Wedding Customs – Age-old Marriage Traditions
Every culture treasures the wedding ceremony in some way. Traditions and ceremonies differ in each land and Morocco is no exception. Read on to learn more about a few Moroccan wedding traditions.
The traditional Moroccan wedding has quite an elaborate and meaningful process. The wedding process can take up to seven days and there are many pre-wedding ceremonies that take place before the actual wedding.
Morocco is a place with a very rich cultural heritage and active traditions and many of these can be seen at Moroccan wedding ceremonies. Usually the entire affair is quite expensive. It starts with the paying of a dowry that is spent on household items and furniture for the bride. If the grooms parents are very wealthy, they will pay for these items themselves. The bride also receives golden jewelry and is sent presents of cloth, clothing and perfume from her groom every feast day. The courtship period can last from six months to two years.
Once a date has been set for the wedding, the real preparations begin. Five days before the matrimonial event, necessities such as a mattress and blanket are taken to the bridal chamber. There the bride is given a bath in hammam which is a sort of milk bath that is meant to purify the bride. Her negaffa (female attendants) will usually supervise the event. The negaffa – who are usually older married woman, female friends and relatives – then set about trying to beautify her. After dressing her in an elaborately decorated wedding kaftan (usually white) they proceed to decorate her with heavy jewelry and darken her eyes with kohl which looks a bit like thick dark eyeliner.
The group then proceeds to have a beberiska ceremony in which the hands and feet of the bride and her party are painted with henna. The bride’s designs are always the most intricate and the various floral and geometric designs are meant to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck and increase fertility. The grooms name is often hidden in the henna designs. The negaffa will usually take this opportunity to discuss the ‘secrets’ of marriage with the young virgin. In some ceremonies the bride will then be placed behind a curtain to symbolize her change of lifestyle. In more remote areas, this ceremony would only take place the day before the wedding. Often, a bride is not expected to do any house work until her henna has faded.
Once all this preparation is complete, food is prepared in excess to cater for unexpected guests and the festivities begin. In times past, the men and woman would celebrate these festivities at separate locations. At some point in the evening, the groom would leave to make his way towards the bridal party accompanied by a group of friends who sing, beat drums and dance. The bride would be lifted up on a circular cushion or table and the groom on the shoulders of his friends. The two would then be carried to the bridal chamber where they would be expected to consummate their marriage. The bridal party would then examine their sheets for signs of blood to confirm the bride’s virginity. The two would journey to their new home and the bride would circle her home three times before becoming the keeper of her new hearth.
Today things have changed somewhat. Although the hamman bath is still used quite often in more rural areas, it is sometimes completely overlooked in the cities and towns. And though young brides are still quite happy to don their ceremonial kaftans, these are now more often shop bought because modern machinery has caused hand-made kaftans to be considered an expensive rarity. Many women who consider themselves to be more ‘modern’ have also rejected the intricate henna designs that usually adorn the bride.
The food is now more often provided by caterers instead of family members. Most young people have begun to choose their own marriage partners and ask for their parent’s blessing on the arrangement. In the past, a marriage partner was always chosen for them. The celebrations still take place at different locations for the men and woman. Often, someone is employed to paint the hands of guests with henna. Music at these occasions can be traditional Berber, Andalusian or Arabian, or they can be popular modern tunes played on traditional instruments. The young groom is accompanied by singing, dancing friends although usually, there are a few car hooters to add to the din. Nowadays, instead of immediately consummating their marriage at this point, the two parties more often join together and the bride changes into an outfit reflecting her region. After more celebrations, the bride then changes again and the newly wed couple leaves the party for some private time. They usually go to a hotel instead of the traditional marriage chamber and no one expects them to display their sheets as proof of the bride’s virginity.
The festivities do not end here. Throughout the week, the newly weds will visit friends and relatives as well as show off their new home and gifts. To this day, marriage is generally thought of as being the most important decision that both the man and woman can make. Because of this, the whole affair is expensive and elaborate.
The Imilchil Moussem/Wedding Fair
Once a year the people of the various mountain tribes in the Atlas Mountains converge at a special meeting place for the Imilchil Moussem. This special meeting, which takes place in September, is primarily a massive souk where 30 000 or more Berbers gather to sell and trade their possessions. However, the gathering is not merely an exercise in financial expertise – it is also the place of the largest wedding fair in the country. The tradition was started when officials during the colonial area insisted that Berbers assemble once a year to register births, deaths and marriages. After Morocco claimed independence the tourist office encouraged the continuation of the festival. Contrary to popular belief, very few of the marriages here are prearranged. The woman arrive in ceremonial garb and they spend time flirting and getting to know the available men during the festivities and dances. Many of them already know each other. Then, near the end of the celebration, the marriage ceremonies begin and several new marriages are made simultaneously. This ceremony has, in more recent times, received a lot of tourist attention that has detracted from the ceremonies authenticity. However, the joyous occasion continues down to this day and the exact date of the festival can be obtained from the tourist board should you wish to be a part of it.