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A wedding is a joyful is a joyful celebration and considered
a welcome opportunity for a social gathering. Customs and traditions
are different from one country to another, and many Yemeni customs
may seem strange to a Western visitor. Among these is the fact
that bride and bridegroom are selected by their respective parents.
In a strict society such as that of Yemen it is easy to see
why parents are essential to the choice of a suitable marriage
partner. With the exception of relationships within the family,
daily life is based on a strict separation of the sexes. A young
man has little or no chance of meeting women, particularly those
of his own generation. Instead, he has to rely on the advice
of his mother of older sisters and aunts.
The bride search: When looking for a bride, the mother and
father of the son have to work closely together, as each of them
knows one half of the neighbouring families. When the son has
reached marriageable age (usually around 17 to 19), the mother
looks out for a suitable or from their own family. The marriage
of cousins is permitted and practised within Islam. The mother
knows the women of the neighbourhood very well. After all, they
meet almost daily for the tafrita, the comfortable social gathering
of women where the latest news and gossips are swapped. Once
the mother has formed her own opinion, she confers with her husband,
who knows the male side of the other family very well. The dignity
and status of the house from which the prospective daughter-in-law
may come are carefully examined. Only when father and mother
are of one mind do they consult their son. It could well be possible
that he knows the young woman slightly especially if she is one
of his relatives. However, it is possible that he knows nothing
A day is set for the father and son to go to the house of
the bride's family in order to discuss the matter. This gives
the future bride, who usually already knows what the visit means,
the chance to take a look at her suitor. She may even have the
opportunity of serving tea or qishr to the visitors. Of course
she will remain heavily veiled. Usually, she will know much more
about him than he will about her. Men are simply more visible
in public than women.
Once the father of the son has made his suggestion or choice,
the potential father in law will ask for some time to think it
over and to discuss it with his family. He will also mention
that he will first ask his daughter if she agrees to the choice
of suitor. Once all parties are in agreement, a time is fixed
for the betrothal.
The betrothal: The betrothal feast is set for a Thursday or
a Friday. Father and son, accompanied by three or four male friends
or relations, visit the house of the father of the bride bringing
raisins, qat and other gifts. The engagement ring is handed over
to the father, together with clothes for the mother and daughter.
Dates for the mother and daughter. Dates for wedding are considered,
and the bride price is decided upon. The major part of the bride
price, which is paid by the father of the bridegroom, is later
spent on jewelry and clothes for the bride. Valuable things bought
with the bride-price remain the private property of the woman,
which the husband cannot touch even after many years of marriage.
It functions as a sort of insurance policy and remains entirely
the woman?s property even after a possible divorce.
The betrothal ceremony's is very informal and verbal. Often
the bride price has not been collected yet, and the parties have
agreed on a time by which the money shall have been saved up
to the agreed amount. Even so, the betrothal is considered a
firm promise between two families to marry their children. A
withdrawal or a severe loss of face by the family in question.
A three-day wedding: The wedding will last for at least three
days on Friday, the free day of the week in Yemen. On Wednesday
after-noon the marriage contract is signed and concluded in the
bride's house. The bridegroom and the father sit opposite one
another 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 to wife." The qadi then has to ask the father if
his daughter agrees to the arranged marriage. Bridegroom and
father clasp right hands. The qadi lays a white clothe over their
hands and recites the fatiha, the first sura of the Koran.
The ceremony reaches its height when the father of the bridegroom
throws a handful of raisins onto the carpet. All those present
try to pick up as many raisins as possible for they are signs
of a happy future for the couple. According to another custom,
all those present give larger or smaller amounts of money, which
are called out one after the other by a crier. The money is intended
to cover the cost of the lavish wedding celebrations.
Laylat az-Zaffa, the most important and most public part of
the wedding celebrations, takes place on Friday. The butchers
come very early in the morning to prepare the meat for the lavish
wedding feast. Several sheep and possibly even a calf have been
purchased for the meal. Sometimes a hundred or more guests are
invited for lunch and an afternoon qat gathering among the men
is a common procedure.
Women from the neighbourhood arrive more often than not bringing
their kitchen utensils in order to help with the tedious preparations.
Several rooms, sometimes even in separate houses, are prepared
for the men go to the mosque before the midday meal and say their
midday prayers. On the way back, the bridegroom, wearing a traditional
brand-new costume and carrying a golden sword in his hands, is
accompanied by dancing singing men. Drums provide the beat for
the dance. The meal itself is eaten, as usual, in a customary
squatting position on the floor.
In the afternoon, the guests sit in various rooms or even
on various floors. All of them chew qat and smoke the narhgile.
Incense burners fueled by glowing charcoal release the scent
of the incense and are passed from recites old poems, with the
guests joining him from time to time. The recitation contains
reminders of Islamic duties and wish the new couple Allah's blessing
and a long happy married life. Whenever the qadi takes a break,
a man plays the lute and sings wedding songs. Sometimes he is
accompanied by the other guests using hand drums or cymbals.