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View from the inside – a Berber/Euro wedding, with the emphasis very much on Berber. How privileged to be invited to the wedding of Yahya’s elder brother. He is not only family but him and his wife are long-standing colleagues. The wedding was in fact a double celebration as Yahya’s nephew and his new wife were also married at the same time.

Of course, Yahya had a big role to play across several days – the scale of the logistics in order to welcome, on the ‘biggest day’, hundreds of friends/family from the village is difficult to describe from the periphery. Neighbours and other family members all opened their doors and men/women/overseas visitors were all accommodated between different houses, when we weren’t enjoying the music and the festival atmosphere on the street below. Then, of course, someone had to steer the clear-up operation!

Needless to say, the wedding was a resounding success, all the family worked hard to give the brides & grooms the celebration they had long-anticipated…and a large part of the traditional wedding planning is also down to the groom. One of the brides had plenty of her own planning to do – ensuring the timely arrival of approx. 20 family & friends from Belgium is no mean feat! Nor is embracing several days of Berber custom, all taken in her stride.

A traditional Berber wedding is unlike anything you’ll have experienced. And this one, by all accounts, was a ‘pared-down’ version!

Click on the image to enlarge

The symbolism is paramount – style of dress (women & men), henna & saffron tattooing (women) & henna washing (men), jewelry, head and clothing adornments, colours, songs – not to mention the strong sense of community and the role of the family…the list goes on. What can’t be anticipated beforehand is the collective emotion and spirit of the three days. It was very moving, in particular the first full day.

The first full day is before the bride & groom really meet one another…so this day embodies their union.

In the morning, the new bride is veiled and adorned with a head-piece (image at right). She already has the henna tattoos on her hands & feet at least two days prior. She is seated with key family members, her mother behind her, and elder women of the village. The women chant while the bride’s head-piece is decorated and tied. Traditionally, this takes place in the bride’s family home, as she would marry a man of the same village. After the bride is ready there is time for photos and a little mingling with family. For reasons of privacy, we can’t show many photos.

Then she is taken to be seated on a camel, which will carry her to her husband’s home. During the journey to her new home there is actually a ‘battle of wills’ (all tradition of course). The women of her family try to slow her progress down (there is no rush to start the new married life!), while the men of his family encourage it. This ‘battle’ prolongs the procession to the new home and all the while there is singing and drumming to accompany the slow walk onwards. The women of the village walk en-masse together and they also chant and ululate. On reaching her new home, the bride is seated on a small podium in a caidal tent, with female relatives. The rest of the women, who joined the procession through the village, all sit in small circles inside the tent.

Meanwhile, the groom is kept apart, and is not permitted to leave his home all day – he is not permitted to watch the bridal procession, as tempting as that is with all the noise he can hear outside. Family and friends may visit him, but he is kept inside. Much drinking of tea takes place! The groom also wears traditional garments and make-up.
In traditional weddings, this would usually be over two days. On this occasion, the bride & groom were reunited at the end of the first day, in privacy.

In the evening, while we wait for the bride & groom to return to the celebration in the village, there is much singing and drumming, the style of music known as ‘ahidous’. Men and women sing and play together, but in separate line-ups facing each other. The lines move in time, to and fro, side-to-side, then rotate, all seamlessly. The songs are very old Berber, speaking of marriage and love of course.

Thereafter, bride & groom are brought back to the wedding party in a convoy of cars driving slowly through the village, the cars are decorated with flags and there is much blasting of car horns. The newly-weds are kept apart once more until the bride can be unveiled by the groom. The groom joins in singing and drumming with his family. The bride in the caidal tent.

After the bride is indeed ‘unveiled’ to family & friends (which would usually take place at the end of the second day) we congratulate the couple and sit down to hearty plates of beef couscous.

The end of the first day…only two more days to go!

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