Hineksa’ Sinagan (Wedding Rice Pyramid). Illustration by Jessica Chan

A wedding gift of rice

Rice was an important ceremonial food during ancient times in the Mariana Islands.  At a wedding party, which usually took place in the morning at the bride’s parent’s house, her mother presented the bride to the groom and the couple was officially married.

Breakfast was then served on pandanus mats under a palapåla (temporary shelter). The groom’s relatives were seated, first the women and then the men, in order of their rank. Then the bride’s relatives were seated in the same manner.

The mother of the bride and groom were the highest-ranking guests. They were served hineksa’ nina’i, a large pyramid-shaped rice cake, which had been placed on a woven platter called satghe, which was supported by a litter carried by two men. The mothers of the bride and groom then presented the hineksa’ nina’i to the eldest sisters of their husbands. They, in turn, sent the gift to the eldest sisters of their husbands. The presentation of the hineksa’ nina;i continued in this way until it reached the oldest woman of each family. These elders would then serve it to all the relatives that it had been presented to. They alone could serve the rice cake.

Next, the second ranked guests would be served patcha, which were smaller pyramid shaped rice cakes. Finally, hufot, a small circular rice cake about two inches thick wrapped in a leaf, were presented to the least-distinguished guests.

By Shannon J. Murphy

For further reading

Cunningham, Lawrence J. Ancient Chamorro Society. Honolulu: Bess Press, 1992.