Wedding Customs in Socotra include circumcision [Archives:2008/1172/Reportage]

July 14 2008

Sultan Qutran
For the Yemen Times

In Socotra, it's not only the weather that changes during the windy season of June to September – people's lives change too. You rarely find a man on Socotra during this season, as they start their annual migration to the province of Hadramout, to which the island of Socotra belongs. This period of migration during the windy season was inherited from ancestors and Socotra residents are still keen to abide by it.

After the four months end, celebrations and wedding ceremonies are held by Socotran families to celebrate their return back home. Houses are cleaned and women dress in their most beautiful clothes for the reception of the returning migrants on the other bank of the island, where wind doesn't affect planes' landings.

While marriage customs and traditions in Yemen vary from one city to another, there is something specific about weddings in the Socotran community that differs from that of other regions.

Proposal ceremony

A groom's father, in the company of a small group of people, goes to the bride's father home to propose marriage. Once the proposal day is decided, the groom's relatives bring the engagement ring and agree that the engagement period should not last more than 10 days. Next, they decide on the dowry, which costs island inhabitants around YR 50,000 to YR 100,000, usually in the form of clothing and jewelry. Some choose to perform the proposal and wedding ceremonies all in one day to get the whole process concluded quickly.

Wedding Ritual for men

The main difference in weddings on Socotra for men is the circumcision process the bridegroom conducts before his marriage. This is one of the most prevalent wedding rituals on Socotra. Two weeks or a month before marriage, the groom who is about to be married is circumcised in front of small gathering of people near his house. If the man screams or moves out of pain during the operation, it is considered shameful for him, as his future wife will not feel proud of his patience and courage. Therefore, the man who is going to be circumcised puts henna into his hair in the eve of the circumcision so that his hair stays fixed and doesn't move. After the circumcision, the man walks on foot to his house with circumcision blood dripping.

The rural wedding rituals differ from the coastal weddings in that the guests give a gift of sheep to the groom and have lunch at his house. Then they congratulate the bridegroom by tapping the groom repeatedly on his shoulder or by shaking hands and putting their noses against the groom's.

After lunch, the guests start reciting poetry until the afternoon prayers. After prayers, they resume showing off the rich heritage of their poems, which closely resemble traditional Hadrami music, and expressions that describe the environment and life of Socotra's people. By the sunrise the next day, the groom makes his excuses and leaves. The guests then feast on rice and meat, while congratulating the absent groom. In the coastal and urban areas, however, the groom's relatives and neighbors serve lunch to the guests and take their gifts: meat, rice, sheep, and oil. No sooner is lunch finished than the drum's sound is heard, along with words sung in Socotra language by the percussionist: “Hawoo, waway Hawawy – Nofohere Shaher Men Kablow, Nafak Sher Men Kablow.” These words tell the groom that he has married on a blessed day. Then comes another phrase, “Taher Harzman Deadfanah” which means that the old days have now passed. Other words are said and more poems are delivered while the groom is dressed in his formal wedding clothes.

After the groom has dressed