Marriage Rituals in Lahj [Archives:2000/18/Culture]

May 1 2000

Saleh Abdulbaqi
For the first time, we discover that beauty does not require schools in which to be taught. We stood startled facing one of the most beautiful paintings embodied in the rituals of the Yemeni Weddings. We have learned a lot about the Yemeni weddings several years ago during the first festival for Yemeni weddings. That festival has relieved the people from the burdens caused by the decaying economic conditions.
The traditional arts have a great impact in reconceptualizing our understanding of the present and in enhancing our future. Traditional weddings reveal the secrets of people’s souls and show their roots in the history. Both men and women, participate in these weddings portraying a picture that their ancestors have left for them and, at the same time, they embody the genuineness and distinction of the Yemeni civilization in all ages.

In this issue we shall fly together to the governorate of Lahj and give you some delightful pictures of the Yemeni traditional weddings in Lahj. If you were to visit Lahj, the first things that would impress you are men’s traditional dress “Maqtab” or “Mewaz” (a rectangular piece of cloth with several variegations usually fixed tight around the waist while the rest of it falls loose few centimeters below the knees). In this district there is one very famous brand of the “Maqtab”, artificially made, is named ‘Al-Soaydoni’ and is sold in one shop in the main road of the Al-Hawtah city, Lahj. Usually, people of Lahj use a certain type of belts called “Al-Kabir” to tie the “Maktab” to their waists. In addition, they wear turbans “Mashadah” or “Imamah” which are made of pure silk. There are many kinds of turbans in Lahj, some of which are made of pure silk and is usually green, red or yellow. On the other hand, some other kinds are made of blue cotton and khaki. Furthermore, there is one very famous manner of wearing turbans named “Al-Abdalliyah” in which people leave on of the turban’s ends stand out in the form of an open rose. The people of Lahj are also known for their “Janbia” which is unique in their district.
According to the local traditions of Lahj, first the family of the groom chooses a family from which they want their son to marry. Then the mother or sister of the groom or both go the bride’s family and speak to the mother of their interest of marrying their son to her daughter. After the primary agreement on the dowry and married couple house etc, the mother delivers the good news to the bride. Then, the mother tells the father of his daughter’s marriage news. Next, after the father agrees to the marriage, the groom’s family is informed of the acceptance. After that both families agree on the wedding day and the next stage of the Lahji wedding begins.

Wedding ceremony in Lahj
The wedding celebrations in Lahj have a special flavor where the festivities for the bride continue for three days whereas the groom’s last for two days only.
On the first day of the bride’s festival, you would find the bride’s house full of women from all over the area and neighboring villages including family members and relatives. Usually, different women continuously perform some Lahji folklore dance while others sing amongst the pleasant smell of incense and perfumes. During the ceremony, tea, coffee, water and water pipes are served. On the first day for the groom, which is the second for the bride, the groom celebrates this occasion amongst his friends, acquaintances and relatives in similar atmospheres. During the celebration the groom wears special traditional costumes like the “Maktab”, “Imamah”, “Janbia” and “Dismal”. Then he leaves out to the celebration yard accompanied by his family members, relatives, drummer and dancers. Meanwhile, the invited women would be standing in the balconies and roofs of neighboring houses trilling long and short cries of joy in a startling harmony as if it was a musical symphony. The groom and his companions continue their dancing and singing for a while before going to the groom’s house. There, guests sit in a special room prepared for chewing Qat and listening to Lahji folklore music and dance. On the second day, another party takes place which is named “Al-Henna” which is the “Bath Day”. In the morning, the groom is bathed and adorned with Henna. The groom leaves the house with his companions who usually hold swords in their hands while dancing. When drums are beaten, the groom is adorned with Henna, anointed and bathed while the smoke of incense rises on his sides. After that, the popular folklore dance “Al-Bara’a” where four men carrying swords perform this dance. Then two of them start displaying some of their martial arts using their swords in a friendly combat showing their will to defend the groom. Finally, the groom is taken back home with the dancers until he enters his room.
As for bride, this is considered her wedding night, know by local women as “Al-Zakrah” and different forms of celebrations take place. The bride is adorned with “Khidab” on both her hands and arms which is very famous in Lahj. In the morning, women come from everywhere to participate in the celebration of the wedding night. Usually, a woman from the bride’s relatives approaches the bride and covers her with green variegated expensive piece of cloth. Then women start singing folklore songs and dance “Al-Mayha” and “Al-Markih”. This latter, which is also called “Al-Sultania” has a slow tempo where two women dance together at a time. Both women would tie the “Makramah” (a certain type of veils) around their head leaving a loose end with which they cover their face. They often have anklets on their legs that make sounds while they dance gracefully. After that, the bride is escorted to the bathroom where she is washed. Then, she comes out from her bath wearing light clothes and there would be lots of incense smoke and perfume odors in the air. All this is done while two women dance “Al-Dawa’an” and “Al-Mayha”. Meanwhile, the bride puts on her traditional gorgeous white clothes and she often wears a gold or sliver belt and silver traditional necklace. At this time the groom arrives accompanied by drummers and dancers to take his bride to their new home. Afterward, the bride’s maid announces the names of the women who have supported the bride. In the meantime, the two families exchange greetings and congratulations. Next, the bride’s father takes the bride inside the house while his companions “Al-Shawa’ah” wait outside. Inside the house, the father rubs the groom’s hands on his daughter’s head.
According to the traditions of Lahj, the grooms have to slaughter sheep on the front door of his bride’s house otherwise he should give up his Janbia or sword before he could enter. Similarly, the bride cannot go out with him before he fulfills this condition. Afterwards, a maid carries a wooden box that contains the bride’s clothes and her belongings to her husband’s house. Meanwhile both the bride and the groom are put inside a Howdaj (a seat or platform placed on the back of a camel) on a camel. Again escorted by drummer dancersetc the bride and the groom are taken to their house where their room would be prepared for them. At this point, the groom has to present his bride’s dowry or else he should give up his Janbia or sword. After that, he can accompany his bride to their room where they spend the happiest night in their lives.

The day after wedding night “Al-Sobhiyah”:
The day after the wedding night, people come to congratulate the happy couple. A lunch party is held in the groom’s house for the relatives and families of the married couple. Then in the afternoon, a celebration is held for the groom. Women come to congratulate her after her wedding night. Usually the bride wears green silk variegated clothes and covers her head with a pricey veil of the same color along with different kinds of brilliant jewelry. Afterwards, drums are beaten and women start singing and dancing different types of folklore dance like “Al-Markih”, “Al-Mayha” and “Al-Shadih”. Meanwhile, the groom enters the room which is full of women and dances with his bride “Al-Mayha” and “Al-Shadih” then he leaves the room letting the women finish their celebration.
Finally, with these rituals, the traditional Lahji wedding ends leaving behind its strong marks in the history of the traditional wedding rituals in Lahj.