My annual January trip is on, and we’re visiting Morocco, so naturally I wanted to learn more about the wedding traditions of this fascinating country.
The days when marriages were arranged are, for the most part, past. Today young people in Morocco choose their own partners, although parents still may have veto power. But no matter how modern the couple, the wedding is usually traditional, and when you read about their customs you will understand why.
Some brides will wear western dresses but most still choose a caftan or a takchita (a two-layer dress) made of silks, satins, and other rich materials, which are beautifully constructed and detailed. Jewelry is a must, and it, too is extremely extravagant. Hope I can find something wonderful to bring home!
The entire celebration can last up to seven days, with several pre-wedding ceremonies. Like our wedding shower, gifts are sent to the bride ahead of time. Two days before the wedding the bride has a tradition hamam (sometimes called a ‘Turkish bath’) – the ritual sauna – with girlfriends and women relatives. It is an act of symbolic purification and might even include songs performed by her friends.
Next comes the henna, a well-known tradition, and the henna from Morocco produces yellows and reds when painted on the body in beautiful designs. This too, has a ceremony element and represents a sort of ‘lucky charm’ for her new life. For the henna ‘party’ everyone enjoys tea, cookies and traditional Moroccan music. Older, married women share the “secrets” of marriage life with the bride-to-be. A custom says that the bride does not have to do any house works until her henna fades. I hope it’s a very long-lasting henna.
On the day of the ceremony it all begins with more singing and dancing. Verses from the Koran are read, assuming it is a Muslim wedding. Islam is the majority and established state religion, but there are Christians, Jews and people of the Baha’i Faith in Morocco, and Moroccans are known to be a more tolerant country than many of their neighbors.
The bride is carried around on a large chair called the ‘Amariya’ as people get to see her and wish the couple good luck. The couple then sits in two comfy chairs in the center of the room for the actual nuptials. She can change her clothes up to seven times throughout the long day and night of celebrating. Wow! There are many women here who might get behind that idea.
All of these interesting customs apply to more populated areas. But Morocco is diverse and I also learned of this fantastic story about the Berber people who live high in the Atlas Mountains. I must share this story.
Berbers are a separate ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, going back thousands of years. There they hold the Imilchil fair, or moussem (which simply means festival) which commemorates an ancient, Shakespearian-like story of a son and daughter of warring tribes who, forbidden to marry, chose suicide rather than to be parted. The story continues with the tribal elders, heartsick from this tragedy, vowing to permit their children to choose their own spouses from then on. And that is how this festival came to be. It is a way for members of the isolated communities to meet and perhaps find a spouse.
Today, young women arrive at the fair dressed ready to be wed, usually in white but often covered by a traditional striped woolen cape in their tribal colors. Young men roam the crowd, looking for suitable wives, and a woman, if chosen, has the right to accept or refuse. An engagement ceremony is a critical element of the festival. However, a quick decision is expected, and at the end of the fair, a mass wedding is performed, or couples might just sign a marriage contract and save the big ceremony until all family members and friends can gather later. While some of the couples may have just met, many have a passing acquaintance with one another but follow the tradition by marrying during the fair. Now that is a story worth knowing!
I’m sure I won’t have an opportunity to attend a wedding on my visit, but I look forward to soaking in all the culture I can. I’ll be back soon with my own tales of Morocco.