Marriage Traditions in Tihama [Archives:1999/24/Culture]

June 14 1999

#3 of a Series: 
Marriage traditions in Yemen are more or less the same in their general outlines. However, they differ from place to place in their specific details, especially in the wedding ceremonial rituals. 
Hodeidah governorate, geographically known as Tihama or the hot region, has a number of marriage traditions and rituals of its own. So let us take a look at these rituals and traditions in the Tihama region. 
Like many places in Yemen in the past, marriage was more a family affair than an individual issue. In fact, this is still the case in many rural places even in our present time. The question when to marry or who to marry are still decided by the family in general and more specifically by the father and then the mother of the young couple. In Tihama area, the topic of this survey, this old tradition is still in vogue, especially in rural areas. Here the bride is entirely chosen by the father or the mother of the bridegroom but before that the search for a bride usually takes time and passes through the following phases: 
Acquaintance Phase 
When the father sees that his son has become marriageable, he starts the search for a suitable wife for his son. When the father, and in some cases the mother, decides on a particular family they start to get acquainted with the girl’s family, if this family is not known to the boy’s family. The most important question the boy’s family would ask is about the girl’s family’s place in society. Does the girl hail from a respectable family? Does the family keep a clean ancestral record? etc. Sometimes this process could take a long time and it is often the father and not the son who should be satisfied with the girl’s family. Once satisfied, the father would ask someone in the village or the town to act as a go-between or mediator between the two families. This is called in Tihama “Almansoub,” who would go to the girl’s family and inform them of the boy’s family’s wish to propose that their daughter marry the son. 
It is an established tradition that the girl’s father receives Almansoub cordially and after hearing him out he would ask him politely to come back after two days to get their final answer. Here the girl’s family would start asking about the boy’s family, especially their social and financial situations. If everything turns well they would give their okay to Almansoub when he comes back at the appointed time. Then he will communicate the good news to the boy’s father, who pays a visit to his son’s future father in law. The two sides will begin discussing the financial questions in regard to what’s known in Muslim countries as the dowry, better known in Arabic as Al-Maher Wa Al-Shart. Unlike in the old days, many fathers often ask too much from the boy’s father and that’s why many marriageable girls are not wedded yet, due to the greed of their fathers. 
Preparations for Marriage 
However, when the two families conclude the question of Almaher Wa Alshart and also the costs related to the wedding day, then serious preparations for marriage begin. First of all, the religious clerk responsible for writing down the Marriage Bond, known in Arabic as “Al-Ma’dhoon” has to be invited to do his job. The writing of the marriage bond is usually a happy occasion. It takes place at the house of the girl’s father and the day of the wedding party is fixed at this occasion. Women raise shrill voices of joy and happiness cheering the girl on her happy day. 
Then invitations are sent to family members, neighbors and friends to attend the wedding party. For this purpose a vast tent is erected outside the house of the bride to accommodate the guests and the people invited for the wedding day. In other places like Sanaa the wedding day is celebrated inside houses, either the family’s, relatives or inside a house rented for such occasions. In Tihama they call this tent Makhdarah, and it is made out of wood and straw and decorated with colorful lights. In the Makhdara, guests are received and offered full dishes of different foods, especially meat dishes. 
The host’s prestige in this occasion depends very much on the number of heads of cattle he slaughters and the quality of the guests invited. Beds made of wood and straw mats are scattered all over Makhdarah and provide comfortable seats for the gathering of qat chewers. Local singers or chanters known in the Tihama as Munshideen are always present on such occasions to enliven and cheer the wedding party with their lovely Tihami songs. They are escorted by Al-Kassabeen or flute players and drummers. Moved by this beautiful musical show, some people, especially the young, would jump up to their feet and start performing original Tihami dances characterized with a swift and breath-taking bodily motions. 
If the bridegroom company is socially important they usually receive new guests with spray of machine gun fire into the air. The afternoon qat chewing gathering lasts till after midnight when the wedding procession or Al-Zaffah begins. This procession is a real carnival of music, dancing, chants and cheering cries. This procession stops at the house of the bride, who is by now prepared to be taken away. In Tihama, the means of taking the bride away is very peculiar and completely Tihami. A camel is kept for this occasion, to carry the bride to her future and eternal abode. 
By- Saleh Abdulbaqi 
Yemen Times