As you may have gathered, I love investigating marriage traditions in different cultures. This time I’ve picked the Yemen, a country that’s always fascinated me. Given the nation’s traditional stance, I guess I expected its wedding customs to be low-key. How very wrong I was! Yemeni marriage ceremonies are epic events…
Signing the Contract
The signing of a marriage contract usually takes place on a Wednesday in the Yemen, in the bride’s house (in order to make way for the celebrations on the Friday, the day of rest.) The bridegroom and the father of the bride sit facing each other in the presence of the qadi, an Islamic scholar of the law. The bridegroom then asks his future father-in law: “Will you give me your daughter in marriage?” The father of the bride answers for his daughter: “Yes, I will give you my daughter as your wife.” The qadi confirms that the daughter agrees to the arranged marriage. The bridegroom and his father-in-law-to-be clasp right hands and the qadi lays a white clothe over their hands, while reciting the fatiha, the first sura of the Koran.
A Fistful of Raisins
Once a Yemeni marriage contract has been signed, the father of the bridegroom throws a handful of raisins on the ground. The guests present scramble for the raisins, which represent the seeds of a happy future for the couple. Much shouting and hullabaloo ensues. In some ceremonies all those present are called up in order by a crier and donate cash to the newlyweds to help cover the costs of the wedding.
The Big Day
Laylat az-Zaffa is the most important and most public part of the wedding celebrations, and usually takes place on Friday. Butchers arrive at the crack of dawn to prepare the meat for the lavish wedding feast. Sometimes a hundred or more guests are invited for lunch, which is usually followed by a qat gathering among the men.
Women from the neighbourhood often bring their own kitchen utensils in order to pitch in and help with the preparations. The men go to the mosque before the midday meal and say their midday prayers. On the way back, the bridegroom waltzes in, sporting a traditional brand-new outfit and carrying a golden sword in his hands. The bride wears traditional wedding dress, which is a long garment with beautiful and intricate designs on it. These days, some choose to wear modern outfits, while female guests tend to wear elegant flowing dresses with scarves and. Drums provide the beat for the dance and the meal is eaten in the traditional squatting position on the floor.
Blessings for a Long and Happy Life
In the afternoon, the guests sit in various rooms, chew qat and smoke the narhgile. Incense burners glow while poetry is recited by the qadi. The recital contains reminders of Islamic duties and wishes the newlyweds Allah’s blessing for a long and happy married life. The qadi’s recital is interspersed with wedding songs sung and played on a lute, sometimes accompanied by hand drums or cymbals, and of course… much merriment.