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.