Traditional Marriage in Shabwah [Archives:2001/36/Reportage]

September 3 2001

Nasser Abdullah Nasser Salah
Wherever you go all round Yemen you will be pleased to find out that there are plentiful of traditions, conventions and customs of an authentic Yemeni original flavor. It is worth mentioning that two governorates of Yemen are quite different than all the rest in terms of customs and traditions. Those are Shabwah and Mahweet.
In fact, “happy Yemen” or the “Arabian Felix” is definitely well-known throughout history with its traditions and customs. A variety of folkloric and cultural customs and activities make Yemen a unique country in quality and taste in the Arabian Peninsula.
Marriage ceremonies in Shabwah are considered one of those unique distinguishments of Shabwah governorate in Yemen. Here I will present the marriage ceremonies and customs in Shabwah in general and “Al-Said” district “Awaliq area” in particular.
Wedding festivities in Shabwah usually have marvelous public performances held outdoors. The festivities of men are separate than those of women, but truly lively rejoicing do take place in such ceremonies.
People from both genders join in the wedding festivities in Shabwah in the hundreds coming from many different villages to bless the wedding and take part in the wedding ceremonies.
Incense-pots are held proudly in hands puffing out around the smoke of Arabian olibanum as well as the best quality of scented Indian sandalwood and native made incense. Heavy and light perfumes are sprayed and perfumed to send out along the sweet and pleasant scented smell. Children from the different villages also add a unique touch to the festivities.
Moreover, young girls have their hands painted with henna, and have their hands and arms black-dyed and decorated with attractive shapes and designs, let alone jewelries of gold and silver that are dressed on.
Harmonious sweet sounds in chorus are wonderfully sung accompanied by tuned drums beating wind pipes or flutes playing, hands clapping in addition to certain bird-like sound called “zugradeh”. All together, those activities create a warm atmosphere of loneliness, soulful of people, sounds of musical instruments are accompanied harmonies to be interpreted to a society of a sweet and tuneful theme reflecting the symphony of love and life faithfuchaste, purity, forgiveness and innocence of hearts proceedings of marriage:
At first consultation and preliminary meetings between bride’s family as a first party and bridegroom’s as a second so as to reach an understanding. Sometimes payment reaches upto YR 1.5 million. After a short period of time the engagement is officially and publicly announced in the presence of relatives from both families. Only then are fruit drinks served as an indication that things have been settled and it is time to celebrate. Cakes and biscuits are served in the bride’s house where songs are sung to celebrate the occasion.
In less than a year following the engagement of the future bride and groom, the two sides are to meet at the presence of a religious sheikh “Ma’doon” of the village or province to get permission for a marriage legality. Such measures are to be conducted by bride’s father or who represents her along with the bridegroom himself accompanying of relatives. In the following day’s morning around 20 to 50 men are to move in a group with their rifles on their shoulder to meet the bride’s family and relatives.
The group from the groom heads to the bride’s house with up to 5 cars. Once they arrive at the bride’s house, the bride’s relatives open fire in the air to greet and receive the groom’s representatives, shaking their hands, and warmly welcoming them at the house’s door. Then breakfast is served to the guests in the form of bread with honey along with sesame oil. Later on, and after staying until noon, the guests along with all invitees and neighbors are served lunch consisting of various dishes including the main course of rice with meat.
Following this event, the pre-wedding festivities are held by both sides for three days. Accordingly ceremonies take place including gatherings of the two families in large numbers men and women separately and enjoying their nights in joyful “Samrahs”. Groups both men and female sing and have a wonderful time with each other and spend long nights celebrating the coming wedding. Drummers move and play with their drums joyfully and activity between the two lines in the same manner. Moreover, a certain dance called “Sharah” adds great delight to the Samrah as drums and flutes are played, hands are clapping, and men dancing.
A number of sheeps, goats and camels are butchered and cooked either rousted or served with soup for lunch during those three days. Meanwhile a large number of people are invited to attend the pleasure and sit to the wedding banquet. Such feasts are served by the two sides one far men at the bridegroom’s place and one another for women at the bride’s. Those are called “Hanns”.
Finally, on the fourth day’s night the bridegroom and his relatives are accompanied by a number of people, whose rifles are held on shoulders heading in procession of 15-20 cars for the bride, blowing horns along the way repeating some songs concerned marriage. On arrival firing to the air is witnessed and they walk slowly hand in hand in groups saying some tuneful rhymed verses; said by present reputed poets, accompanied by drums “Zamel”. Afterwards, the bride’s relatives greet the guests and a word of welcome is said, while the bride is prepared to leave to her new residence next to her husband. Dancing, singing, drum beating and clapping are conducted while the bride is being bid farewell by her relatives and parents. The bride usually cries as she leaves her home and is giving away in a slow walk to the car assigned. The group of cars drive to the groom’s house in large numbers in a fashion similar to that when they were on their way to the bride’s house. All wedding celebrations end once the bride arrives to her new house and on the following day, other post-wedding cultural activities also occur.