The mountains of Alishan, wild pigs, thousands of chattering birds, a gathering of Tsou tribal elders, many local township chiefs and 100 dancers gathered last weekend in Chiayi County under a bright sun and a light blue sky for the Fona Festival
The curious and families and friends of the couples gathered in front of the red-carpeted stage or stood on two large, covered platforms that overlooked the event, at the newly built Tsou Aboriginal Cultural Park on Alishan Provincial Highway 18. A posse of photographers and media types scurried around with their cameras and microphones.
One of the couples was a retired local teacher and his wife. Over 70 years old and married for 50 years, they were clearly a little overawed by the occasion. After their marriage ceremony the former teacher thanked everyone for coming, in a speech that was full of emotional pauses. The audience aahed and cooed.
There were also tourists from Japan checking out an Aboriginal wedding to tell their friends about back home, a Westerner, middle-aged couples renewing their marriage vows and some youngsters still at university who were wondering what they had got themselves into. There was even a Tsou couple, who had been introduced only that morning, to make up the numbers after another pair couldn't make it to the culture park on time.
After registering their names the couples were led by organizers to the back of the stage to dress up in their Tsou tribe finery. The men got colorful headbands and tunics, the women wore veil-like headdresses, tunics, dresses and leggings.
Tsou tribe members handed out cigarettes, betel nut and rice wine to the men about to get hitched, joking with them and among themselves. Elders relaxed on chairs, looking about with a resigned kind of expression, while Tsou children charged around. The women complimented each other on how good they looked.
The ceremony started with the tribal leaders drinking millet wine and posing for photographers. They then lit their torches, shouted something propitious and the music started up. Two of them took center stage with whistles on the ends of strings, which they flung about, making whooping sounds. Then the elders and village chiefs sat down at a table on the front of the stage to eat some wild pig, drink some more and toast all and sundry.
Next up came the couples. Before they were allowed to marry, however, they had to be chastised by one of the Tsou tribe members as a way of setting aside past sins. The Tsou tribesman hit each individual with what appeared to be a bat on the backside. Traditionally, those who were badly behaved were given more strokes, as a way of punishing them and, hopefully, reforming them for the future.
There was an exchange of tokens, with the grooms presenting their brides with the "bean of life" (
They were also given marriage certificates, which called upon the pigs, birds, elders, dancers and the mountains as witnesses of the nuptials. Later, there were dances and feasts, though others took off for a walk in nearby Alishan National Park.