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A Grand Sherpa Wedding at Namche

Kalden and Ang Kenji Sherpa, who live and work in Vancouver, were married November 22 in a traditional Sherpa wedding at Namche Bazar in the Khumbu. This astrologically auspicious day, chosen specifically by the lama of Tengboche, brought together the family of Kalden Sherpa from Sallung (5 days walk from Namche) and the family of Ang Kenji Sherpa of Namche. A Buddhist wedding does not feature the bride and groom as in our culture. Instead, it is the coming together of two families, much exchanging of katas (ceremonial scarves) and a sequence of traditional ceremonies over a five hour period. The host family ensures that guests' glasses are constantly topped up with tea, chhang (beer), or scotch (served from 3 litre bottles) throughout the day. Juniper branches are burned in the courtyard as a ritual cleansing, and prayer flags decorate the walls and houses.

To open the ceremonies, a welcome speech by the Lama praised the qualities of those in the room with great wit, to judge by the gales of laughter and rejoinders that came from the audience. The activities then include a Tibetan blessing of the house, the food and the families. the reading of the bride's dowry (land, carpets, jewelry, etc.) and a short service joining the bride and groom. The wedding represents the 'transfer' of the bride from her family to her husband's family. It is a highly emotional moment for everyone, and distressing for the bride. She presents gifts to each member of her family as her parting gesture.

The service is followed by dinner and dancing. Sherpa dancing is performed in a line. Three or more men link arms and with one person singing and chanting, a complicated series of steps follow. Alternately, everyone dances in the standard traditional way to music from a large stringed instrument while the host circles the room filling up glasses with an encouraging "che, che, che"...(drink up).

Sherpa wedding clothes and jewellery are outstanding. Men wear long black cloaks, high leather boots and rumpled fedoras. The groom, resplendent in yellow brocade, crowned with a red boater style hat, looked like an Oriental potentate. The women were dressed in colourful brocade decorated with lavish necklaces of zei stones and gold and silver boxes encrusted with turquoise, coral and pearls. Many of the brocade pill-box style hats were trimmed with panels of fox fur.

And if this was not enough, one had only to look up at the snowcapped peaks of the surrounding mountains, towering 13,000 feet over the village, to feel that the scene was complete. In sparkling sunshine, it was indeed an auspicious day for the wedded couple, as well as a privilege for two wide-eyed Canadians!

Gord Konantz / Ross Macdonald

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