Posted: November 27th, 2013
Wedding practices can be dated as far back as when man came into existence. Although they have evolved with time, some traditions relating to the practice can still be traced within the present culture. Although weddings differ in cultural aspects, one common aspect is that they are full of merry making as noted in two distinct ceremonies namely the bride’s party and the bridegroom’s party. Weddings also tell a lot about the culture of the marrying individuals, especially as noted in Saudi weddings that symbolize the unity of two parties as well as reflecting a lot about their culture. However, a notable difference noted from other weddings is that the Saudi wedding can take place between two first cousins.
The Saudis are mostly Muslims and so their weddings are carried out in accordance with the Islamic religion. Although the bride and groom are involved in wedding preparations, parents/relatives play major roles in handling both marriages and weddings. In most cases, families from either side offer required enquiries concerning the bride or the groom to be. This is done in a bid to make sure that the parties come from good families and better still from financially secure families (Zuhur, 2011).
Like in many other cultures and societies, social class is of great concern to family members and relatives of the individuals getting married. This means that a wealthy family will marry into another wealthy family, a middle class family will also marry into another middle class family and the same case is applied to underprivileged families. In the Saudi culture, the social class determines the kind of wedding to be held (Monger, 2004). This is especially noted in invited guests and level of finances involved in the wedding preparation. After families have determined that the couple is appropriate according to marriage standards, the matrimonial arrangements may begin.
In the Saudi custom, it is the responsibility of the groom’s family to ask for a hand in marriage into the proposed bride’s family. The proposal can only take place after the family members or community elders confirm that the groom’s father has accepted the marriage arrangement. The groom’s father then informs the rest of the family about the intended marriage. After a date has been set, the groom’s father, some family members and elders visit the prospective bride’s family in order relay their intentions (Buchele, 2008). If the bride’s family has no objection towards the proposal, the prospective bride maybe ushered in front of the groom’s family for introduction purposes. However, this latter action is not compulsory in these initial proceedings. The groom then shows acceptance by offering gifts to the prospective bride’s family.
Although past cases were a little different since women were not permitted to talk in marriage arrangements, today’s marriage allows the bride to offer her views regarding the prospective groom. For example, if the bride disapproves of the man and does not wish to go ahead with the marriage, the arrangement should be dissolved. Unfortunately, there are cases where the prospective bride’s opinion does not hold any significance. This is especially noted when there is a marriage arrangement involves a minor, a case that is not new in Saudi culture. Like in many other cultures, dowry is also present in the Saudi marriage practices. This takes place after elders from the groom’s side meet and agree on marriage preliminaries with the bride’s family. The discussion includes the bride price and other noteworthy clauses. Negotiations have to take place and then a consensus is reached before wedding preparations can begin. In such occasions, the presence of the women is accorded a trivial position since it is considered a male affair. Women usually engage themselves with cooking, serving and other culinary arrangements (Bradley, 2007).
Three days prior to the wedding, the bride becomes the central figure in their particular family. Women engage a lot in beautifying the bride in preparation for the wedding and her husband to be. Since this is usually a women’s affair, they take this time to advise the bride on matters regarding marriage life. However, this acts as a repetition since in-depth training in offered in their youthful years. The bride is beautified with a decorative substance known as henna that is very common amongst the Muslim women (Monger, 2004). Henna is used to make various designs on the bride’s body, especially on the hands and legs. This is usually done on the eve of the wedding day. Conditioning oils are used to cleanse the bride using traditional special oils and it has to be done from the head spreading to the toes. The bride’s trousseau is usually endowed with extensive silk materials, perfumes, jewelry, and other materials, which may be of importance (Monger, 2004). These items are mostly sourced as gifts from the groom. In most cases, celebrations start during this preparation period and they are handled by the bride’s the relatives and the sisters.
In the Saudi culture, a wedding ceremony is mostly meant for unmarried girls and women. As noted earlier, the women start celebrating even before the actual wedding ritual begins. When the day finally arrives, the bride is adorned with a traditional dress referred to as the yashmak and the zaboun (Monger, 2004). This dress has silver threading for purposes of embroidery. Although it is mostly made of white garments, it can also be made from other colors. Men wear a traditional long dress-like costume and headgear while the women wear the long cloaks with a short underneath garment. They also have to wear their abayas over their heads. In most cases, the men will include the usual business coats over their costumes since they are regarded as normal suits (Monger, 2004).
Before the main ceremony, the bride and the groom have to be joined together by a Sheikh as a way of solemnizing the marriage. The Sheikh is the Islamic magistrate. This activity takes place in the presence of three witnesses who might all be of the male gender or one male and two females. At this point, the groom is usually asked as mehr, what he will offer the bride for her hand in marriage (Bradley, 2004). The main celebrations usually take place in a very fancy location especially if the families are wealthy and can afford an evening or night party. However, men and women are not permitted to mix to ensure that the Islamic practices are adhered to. The groom goes to the men’s place while the bride is taken to the women’s place.
The venue is not as decorated as the women’s venue but it is simple in terms of furnishings. The celebrations commence with the arrival of the guests who have to be welcomed with Saudi kisses and then guided to the appropriate places especially if the women’s place located in the same venue. The guests will then be directed to the groom’s location for congratulating purposes. Words like “mink almaam w minh aleyal” (Monger, 2007, p.3), which mean that the man brings the money and the women brings forth the children are used. This is not meant to be discriminative but as a form of blessing to the new family. The groom, known as Arees, has his place set at the centre of the main hall where he usually sits with his close family members. The groom adorns himself with the bisht, which is worn on top of the thawb (Long, 2005).
When the guests are settled, some kind of incense that is made by sinking wood pieces in special oils is passed around among the attending group and it is known as the bukhoor. The bukhoor is used by the guests as a perfume (Buchele, 2008). The guests are then served with Arabic tea and coffees in small portions placed in special cups that are devoid of handles. Dancers who are also present for entertainment wear ceremonial war clothes complete with swords, a tradition adopted from the tribe of Bedouin. They then use the duff (an Arab instrument) to accompany the dancing and the music. At this point, the dancing is restricted to the dancers only and songs sang in praise of the groom. The dancers also sway the swords in rhythm to the music (Buchele, 2008).
A wedding celebration cannot be complete without food in the Saudi culture. Food is usually served in a different hall; it mainly comprises of kabsa (rice) with grilled lamb and it is usually served at all feeding tables (Zuhur, 2011). However, this is not the only choice of food available since other traditional foods can be served. The table where the groom sits has more activities than all other tables in the hall. This is because family members and attendants have to ensure that the groom is fully satisfied. A merry making session starts after the dinner and it includes singing and dancing. This time round, all the guests can join in. They are allowed to pick up the swords, sway them and dance from shoulder to shoulder in rhythm to the music.
With the formal session of the wedding almost over, children are allowed to take part in the dancing. Since the swords are only ceremonial and not sharp, the children are permitted to use them without hurting themselves. As the ceremony continues, the swords are set aside and the guests start dancing freely. One of the common free style dances evidenced is when the people form opposite lines with the inclusion of the groom; the dance is performed while in a seated position (Long, 2005). The celebrations usually stop at midnight or a few minutes after midnight. The guests leave at their own pleasure after and the groom enters the female side for an official presentation.
As earlier noted, the larger ceremony is a women’s event. The female room is decorated lavishly and beautifully with a seating area, a catwalk and a stage. The bride sits at the front stage as the guests arrive and come to congratulate her. The women’s party is described as livelier than the men’s party is (Monger, 2004). Women are considered more merry makers due to their dancing capabilities in the celebrations. There is more noise and merrymaking in this party as women laugh aloud and compliment each other as part of the festivity.
Music and dancing is conducted by a distinct assigned group is heard that can be heard through out the event. This group majorly consists of women who play traditional drums and are conversant with traditional songs. In some occasions, the women in the party lead the songs as the others respond. During this event, women are allowed to dance without the abayas, since there is no male presence (Minger, 2004). However, the headgear cannot be removed since it is needed during the groom’s presence. The women’s attires are very conspicuous as they are beautifully decorated, jewelry is quite striking and so is the well applied make up.
It is good to note that the bride does not appear in the room until much later in the night when the celebrations have already began. The guests entertain themselves with music and dance before the bride appears and then draw their attention to the bride when she finally shows up. Additionally, guests who had occupied the stage for dancing have to evacuate in order to make room for the bride since she needs to sit at a special chair placed on the stage. An hour or so after the arrival of the bride, the groom joins her in the room. However, he does not just enter the women’s section unceremoniously. The lights are first flickered a few times in order to warn the women that the groom is about to arrive. The women are then given a chance to put on their abayas (Monger, 2004). After this, the groom the father and a few close family members are then ushered in with the groom allowed to sit beside his bride. The other males then leave almost immediately after the escorting episode. After this, food is served and by this time, it is about three in the morning.
A collection of foods is served since this is considered the main part of the event. The kabsa and other foods are served largely in this event. The interesting thing about this session is that the cuisine is not as traditionally limited as that noted in the men’s party. The women try a variety of foods. After the guests get enough of the food and the dancing, they are allowed to leave as they please. Unlike other wedding ceremonies, gifts can be sent in advance to the groom or bride’s home in advance. In instances where they are brought during the wedding day, they are placed on a special gift table for collection purposes later. When the event is over, the groom and the bride are also allowed to leave. Note that, women’s parties can last until eight in the morning in extreme instances (Bradley, 2007).
The Saudis have been criticized for engaging minors in marriage practices (Zuhur, 2011). In such instances, the marriage is not consummated until the minor gets into her adulthood. However, new laws have forbidden such marriages. When a wedding ceremony takes place between two people who have given consent to their union, the wedding ceremonies are truly very interesting since there are two ceremonies within one night (Zuhur, 2011). Saudi wedding ceremonies are large and they can hold from four hundred to a thousand guests. It will also be noted that the bride is supposed to act shy in the wedding ceremony. In most cases, individuals who make merry in the wedding are women of the respective families and the invited guests. On the other hand, the men and the groom are just glad that one of them has started his own family and joined a higher manly setting.
Bradley, J. R. (2007). Saudi Arabia- Culture Smart. London, UK: Kuperard. Available at http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=8DM3twAACAAJ&dq=Bradley,+J.+R.+(2007).+Saudi+Arabia-+Culture+Smart&hl=en&ei=FiOqTuHkItO4hAejqvnqDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAA
Buchele, N. (2008). Saudi Arabia. London, UK: Kuperard. Available at http://www.amazon.com/Saudi-Arabia-Culture-essential-customs/dp/1857333519
Long, D. E. (2005). Cultures and Customs of Saudi Arabia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Available at http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=VKisHwiTxJQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Long+2005+Cultures+and+Customs+of+Saudi+Arabia.&hl=en&ei=biOqTrj7C9GhOru90dMP&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-preview-link&resnum=1&ved=0CDgQuwUwAA
Monger, G. (2004). Marriage customs of the world: From henna to honeymoons. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Available at http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=o8JlWxBYs40C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Marriage+customs+of+the+world:+From+henna+to+honeymoons&hl=en&ei=lCOqTpeTBo30-gbEtNzUDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA
Zuhur, S. (2011). Saudi Arabia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC. Available at http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=h9mQbqmG5EgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Zuhur,+S.+(2011).+Saudi+Arabia+;&hl=en&ei=qiOqTr69Bs2BhQe92JjEDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-preview-link&resnum=1&sqi=2&ved=0CDoQuwUwAA
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