I thought I would start this series of blogs on Moroccan life with a description of a wedding day. My wedding was the official start to my life in Morocco and for most Moroccan women the wedding signifies the start of a new life in a new home – and for a man the start of new responsibilities. Moroccan weddings are amazing spectacles full of colour and music that last for many hours and sometimes days.
Marriages are to a degree arranged – but with the agreement of the bride. In this chaste Muslim culture the western stereotypical “boy meets girl, falls in love and gets married” story happens in almost reverse order. Although it is possible that the bride and groom know each other (though not in the biblical sense), often the marriage is the first time there is any intimacy between them. Families try and make sure that the boy, or man, is going to make a good husband and will be able to provide properly for their daughter and in return the husband’s family will be looking for someone who will make a good wife for their son and who will fit in well with the household. Given the failure rate of marriages in the west and the often unrealistic expectations of “romantic love”, who is to say that this practical approach is not a good one!
The marriage formalities are usually carried out privately and in advance of the wedding, with a formal contract signed in the presence of an Adoula (legal official). But the marriage does not actually start until after the wedding has been celebrated by both families and the bride taken by the groom to her new home. Underneath the exuberantly colourful kaftans and takshitas that she will appear in, the bride is usually wearing two layers of underwear consisting of demure bra and pants with a modest white vest (long sleeved in the winter) and long pantaloons on the top.
Once she has been dressed it is time for the henna to be applied. Both hands and feet are completely covered with intricate designs – it seems almost as if she is wearing lacy gloves and socks. The henna is supposed to bring good fortune and health and I have heard it is traditional that a bride should not have to do any work in her new home until the wedding henna has worn off – sadly secret top up kits are not available 😦
Some wedding guests – almost exclusively women – will start to arrive while the henna is being applied. Along with lots of chatter, there will be singing and dancing with the women accompanying themselves on hand drums. Mint tea and delicious little biscuits made with almonds, coconut, chocolate and marzipan are served to keep the body and soul together.
When the henna is done, the bride sits and waits….
Elsewhere in the house, pots are filled with cooking lamb and prunes or chicken with lemon and olives, couscous is being steamed and bread baked in vast quantities. There is nothing like a fixed guest list with written invitations and a polite reminder to R.S.V.P. – people are invited by word of mouth, turn up and (somehow or other) will be fed.
In the meantime in the groom’s house, his family and friends are gathering. At some point in the evening they will arrive en masse at the bride’s home carrying gifts and accompanied by a band of musicians playing on hand drums and long trumpets. This medieval sounding procession will wake up the neighbourhood as they arrive – traditionally with the groom on horseback but more often nowadays with everybody standing in the back of several pick-up trucks.
Once the guests have arrived the groom is ushered in to wait with the bride in private while the rest of the guests are sat down to eat – men and women eating separately. As I am still a “stranger woman” I always get looked after by the other ladies at the table – who pass me morsels of meat and make sure I eat enough. If you have never sat down to eat with a table of Moroccan women you will just have to picture what happens to a chicken carcase when it is tossed into a tank of piranha fish to realise what an accommodation they are giving me! I think the only time I had the advantage over them was when sitting with a table full of older Berber ladies who probably had about 10 teeth between them. Imagine their faces when the bread handed round turned out to be small loaves with very hard crusts! Still, even if they couldn’t manage to eat the bread, the loaves made handy and secure pouches for them to take meat back to the family left at home.
When everyone has eaten they settle down for the visual feast to come. Over the next four hours (or longer) the bride and groom will be paraded in front of them. Once they are ushered in they will sit together in a special throne and everyone will have their photo taken with them. This will be repeated several times with the bride wearing a selection of differently coloured kaftans (single piece dresses) or takshitas (a two piece outfit, usually a satin under dress with a top layer of lace or voile embroidered, beaded and sequinned), adorned with silver and gold head-dresses, necklaces, breast plates and earrings. In between appearances the crowd will get up and dance (men and women separately of course) or sit and chat. Early on in the proceedings the bride and then the groom may be carried around on the “Marria” an ornate silver platform. This is symbolic of the time when the bride, sitting on a small round table, was carried to the bedchamber for the consummation of the marriage.
Where I live, the crowd’s favourite moment is when the bride and groom are dressed in Berber costume. The bridal head-dress with its multi coloured fabric, tassels and silver coins is both exotic and enchanting. For the first time all the guests come together and dance.
Nowadays the final change of dress is the western style white wedding dress. In this costume, the bride and groom share a drink of milk and feed each other dates. They then swap rings – gold for the bride, silver for the groom and throw sweets and small bags of herb to the guests.
At last the moment of departure has arrived and the groom takes his new wife away from the shelter of her father’s house and into the domain of her new mother in law. This must be a terrifying moment for a young girl whose whole world has been in her parent’s home with her mother and sisters. Her future happiness will depend on how well the relationship with her mother in law works out as much as how well she gets along with her husband.
But that is another story for another time.