Weddings in YemenTraditions and social customs of marriage [Archives:2004/733/Culture]

April 29 2004

Ismail Al-Ghabiri
Wedding ceremonies in Yemen are not much different from those of other Arab countries, particularly those of tribal and rural areas.
Nonetheless, marriage ceremonies in Yemen differ from one area to another. In the northern parts of Yemen the man pays the costs of marriage ceremonies; he pays the dowry, prepares and furnishes the house, and takes care of the wedding banquet. In southern areas, the bride takes to her husband's house all that she'd need (e.g.) bedroom furniture, kitchenware.
Here, we will take an overall look at a particular side of these wedding: the social side. In such side, social solidarity becomes very obvious, where the groom entertains ten to three hundreds person for three continuous days.
Those guests usually come from nearby cities and villages, in addition to groom relatives who would take the hardship of traveling far distance to attend the wedding.
Usually, the groom's neighbors help in preparing banquets for those guest, which is a strong social tradition called “Al-Garm.”
To alarm the neighbor of Al-Garm, the groom's father go to the neighborhood chief who, in his turn, notify everyone in the neighborhood of the kind of food they should prepare like bread, sweets.
However, the responsibility of preparing of the banquet's main meals, likes meats and broth, is the groom's family's. Those meals are usually prepared from the goats and cows that the groom's guests bring along with them.
Al-Mizayn -servant- does the cooking part of those meals. Ash-Showa'ah, a group of the groom's guests, have the duty of going to the brid's house (or village) to accompany her procession to the groom's house.
Even though, a lot of money is spent in such weddings, it is all ok as long as the wedding went on a way that's up to the family or the tribe's honor and nobility. That's because weddings are looked at as important tribal festivals. Nonetheless, one can reduce the cost of wedding according to his financial ability, in some cases wedding would be limited to immediate family members and close friends.

Weddings in Sana'a
Weddings in Sana'a are looked at as a way to vie in glory with others, where the total cost reaches a million YR, more or less.
The wedding ceremonies usually starts with distributing wedding invitations, followed by “Lailat El-Hena” – night of Henna, for both the bride and the groom. In that night, guest must do “At-Tarh”, giving the groom amount of money each according to his ability.
At-Tarh could also be done after the wedding procession. During At-Tarh, the Mizayen collects the money for the groom, announcing the name of the giver using a traditional phrase that goes ” O' groom, it is collected for you from so and so (giver's name) the amount of
If the groom decided that there would be no banquet, just to save on the cost, then the night of Henna and A-Tarh won't take place. Instead, the groom goes with his guests, in the early morning of the wedding day, to a traditional bathroom.
After finishing his bath, the groom and his guests head back to the his house where they eat their breakfast then they leave for a drive around the city (or to the close villages) accompanied by drummers. They perform different traditional dances till the lunch time, at which they head back to have their lunch.
Al-Magyal, sitting for chewing Qat, starts after lunch. During Al-Magyal, a chanter or a vocalist sings some chants, and attendees repeat after him, until 7 P.M. where people get ready for the wedding procession.
The ceremonies of the wedding procession in sana'a start with some traditional dances followed by the Zafah, actual wedding procession that lasts for an hour and a half to two hours.
During Azafah, the chanter sings some religious chants as the groom, carrying a sword, walks slowly from the start of the street, till he reaches his house doorsteps. The street is usually lit by special lamps and candles. Unusual habit is pricking with needles, as away to distract him during Azafah. Therefore family members should keep an eye on the groom at all times.
After Azafah, the groom asks permission to leave for his bride, as guests dance until from 10 P.M. till the dawn. As the groom arrives at the bride's room, he sits next to her and juices and coffee served.
The next morning, dances are performed. And in the afternoon, the similar ceremonies are conducted just like the previous day.

Wedding ceremonies in Hadramout
In Shibam Hadramout, where we observed the traditional wedding ceremonies, the wedding starts with distributing wedding invitations, called “wikad”, by a group of people called “Abeed Jalwah”- servants – three days before the actual weeding takes place. Girls in Hadramout are considered children until they reach the age of nine. Once they reach that age, they wear Hijab – scarf- and they don't meet with married men, except those of the immediate family.
Marriages in Hadramout are the type of arranged marriages. Parents of the groom and the bride agreed on marriage date and they pay “Gobaz”- dowary, which is defined by 1920 personal status law.
The Gobaz is usually put in a perfumed handkerchief, then it is put in a box called “Sundoq Al-Gobaz”- dowry box. The people witnessing the event open the box and congratulate both parties wishing them a blessed marriage. Attendees who couldn't see the Gobaz, can not attend the wedding.
The wedding lasts for four days, regardless to the family financial situation. Eight days before the wedding day, the families of the groom and the bride get together in a previously set appointment called “Qahwa.” During the Qahwa, mixed nuts are served with coffee that is prepared by the groom.
After the Qahwa, the marriage contract is signed and the groom's family moves the “marriage furniture” out the couple's house. The furniture consists of:
1- A small wooden box called “botya” that contains incense, saffron, fragrant soup and so fragrances.
2- A clothes box made of teak wood that contains a prayer dress, four pillows and other things that are considered to be a help to the groom.
In the second day, the bride comes back to her family, even though the groom's family's insistence on her to stay. When she arrives at her father's house, she heads toward a room, where her father is awaiting her.
The father then puts a long veil on her saying: ” In the name of Allah, the merciful You are the wife of so and so (groom's name). After that he takes his daughter to women's room. During that, the family of the groom watches closely the bride's actions; if she stays calm, than that's an indication of her decency. If she shows her joy in a very noticeable way, that would indicate her indecency.

Lailat El-Haky
In the night of El-haky, they take the brid to traditional bathroom where she is giving a bath. Then they take her to the divan of women, as her face is covered with a black veil with beautiful variegations called ” Moqana' Elhena.”
Four women start applying henna designs on the bride's hands and feets. Meanwhile, in the groom's house, the drums are beaten and groom is taken to the bride's house, while Henna is still in his hand. After that, groom is taken back to his house to wash off the henna, which is applied in design like it is with the bride, of his feet and hands.
The next day is called “Al-Mashti.” In Al-Mashti, ceremonies start at a very early hour, where bride is given another bath before the drummers arrive. Coffee is served in this day, then more henna is applied to bride's hands and feet. The guests leave when the henna session is done with, just to come back at lunch time carrying At-Tarh and gifts.
The bride's family brings a censer, while one of the bride's little brother or sister cuts the bride's hair from the front and the back. After having lunch, the bride's guests head to the groom's house. At night, entertainments are performed while serving coffee to attendees.