Like many other ethnic groups, the Cotu people consider marriage an important event not only for a family but also for the whole village. The Cotu in Quang Nam province have preserved a unique pre-marriage custom, which highlights the significance of the pure love between a man and a woman.
Elderly people in Dong Giang and Tay Giang districts of Quang Nam province say previously only Cotu boys between 20 and 22 years old who were able to take care of their families were allowed to get married. Cotu girls between the ages of 18 and 20 could only get married if they knew how to cook and weave. When spring comes and during major festivals such as harvest celebrations, house warming or Po Ngoot - a brotherhood swearing ceremony - Cotu girls and boys date each other to choose their loved ones. This is the right time for each boy to build a house for his pre-marriage life, called Ngủ Duông, which means sleeping with each other. The house is built either in a field or near a wood. This house is really just a simple hut made of leaves. Hoih Nhuan, an elderly villager in Prao township, Dong Giang district, Quang Nam province, told VOV: “The Cotu custom of Ngủ Duông applies only to single men and women. This is a condition for the couple to get to know each other before getting married, showing their healthy and pure relationship. They talk with each other overnight. However, there a strict rule that they are only allowed to talk and sleep without crossing the limit of propriety. If something happens between them, they face heavy fines”.
A Cotu girl
Cotu boys and girls stay awake night after night whispering and learning more about each other. Elderly villager Alang Um of Ca Nong hamlet, A Xan commune, Tay Giang district, Quang Nam province, recalls his youth: “In the past, young villagers used to practice Ngủ Duông. We told each other of our aspirations for married life. We refrained from letting bad things happen because nobody wanted to be despised for rude behavior”.
A Cotu village on the Truong Son range
The young couples can get to know each other freely. But Cotu custom severely punishes those who have sex or become pregnant before marriage. It’s the boys who face severest sanctions. Elderly villager Bhling Priu of Zrout hamlet, Ch’Um commune, Tay Giang district, told us: “According to the Cotu unwritten law, during the time of Ngủ Duông from 3 to 4 years, young couples are punished severely if they become pregnant. They have to slaughter a buffalo and a goat and bring to a share to each family in the village to show their repentance. If the girl gets pregnant and the boy does not marry her, villagers and the girls’ family will force the boy to bring a buffalo, jars, gongs and jewelry to the girl’s family or be in debt from generation to generation. But the spiritual punishment is heavier as they are forsaken by the community”.
Today, the Cotu people have adopted many aspects of modern life, but retain traditional customs like Ngủ Duông.