A Chinese Christian marriage

During Father Perie's stay in Bukit Timah, the Christians of the hill multiplied, and many more marriages were solemnised, especially during feast days. Some of the girls of the Station were sent to Town to the Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus. There, the nuns prepared the girls for baptism. And when they came of age, marriages were arranged for them to Christian men. In Town, the Sisters ran an orphanage, a school for the young girls from Town, a boarding house, a refuge for destitute women, as well as a hospital.

Father Perie was not just a mere minister in a marriage of his Christians, he was the loco parentis. It was a Chinese custom in those days that parents arranged marriages for their children, and the male party had to "pay" a wedding basket. In the Mission, there were many young men who had come from China to make a living, and were without a single relation. And as Father Perie became their paternal custodian, he was obliged to make the customary arrangements for the marriage, which included discussing...the wedding basket.

"When I wanted to marry (give into marriage) one of my Christian boys, I had to go to Town to ask for a convent girl, bringing with myself the young man. A Religious (nun) (would then) call a young girl. They would then talk and, after eight to 15 days of prayers and reflection, both gave or refused their consent to the superior in charge. The parents of the young man and I would then have to decide what to give for the wedding basket."

A Christian wedding in Bukit Timah, like all Chinese weddings, must include the customary Chinese dinner...

"The wedding day is always a big feast day for Chinese pagans or Christians. All the parents and friends would be invited, and I have seen tables for 150 people. If they have many invited, they would be considered 'high class' and would have more friends. At the wedding dinner, everyone must give at least half a dollar. The men are always separated from the women. I was invited often to bless wedding dinners. There were no tables, nor chairs, nor benches, but some big square mats (were placed on the ground, taking the place of tables). On them were placed for each person two small sticks to eat the meat (chopsticks), a wooden spoon to drink the gravy and a cup to drink the rice alcohol or brandy. The food is placed on plates in the middle of the mats. All the meat is cut into small pieces. Taking turns, each would take a piece of meat and a spoonful of gravy and drink a cup of wine. They eat a lot of meat prepared with chilli; so hot that I was never able to eat any. At the end of the meal, they eat a bowl of rice. When I was invited, they prepared for me roasted meat and rice. After the meal, the pagan man takes his bride, holding her hands and presents her to the friends. They go around, saluting everyone. Then, the oldest one who knows how to write, takes a big piece of paper to certify the wedding for the archive of the family. "

Christians, being the minority on the island, faced many difficulties. And this included finding a Christian partner for marriage. But more often than not, one of the partners would not be a Catholic, and this created many problems for Father Perie. This cannot be more clearly illustrated than when one of his catechists chose a non-Christian girl to be his life partner. Father Perie instructed and baptised her. A great number of the Chinese pagans packed the church on the wedding day.

"The church was full. I gave a good sermon on marriage and they listened well. After the mass, I blessed all the mats for dinner. In the evening, the 12-year-old sister of the bride, Gek-Mio, who had followed the catechism of her sister, wanted to remain with her and to be baptised. The father, who was a strong pagan, was furious. I talked to him, telling him that I did not push his daughter to do so, (but at the same time reminding him that) she was already 12, and has the freedom to decide what she wanted to do with her life, according to English law. The father later died a pagan, and Gek-Mio became a fervent Christian, and a good mother..."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'A Chinese Christian marriage'. Print Edition | Subscribe