Saturday January 15, 2005
A Cambodian princess marries
Story & Pictures by KEE HUA CHEE
When you are the niece of a newly crowned king, you can be assured of a fairy tale wedding. And so it was for Cambodian princess Sirikith Lilly Sisowath when she tied the knot with American Charles Melvin Hyde on Dec 16.
Sirikith is daughter to Princess Norodom Arunrasmy and Prince Srirath Sisowath. Her mother is the daughter of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, half-sister to King Sihamoni and Cambodia's ambassador to Malaysia.
Queen Monique blessing the couple.
Arun is now married to Keo Puth Reasmey, himself a former ambassador to Malaysia, so it was little wonder that a group of 20 from Malaysia flew to Phnom Penh for the three-day wedding. Among them were Sally Tun Ghafar Baba and husband Sobri Abdullah, Perak royalty Raja Nazatulshima (Tengku Dotty) and BML founder Becky Leogardo and partner Michael Mantz.
The first blessing ceremony took place in the guest house inside the grand palace complex where Sihamoni lives with his parents. Groom Hyde prostrated before Arun and Srirath to ask for their daughter’s hand.
Queen Mother Monique then appeared before the hundreds of guests. “This is an exceptional honour as Queen Monique normally does not attend the first ceremony involving parents,” explained Arun.
A golden cushion was placed for the Queen to prostrate herself – first to a jade statue of the Buddha and then to the five monks. In Cambodia, even the King and Queen bow low to clergymen.
Nine couples formed a ring around the bride and groom who sat in the centre. Each couple was carefully selected based on stringent criteria.
The bride and groom, Princess Sirikith Lilly and American Charles Melvin Hyde.
“Not only must husband and wife be married for at least 20 years, theirs must be a first marriage and neither should be a divorcee,” explained Sally who, along with Sobri, her husband of 28 years, was one of the nine couples.
Three lit candles were passed from one person to another within the circle. Each held the candle in the left hand, blessed it in a circular motion with the right fingers before passing it on. The three candles were circulated thrice and remained lit throughout – an auspicious sign that heralded a lasting marriage.
Monique then entered the circle to bless her granddaughter and Hyde, her new grandson-in-law. Her Majesty then left in a Peugeot sedan with the plate number 004.
After brunch, Sirikith and Hyde led the procession towards the nearby throne hall of the Golden Palace. Here, Sihamoni waited to greet his niece, members of the court and the Malaysian guests.
The spectacular hall glittered with murals depicting Khmer legends while apsaras (divine female beings) and garudas (mythic giant raptors) flourished above. At the far end, the 51-year-old Sihamoni (a name taken from Sihanouk and Monique) stood garbed in Western suit. Princes and princesses of the realm and family members wore formal court attire.
“When we are in the presence of the king, women have to wear a white lacy blouse and men, a white jacket,” Arun explained later. “The colour of the pants depends on the day. As the day was Thursday, our pants were green. On Friday it’s blue, on Sunday it’s red and so on.”
Ten metres before reaching the king, everyone went down on their knees to crawl towards him. Though unused to Cambodian court etiquette, the Malaysian contingent too knelt but a courtier ran up to inform us that Sihamoni had given us special dispensation to stand. Phew!
King Sihamoni blessing the couple. (Princess Arunrasmy seated on far left.)
The bride and groom knelt before Sihamoni who sprinkled them with water and rose petals and tied a string on their wrists. “We have to wear these strings until they drop off on their own after several days,” said Sirikith. The king then presented the couple with jewellery.
Evening saw a gala banquet in the state banquet hall inside the Royal Palace hosted by Sihamoni and his parents. A private audience was granted to Leogardo who donated US$10,000 (RM38,000) to Sihanouk's foundation.
After a sumptuous French dinner, Sihanouk took to the microphone to entertain us with his singing. Not a couple of songs, but 18!
The highlight was when he sang Rasa Sayang in honour of the Malaysians, who repaid the tribute by rushing to the floor to dance.
Three of the songs he sang were his own composition, including the finale Monica and The Night I Met You. At the conclusion, Monique took a white lily, walked to the dance floor and went down on her knees to present it to her husband. Everyone cheered.
The following night, Arun and husband hosted a magnificent party at the Intercontinental Phnom Penh for 500. Guests of honour included her brother Prince Ranariddh, president of opposition party FUNCINPEC and his wife Princess Marie. W
How they met
Princess Sirikith Lilly Sisowath, 25, was born in Long Beach, California and currently works as branch manager for Wells Fargo Bank in Long Beach. She is also pursuing a Masters in Business Administration at Pepperdine University.
Basically, she married her boss! Charles Hyde, 31, was Sirikith Lilly’s immediate superior when she started work as a teller in 2000.
Grins Hyde, “It was not exactly love at first sight but close enough. I was branch manager and promoted Lilly to customer service representative. She did so well that when I was transferred to another branch, she became branch manager.”
Though he performed all the Buddhist rites, Hyde is not Buddhist.
“Buddhism is such a gentle, nurturing religion, I was at ease going through the religious ceremonies. I am honoured to be part of the Cambodian royalty who have made me feel so welcome. I kneel before the King and royalty not because I have to but because I want to.”