WEDDING CUSTOMS OF UPPER EGYPT
Upper Egypt occupies more than half of Egypt's territory, stretching from Beni Suif south of Giza to Aswan in the south. "I am a pure Egyptian". That is the only answer you receive when you ask a Seidi person about his nationality. Because Upper Egypt is located far in the south, away from external influences, people were rarely mixed with other foreign nationalities.
A Seidi person can be easily recognized by his external features and his accent. He has strong features, looks slim and tends to be tall. He owes his distinguished looks as well as his temper to the weather . Because the weather in Upper Egypt is quiet nice in winter time, people come from all over the world to enjoy it, in addition, to see the Pharaoh's monuments which are plenty in Upper Egypt. Seidi man wears a heavy galabia (long-sleeved dress) similar to the one which a farmer from Delta wears but in different kind of fabric. Unlike the man who can be seen wearing a colored galabia, brown or blue, a Seidi woman always wear a long-sleeved black galabia with a black scarf tied low over her forehead.
No doubt that the lifestyle in Upper Egypt differs a lot from urban areas, such as Cairo, however, there are similarities to other rural areas, as well. The main reasons justify the lifestyle differences are not being exposed to foreign cultures , the limitation of places of entertainment and the conservative traditions. The marriage customs best illustrate the characteristic lifestyle of the Seidi culture.
Having a chance to meet or to choose a bride is quite difficult in Upper Egypt due to many reasons. First, the society does not allow boys and girls to associate with each other. Second, the places where people can meet freely do not exist. As a result, people adapted their own ways for choosing a bride. One of those ways is called "El-Khatba". "El-khatba" can only be an old woman with wide public relation connections. In other words, she knows all the families. "El-khatba" profession can also be found in other parts of Egypt in the countryside. Another way of choosing a bride is through the relatives themselves. Young men know that they can choose their brides from their families. Seeing the bride is not necessary at all, for being a relative is quite enough reason to marry her. The girl shares the same blood with the boy, so she is worth marrying.
Along the same lines, Seidi people do not allow strangers to marry their daughters easily. Priority goes first to the cousins, but the cousin has to be from the father's side. This guarantees the continuation of the family name. In fact, marriage between cousins records the highest rate in Upper Egypt. This accounts for their resemblance.
While speaking about marriage in the rural areas, it is very hard to ignore the bride's age. This is really a serious issue. Although the state and the church ban marriages of girls under 15, many girls at the age of nine or ten wear pendants in their ears signifying that they are already engaged. They discover who their future husband is at the jeweler's. Changes has also found its way in Upper Egypt. Whereas, thirty years ago, the dowry (EL-Mahr) was 30 LE.; now is 1,500 LE.
In order to guarantee a good marriage decision, people often ask about the wealth of the family, its social status, and/or its religious position which could be a very good reason for the marriage.
Generally speaking, Seidi people are religiously oriented, and their religious beliefs play an important role in public affairs. A Seidi woman who sells vegetable in my neighborhood, told me the story of her marriage. She explained that she was not given the chance either to see or to chose her future husband. Moreover, her father simply announced to her in a very normal tune that she was engaged and to be married in a month. He acted on her behalf. On the one hand, the groom paid a 100 pounds as a dowry, in addition to, "El-Shabka" which consisted of a gold kholkhal anklet, rings and a thin necklace. On the other hand, her father bore the expenses of the furniture and everything needed to establish a new home for his daughter.
On remembering her marriage, the vegetable seller said that she could say that her marriage lasted for one week because of the celebration that was held for 6 days before the main wedding ceremony. One of these days is called El-Henna Day where the bride put a red substance called Henna on her hands and legs. After El-Henna Day came the day in which her furniture and clothes were loaded on a truck followed by her family and her friends whom they sang. About the ceremony, she said that her wedding party was similar to any other wedding in her place. Two separate places were designated, one for women and the other for men. Both men and women were not allowed to mix together. The groom sat with the invitees and his future father in law and the bride sat with the women. Each enjoyed themselves in their own ways. Young girls danced and sang for the bride and she joined them at times. The vegetable seller told me about the great changes that had occurred during the last ten years in Upper Egypt. Girls are no more obliged to marry someone they do not see. Thanks to education, women became more aware of their rights and practiced them specially in marriage. The only thing that did not change is the segregation of men and women.
With a great deal of pride, the vegetable seller said that as a married woman, her behavior met the ideal standard of a Seidi wife. she is the epitome of the caring wife who shares her husband his life in poverty and in wealth and works with him, hand in hand, in addition to her duties as a dedicated mother.
I think that the vegetable seller was right about the great changes that have happened recently in Upper Egypt. The reasons, in my opinion, not only refer to education, but also to the media influence. Because a large part of women society do not work, they spend long times watching TV or listening to the radio. Rich families or the families whose heads worked in the Gulf area have videos. Perhaps, that Justifies why the government uses radio and TV widely to increase the women awareness in the cases of overpopulation and illiteracy. In spite of the government's tremendous efforts, I believe that Upper Egypt still needs more attention to focuse on the vital problems such as clean water, medical care and upgrading skills. With their great tolerance and determination, Seidi people can overcome their problems and continue to add to the Egyptian civilization.