Matchmaker Marriage being an integral part of man's life, is also one of life's most significant and celebrated events. Thus, weeks or even months of careful planning are undertaken to prepare for the occasion. Traditional Chinese weddings have many complex customs and ceremonies. But among these customs, the role played by matchmaker (mistress-of-ceremony) is no longer of significance.
Madam Leong Yin Yoke was born in Guangzhou, China. She came to Singapore in 1924 at the age of 24. She came with the intention of becoming a domestic maid in some wealthy household but upon the suggestion of her aunt who was a matchmaker, Madam Leong decided to learn the trade. She chose to be a matchmaker mainly because of the popularity of the trade at that time when matchmakers were in high demand.
For one to be considered as a professional matchmaker, one has to undergo several years of training before fully acquiring the skills. Madam Leong oicked up the skills by observing how her aunt did it. She would also help her to do some work when her aunt was too busy to attend to them personally.
"Learning the trade solely from one matchmaker was not enough. We had to oberve several matchmaking ceremonies before we can accumulate sufficient experience to become a preofessional," said Madam Leong. Life was hard as an apprentice as she was not paid nor provided with meals. A professional matchmaker would be paid S$3 for a 4-day job. A matchmaker needs to know the art of putting on the "phoenix" head dress and the red gown, and the correct way of getting onto the sedan chair. She also had to take care of the bride, paying close attention to her personal needs like making tea for her when she was thirsty and fanning her when she was feeling warm.
As mentioned earlier, the service of the matchmaker would be needed for 4 days. On the first day, that is, on the eve of the wedding day, the mathcmaker has to send the bride's trousseau to the bridegroom's house. The trousseau consists mainly of jewellery. This means that the character of the matchmaker would be put to test here. She has to be honest and only the service of a matchmaker of integrity will be sought after.
On the second and third day, the main task of the matchmaker was to keep the bride company. It was on the second day that the bridegroom's family would engage bearers to carry the bride to their house on a sedan chair. Before the sedan chair arrived, the matchmaker would have to conduct the hair combing ceremony. The bride's hair had to be combed into a bun to indicate her transition into adulthood. It was also believed that this would ensure matrimontial togetherness.
Since the matchmaker only gets to meet the bride on the wedding day, thus, to avoid the embarrasment of identifying the wrong bride, Madam Leong would get the bride's mother to describe the appearance of the bride to her before the wedding day.
When the sedan chair reached the bridegroom's house, the bridegroom had to receive the bride from the sedan chair personally. However, in some cases, the bridegroom was hidden by his friends and so the matchmaker had to search for him herself.
"It was like playing 'hide-and-seek'. The bridegroom's friends would mislead me to other places instead of to where the bridegroom was. They were very mischievous and sometimes would bring me to brothels!" Madam Leong recalled.
The next morning, the matchmaker had to help to prepare the bride to meet her elders from the bridegroom's family. Once again, she would have to comb her hair, help her to put on the headdress and the red gown. Before meeting the elders, it was the responsibility of the matchmaker to teach the bride the correct way of addressing them and the right way of serving tea to them. This "tea ceremony" was considered as the evidence of a common law marriage at that time.
Lastly, the return visit to the bride's home was made 3 days after the wedding. The marriage would have been consummated by then.
Madam Leong said in Mandarin, "As the customs and traditions associated with Chinese weddings are modified to suit the modern lifestyle, nowdays, brides are no longer transported in sedan chairs but in air-conditioned cars. As people begin to lead a more sophisticated lifestyle that is not bounded by traditions and customs, the service of the matchmaker is no longer required."