customs the pre-wedding abduction and the wedding itself rests on his shoulders.
Ya Tuat, 41, of Ha Wai Village, has been making Sri for the last 20 years. It is a time consuming process, he said, including collecting beeswax for die casting, melting the metal and decorating and polishing the rings.
Die casting is the hardest part.
Molten beeswax is poured into a bamboo section and a cylindrical piece of wood is dipped into it. As the wax cools and solidifies around the cylindrical shape, the artisan cuts the beeswax into rings of different sizes to form the moulds.
Tuat then twines the wax into thin threads to create a plaited pattern for the ring.
Next, the leaf of dua plant (Pandanus amaryllifolius) is folded into a funnel shape to cover the ring which is dipped into a liquid mixture of buffalo dung and clay collected from a secret place deep in the forest that Tuat says only he knows. The mould is exposed to the sun for two days.
"The dung must be from a two or three-year-old male buffalo and the clay taken from near the mountain base in the area," said Tuat, who learned the art of making sri from his uncle, the late Ya Grang, at the age of 16. There were two other apprentices, but he was the only one who "graduated from the special training course."
The mould then is placed on burning coals so that the solid wax melts and gets attached to the mixture of clay and buffalo dung, forming a hollow space into which molten silver is poured to make the ring.
Tuat said the buffalo is a holy creature, representing strength, prosperity and warmth, whereas bees are a symbol of diligence, and these are the qualities and materials that make the Sri contribute to a happy marriage.
When the rings are first taken out from the mould, they are black, so Tuat puts it in a solution of boiled wild soapberry for a few minutes.
For a successful casting, the artisan must take a bath and not touch his wife the night before. If the wife is having her periods, the Sri making will have to wait.
Tuat said that before he passed away, his teacher asked to see him for the last time to impart all his knowledge about making different kinds of Sri so that there was at least one person left to preserve the art and the marriage customs of the Chu Ru people.
At present, Tuat can make 12 different kinds of Sri for different purposes, including rings for bridegrooms and the brides, which are called Sri cara and Sri mota hola respectively. Sri lo hay is made for the bridegroom's relatives.
In 2008, with the help of the local government, a class in sri making was opened at Tuat's house with eight trainees. After six months, only three were left - Ya Thuong (19, Tuat's son), Ya Ti (20, his nephew), and Ya Duoc (his younger brother).
Every year, from November to February, the peak wedding season, Tuat and his son spend sleepless nights making Sri for the villagers. He has even received orders from Cham people in the coastal province of Ninh Thuan, Tuat said.
So far, Tuat has done well with his Sri-making vocation. But he has a word of advice for his successors.
"That you are able to make Sri doesn't mean your products will be purchased by the locals, you have to practice hard to improve your craftsmanship."