Marriage customs in Tarim [Archives:2004/777/Culture]

September 30 2004

By Hassan Sa'eed Ba-Udan
For the Yemen Times

The first step for a man to get married in Tarim is to choose for himself a girl, and propose to her family. Then, he sends some of his female relatives to have a look at the girl and provide him with an accurate account of her details. The description includes complexion color, height, face, etc. If the fiancee-to-be consents to the engagement, he commissions someone else to speak to her father and fix the marriage time.
The marriage takes place usually between six months to one year after the engagement party. Sometimes it is put off for more than this period, depending on the readiness of the two sides.
The religious city of Tarim has a unique dowry system, of only about YR 30,000. But this does not mean that the youth have easy access to marriage as there are other obstacles that stand in the way of their marriages. The appalling requirements of the concerned families is by far the biggest obstacle. These requirements usually come from the mothers of the couple. Local women believe in a common proverb that says: “Appear good even if you borrow money.”
The mothers usually have an unfailing ability to fool their husbands and sway them into blind obedience and silence dissent. Nowadays, families vie with each other in terms of the size of marriage expenses and the number of invitees.
But in comparison to other areas, marriage expenses are very little. It is worth mentioning that most families in Tarim live below the poverty line. Consequently, some people have several children but still owe the debt amassed by their marriage.
In my opinion, the effective solution to eradicate this repulsive phenomenon is that the rich should be a model for the poor. They should make their marriages as economic and as frugal as possible.
A few years ago, bridal gold, jewelry and clothes were hired. The bridegrooms attire (a traditional Yemeni outfit, consisting of a sort of a green cloak with a white turban put around a stiff colored cap) was also rented. Nowadays, a few conservative families still use this costume while the majority have abandoned it.
Bridegrooms now buy their clothes from the market. This increases their burden as they are compelled to try to get the most fashionable clothes.
On the unforgettable occasion of marriage, three main meals are served to guests, two of which by the bridegroom's family and the third by the bride's. Each meal costs a lot. It consists mainly of a typical dish of rice with goat meat. These three meals have sometimes been reduced to one, which is cooked beside the wedding house.
There is a two-night ceremony, “Harawa dinner”, that takes place in the bride's house before the nuptial night, or just before having the meal, during which Sesame is distributed to attendees. Instead of holding this session in houses, people now prefer to hold it at mosques since houses are too small to accommodate all the attendees.
On the wedding night, the second meal “Marria dinner” is served to intimate friends and close relatives, while the third meal “subha” is served the next day.
A ceremony in celebration of the wedding night starts one or two hours after having the marria dinner, and lasts until the early hours of the morning. In the past, each clan had its favorite folk dance to celebrate that night. However, now all of the clans have begun to exchange these folk dances among themselves.
During the celebration the bridegroom dances with his friends and folks. Presents and congratulations are given to him on this occasion. At the end of the celebration, the bridegroom sits on a chair or stretches his legs on a bed with the invitees standing around him clapping, dancing and chanting. They also dye his legs and hands with henna.
Women do the same thing with the bride at her house. The bride's female relatives are then given a chance to see her and offer her presents in a private room. After finishing the celebration, the bride is taken by car in a female procession to her husband's house.