Did a man's family acquire a child bride for him because they knew that he was sickly and fated to have a short life? Did they take in a girl of 12 as a bride to help with the family business, as a kind of family slave?
Here is a story of a child bride who was taken in to help the family to make hoong ngang in 5Du , Minqing in the 1930's.
As fate played a kind of hand, the child bride of 15 had to set sail to the unknown Nanyang in 1937.
Chieng Siew King thus migrated to Sibu with her husband Ling Toh Liong, 12 years her senior. It must have been a very daunting journey for her to travel in a small boat for almost a month, first stopping at Hong Kong and then Singapore. She was only 15 years old.
Her husband, ling was born in 1910. The child bride was happy because her husband was educated and had a desk job. She was happy to follow the 27 year old husband. Together with him was his eldest brother and they set sail for Sibu. The couple felt a little safer with 10 other Foochows in the boat.
In Foochow traditional ways, a marriage was recognized after bowing or Buai long ( bowing to ancestral hall), to Heaven and Earth, to the ancestors and to the living parents and relatives.
Chieng, had just bowed to Heaven and Earth with Ling to declare themselves married in the village. She was just too young but was glad that she had a few other women in the same boat. She could have someone to speak to.
The group had left Fuzhou city, a huge city then which was quite near Ngu Du, their village. After they left Mawei, the port, and China, they arrived in Hong kong . From then onwards, she thought she saw places becoming smaller and smaller.
After a month they arrived in a very small town of Sarikei, and then a one street town of Binatang, places with names she could not pronounce. She was glad that Sibu was bigger than Sarikei and Binatang.
She was a child bride, sent to the Ling family at the age of 12. Being big in feet, she was turned into a very strong helper who was asjed ti make Foochow vermicelli the moment she arrived without any wedding ceremony. She had to carry the freshly made rice noodles in large rattan trays to dry in the yard. It seemed that her work could never end. She had to be in the sun most of the time and waited for her in laws to tell her what next to do. Her husband went to school to learn about accounting as he was not a very healthy young man and could not do farmer's work.
Three years later, her in laws told them to migrate to Nanyang to seek their fortune!!
Thus she ended up in Bukit lan to tap rubber for wealthier relative. She would only get 4 sheets while her relative took 6 sheets. Her husband was sent to a sawmill in a place she could not even say the name. It sounded like Simunjan.
While the older brother worked for a rubber planter relative in Bukit Lan, the younger brother went to work for a sawmill for a salary. He came back once a month or once in two months.
Meanwhile Chieng worked very hard to do her share of work to tap rubber, save money, support her absentee husband and their growing family, besides helping the brother in law and his family who lived next door as best as she could.
When Chieng gave birth to 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls, who were very far apart. When she was 33 she gave birth to a daughter and in fact she had another son when she was 42 way past an age for child birth by today's standard. All her children were born at home and she was attended by barefoot midwives who did not come with proper equipment. There were stories of women who gave birth in rubber gardens or by the river side. She was lucky as all her children were born in their own house. In those days, no woman would ever think of going to the hospital to give birth. They were quite comfortable with just a mother in law or a neighbour to help with the child birth!!
By the time she had the youngest child, the couple owned 12 acres of land near Thian Ching Primary School and had sent a son to study in Taiwan. The oldest son was the guru besar of the Thian Chin school from 1972 to 74, the height of the communist insurgency in the Rajang Valley.
While their children were still young, Chieng sent back money to her in laws and other relatives to buy sewing machines as wedding gifts or cash gifts for engagements. She had to really save money by tapping rubber every day, 365 days a year, and planting pepper.
When she was 50 years old her eldest daughter who was already married brought her a Foochow traditional birthday gift of a ceramic picture and hanged it in the living room. It was a sign of achievement. She never thought she would see such a day when her photo could be hanged on the wall. What a proud moment!!
Not long after that, family disunity came about the two brothers had differences and they had to split. The Foochows called that parting of ways as "dui pun dieh doh tiak" or separating the shares of the family. So the older brother took his share of the land and the younger brother had to buy his own rubber garden. But Chieng had been saving her hard earned money and they managed to become independent of the older brother with their own 12 acres of land.
In her twilight years she looked towards the direction of her own home in Fujian and reflected how she became a child bride at the tender age of 12. She marvelled at herself and the long journey she took to the rubber gardens and jungles of Sarawak. She had learned to read a few words or Chinese characters by reading the local Chinese newspapers and by looking at her children's homework.
She was contented that her husband was faithful, kind and responsible. When he died at age 59 and she was only 47, she was inconsolable.
Her fate as a child bride, when compared to many others she knew of, was not bad at all. She had good children and grand children in Sarawak.