Singi Sherpa, the matchmaker
Mingyur: At what age did you start working as a mikten (matchmaker)?
Singi Sherpa: During my father’s time there was no mikten in our village, and they had to find one, when they needed a bride for their son. Later, when the committees were formed, they requested three-four of us to become miktens. I was 27 years old, when I started, and now I am 54 years old. When people from the groom’s side ask us, what we think about the bride’s background, we would not really make a decision, instead, we would tell them to find out about the culture and customs of the bride’s family, which always makes the process easier. During the marriage ceremony we have the custom called karma lojang. That time we need to prepare babar (bread made of rice flour) and take it to the bride’s family. Friends sometimes say, it is pretty complicated, and we should do the custom of la instead. The custom of la is, when on the same day of marriage ceremony karma lojang as well as toljang is arranged and two and half kg of mar (H. ghee) is offered to the bride’s family. Three pathi of rice, one ja barchung and one packet of salt for karma lojang, this way karma lojang is performed as well. This custom is followed in the mountains. In lower places there is a custom of making babar, but in the context of other villages we, the mikten need to be prepared and know the local customs, and only then are we ready for the marriage process. We go from the groom’s side to the bride’s place, and we would stand outside, singing silu. Then one of the mikten would go inside and call the groom to come inside to stay with the bride. Then we sing for the bride to come out, and the bride’s people from inside sing saying that they cannot let their daughter go. At the end, when the groom’s side sings, that they offer shalgar (wooden flask filled with local liqueur) to bring the bride out, then the bride comes out, and the groom’s people would take the bride to his place by singing and dancing. Actually, the brothers should be the mikten, but if they don’t have the knowledge of acting as a mikten, then we do it for them.
Q: Now you are a mikten, but how did you start? Who was your teacher?
A: My teacher was Ang Dawa’s father, who is same age as me; I don’t know where he himself learnt it. Being a lama’s son he was familiar with this custom from an early age, but I was ignorant about it. One day we had a talk, and he suggested to me to learn about it, because he was not able to act as mikten all the time. What he said was, that he cannot act as a mikten on his own son’s wedding, however, I could be the mikten there, and on my son’s wedding I cannot be the mikten, there should be someone else. Since then, I started learning about mikten and the songs as well. Therefore, he is my teacher. You need certain skills and talent, but practicing makes one better and better.
Q: Don’t you know, who his teacher was?
A: No, I don’t know. No idea, who did it before Ang Dawa’s father. He was my teacher.
Q: What are the qualities one needs to become a mikten?
A: In the past there used to be stories about it, but I have no idea about these old stories. People would ask you: “Where are you going?” And you would say: “Going to see a new bride.” But I don’t know how they did it exactly in the past. Nowadays, the boy and the girl already know each other, and we, the mikten don’t need to make an effort to arrange a meeting. Many years ago, there were marriages, where the boy and the girl would meet first time only on the ceremony, and the boy would pull the girl the way he liked, and put yarka (N. tika) on her. These days it has changed completely.
Q: How difficult is it to be a mikten?
A: It was difficult in the past, but now it is much easier. In the past, marriage was very difficult without permission. They would throw stones at us. I did not have that experience when being a mikten, but I have been on such a wedding as a member of the groom’s side, when we were almost hit by a stone. These are very difficult situations, in such case the groom should take the risk, he is risking everything and everyone. Now it’s very easy and easy for everyone. Now it is just about following the rules and it’s done.
Q: Is a mikten always a man or it could be also a woman?
A: I haven’t seen any women being a mikten yet.
Q: Is it possible for a woman to become a mikten?
A: A woman could also act as a mikten, if she dared. Regarding women’s rights, they should be allowed to do it, why should we be afraid. Women might not be so good in talking fluently about traditional and cultural customs though. For example, there is a melam (giving blessing) to the bride and groom; I guess that part would be difficult to do for a woman. Otherwise women are able to do the same as men in every sector of life. Old women might not be able to do this, but young women could.
Q: Are you invited outside your village as well, or only in your native place? Which other villages would invite you?
A: Yes, we are invited by other villages sometimes, not often though. Most recently we went to a nearby village called Sathili. You must have heard Kharchung, yes, there is a village called Kharka which is down from Kolama village. From Kharka a bride was brought to Kharchung. One of our villager’s daughter got married to someone in the other village. Maiti (the bride’s side) told the groom’s side to come along with singing silu, but they had no idea about the silu, so they said they will bring the bride, but they don’t know, how to sing the silu. They are our brothers (they belong to the same clan), so one of our brothers made a phone call to the groom’s side and told them that they have to pay some money for us, and then we will be there to sing the silu. There are two gobas (leaders) in our group, who told us to go there for silu. The bride’s parents were not so familiar with the silu, so they told us to do a simple process according to the rules. In our culture, until we finish collecting khada (ceremonial silk scarf) , the shyabru (dance) cannot be started. Their side started dancing earlier, but we made it clear to them, that there won’t be any dance until we finish our work. We also told them, that after we finished everything, we, the mikten will sing one song, then the janti (groom’s side) should sing one song, and the maiti (bride’s side) should sing one song. We told them, that dance should not be started until lunch, and they followed the rules. When we are successful mikten, we are able to bring a bride also from Kathmandu and Nagi, they all follow our village culture.
Q: What are the most important procedures for successfully conducting a marriage?
A: There aren’t many procedures. If both the parents understand each other, there is no hassle. Mutual understanding between the parents is important. As you know, we don’t have a culture of giving away much, the people who have quite enough, will definitely give.
Q: Not every marriage ceremony is successful, some might fail, right? Have you had unsuccessful marriage ceremonies as well?
A: When the bride’s family is not happy and satisfied, then it is unsuccessful.
Q: What can be the cause of dissatisfaction?
A: When we can’t fulfill their demand. We have to have a sumden (money) to distribute to their relatives, for all the maitis. After all the maitis sit down, the mikten stands and explains them clearly, how much will be given as sumden regarding our culture for taking the bride. We give sumden according to our custom, but if the maiti feels, there is a lack of sumden, then the maiti can complain for one week after, and maybe succeed in getting more. Giving sumden without reasoning can cause difficulties, but sumden with explanation should be ok, and they would be satisfied.
Q: Do you know other miktens from the past, can you name them?
A: There is only one Meme up there I know. He is not that active any more.
Q: I meant to ask about anyone who was really popular before?
A: I don’t know anyone.
Q: What is the difference between the role of mikten now and in the past?
A: There is a difference, of course. Previously the bride was brought in, and blessing was given to her and her relatives, and once the bride’s side left, the mikten had no more role. There weren’t many khatas. There used to be a khata called ‘tsampa khata’ only for the bride and the groom, there was no khata for the mikten. These days, we offer them khata and they give us khata, and the khatas are a lot more attractive. They can cost 200, 250, 500 NRs, and they give a special khata for the mikten. The khata they give us is the same quality as the one offered to the bride and groom, but it has different color. It is very long, from the neck it reaches the foot. There was no khata given to the mikten in the past, but there is khata for the mikten at present. There was seat for the mikten in the past, but nowadays there is a brumsi (carpet) for the mikten to sit on. These are the main differences.
Q: Now you are still keeping this custom alive, but what do you think about the next generation, will they be able to continue?
A: That’s a serious concern, we often talk about it. We are here now, and we will continue as long as we live, but young people are not concerned about culture and customs. Some go to India, some go to become kheba (artists, esp. thangka painters), but they are not into culture much. They don’t learn how to dance, we would (older generation) often go to other villages, dance and sing. Young people do these things only if we ask them to join, otherwise they don’t turn to us to learn them.
Mingyur: Thank you for sharing your views with us.
Mikten: Thank you!