Wednesday 2 May 2018

A Traditional Yemeni Wedding

A wedding is a joyful is a joyful celebration and considered a welcome opportunity for a social gathering. Customs and traditions are different from one country to another, and many Yemeni customs may seem strange to a Western visitor. Among these is the fact that bride and bridegroom are selected by their respective parents.

In a strict society such as that of Yemen it is easy to see why parents are essential to the choice of a suitable marriage partner. With the exception of relationships within the family, daily life is based on a strict separation of the sexes. A young man has little or no chance of meeting women, particularly those of his own generation. Instead, he has to rely on the advice of his mother of older sisters and aunts.

The bride search: When looking for a bride, the mother and father of the son have to work closely together, as each of them knows one half of the neighbouring families. When the son has reached marriageable age (usually around 17 to 19), the mother looks out for a suitable or from their own family. The marriage of cousins is permitted and practised within Islam. The mother knows the women of the neighbourhood very well. After all, they meet almost daily for the tafrita, the comfortable social gathering of women where the latest news and gossips are swapped. Once the mother has formed her own opinion, she confers with her husband, who knows the male side of the other family very well. The dignity and status of the house from which the prospective daughter-in-law may come are carefully examined. Only when father and mother are of one mind do they consult their son. It could well be possible that he knows the young woman slightly especially if she is one of his relatives. However, it is possible that he knows nothing about her.

A day is set for the father and son to go to the house of the bride's family in order to discuss the matter. This gives the future bride, who usually already knows what the visit means, the chance to take a look at her suitor. She may even have the opportunity of serving tea or qishr to the visitors. Of course she will remain heavily veiled. Usually, she will know much more about him than he will about her. Men are simply more visible in public than women.

Once the father of the son has made his suggestion or choice, the potential father in law will ask for some time to think it over and to discuss it with his family. He will also mention that he will first ask his daughter if she agrees to the choice of suitor. Once all parties are in agreement, a time is fixed for the betrothal.

The betrothal: The betrothal feast is set for a Thursday or a Friday. Father and son, accompanied by three or four male friends or relations, visit the house of the father of the bride bringing raisins, qat and other gifts. The engagement ring is handed over to the father, together with clothes for the mother and daughter. Dates for the mother and daughter. Dates for wedding are considered, and the bride price is decided upon. The major part of the bride price, which is paid by the father of the bridegroom, is later spent on jewelry and clothes for the bride. 

Valuable things bought with the bride-price remain the private property of the woman, which the husband cannot touch even after many years of marriage. It functions as a sort of insurance policy and remains entirely the woman?s property even after a possible divorce.

The betrothal ceremony's is very informal and verbal. Often the bride price has not been collected yet, and the parties have agreed on a time by which the money shall have been saved up to the agreed amount. Even so, the betrothal is considered a firm promise between two families to marry their children. A withdrawal or a severe loss of face by the family in question. A three-day wedding: The wedding will last for at least three days on Friday, the free day of the week in Yemen. On Wednesday after-noon the marriage contract is signed and concluded in the bride's house. The bridegroom and the father sit opposite one another in the presence of the qadi, an Islamic scholar of the law. The bridegroom then asks his future father-in law: "Will you give me your daughter in marriage?" The father of the bride answers for his daughter: "Yes, I will give you my daughter to wife." The qadi then has to ask the father if his daughter agrees to the arranged marriage. Bridegroom and father clasp right hands. The qadi lays a white clothe over their hands and recites the fatiha, the first sura of the Koran.

The ceremony reaches its height when the father of the bridegroom throws a handful of raisins onto the carpet. All those present try to pick up as many raisins as possible for they are signs of a happy future for the couple. According to another custom, all those present give larger or smaller amounts of money, which are called out one after the other by a crier. The money is intended to cover the cost of the lavish wedding celebrations.

Laylat az-Zaffa, the most important and most public part of the wedding celebrations, takes place on Friday. The butchers come very early in the morning to prepare the meat for the lavish wedding feast. Several sheep and possibly even a calf have been purchased for the meal. Sometimes a hundred or more guests are invited for lunch and an afternoon qat gathering among the men is a common procedure.
Women from the neighbourhood arrive more often than not bringing their kitchen utensils in order to help with the tedious preparations. Several rooms, sometimes even in separate houses, are prepared for the men go to the mosque before the midday meal and say their midday prayers. On the way back, the bridegroom, wearing a traditional brand-new costume and carrying a golden sword in his hands, is accompanied by dancing singing men. Drums provide the beat for the dance. The meal itself is eaten, as usual, in a customary squatting position on the floor.

In the afternoon, the guests sit in various rooms or even on various floors. All of them chew qat and smoke the narhgile. Incense burners fueled by glowing charcoal release the scent of the incense and are passed from recites old poems, with the guests joining him from time to time. The recitation contains reminders of Islamic duties and wish the new couple Allah's blessing and a long happy married life. Whenever the qadi takes a break, a man plays the lute and sings wedding songs. Sometimes he is accompanied by the other guests using hand drums or cymbals.

*culled from

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