By Asma Al-Mohattwari
As had become her wont, she woke up to the singing of birds and opened her window to contemplate the magic of a most beautiful sunrise and to breathe in the fresh air, all the while thinking of her fiancé and the day of her wedding party. Only temporarily breaking the spell, her mother knocked on her door and said, “Good Morning, our beautiful bride…your wedding party has been arranged.”
Happiness flashed in her eyes when she heard the news; it was a wonderful morning for Salwa. Since she was a child, she had played the ‘marriage game’ with her sisters and acted out all five days of a Yemeni wedding. When she had attended Sana’ani wedding parties, she would always immediately imagine herself in the bride’s place.
Finally her dream to be a bride was at hand. “Although I’m somewhat worried about new, married life, at the same time I’m so happy because the week of my wedding has been determined,” she said shyly.
With only a month to go before a wedding party, a Sana’ani bride will stop performing chores at home; she will instead focus her attentions on taking care of her body and skin. That was exactly what Salwa did in the month preceding her wedding party.
The month passed and Salwa’s beauty and the brightness of her skin had increased. She couldn’t believe that the first day of her wedding party, called ‘thebal’, had arrived. On this day, Salwa wore a traditional garment known as a ‘qamis’ and covered her face. No one would be allowed to see her – at least, not until the last day of her wedding.
Salwa’s Mother said that it was understood that on the ‘thebal’ day, brass vases are filled with ‘rihan’ and roses, to then be placed before the bride for the entirety of the day.
On this day, the first ululations served to declare the beginning of the wedding. Salwa and her friends had a wonderful time on that day and continuously spoke about preparations for the second day. At night, when all the gusts left the bride’s house, Salwa went to sleep dreaming of the day to come. Meanwhile, her mother began preparing garments for her trip to the ‘hamam,’ or Turkish bath.
In the morning, the bride, along with her relatives and friends, traveled to the hamam and spent the entire morning there. In the afternoon, the bride was taken from the hamam to her family’s house to the accompaniment of fireworks. The bride was received at the entrance to her house amidst burning incense and to the sound of drumming; the incense would continue to the burn and the folk songs would continue to be played until she had entered her room.
In these moments, the bride’s family offered tea and cookies to the guests, while women awaited the bride’s appearance. Salwa stepped out of her room wearing traditional Yemeni clothes decorated with coral, agate and antique silver. Guests celebrated, sang, and danced until the day was done.
Salwa could hardly conceal her delight and, at the same time, her shyness. The sauna day had come to an end and Salwa had begun to imagine how much more beautiful her hands and legs would be the next day.
The third day is called ‘Al-Naqsh’ Day. On this day, a woman who is professional in her ability to apply ‘naqsh’, the decorating of hands and legs with henna or qathap, will go to the bride’s house and commence painting the bride’s hands and legs with beautiful and natural designs, so as to provide her with a new look for the fourth day.
Gold Day is the fourth day, on which the bride will wear all her gold and wear an expensive dress embroidered with golden decorations. On that day, Salwa went to the salon to have her hair styled and her make-up applied. She covered her face with a gold veil; she was soon extremely attractive, with her naqsh, dress, style, and gold.
For the most part, all of the four days are celebrated at the bride’s house with songs and dancing; all friends and relatives come to share the bride’s joy.
After the fourth day of dancing and enjoyment comes the most important day – on which the bride will wear a white dress. It is the wedding day, and it comes with a variety of preparations.
It is unlike the other four days, which are celebrated at home. The wedding day is celebrated in a wedding hall, with a live band. The food served on this day is different from that which is served on previous days – on this day, cake, cola and water will be served.
Women begin gathering in the hall at 3:00 PM, which is also when the band begins playing music. At that time, the bride will not yet be present in the hall; she will be the recipient of scrupulous attentions at the hairdresser.
After sundown, the door to the bride’s room will be opened; there Salwa was found in her snow-white dress, crystal crown and with a red flower in her hands. To soft music, Salwa entered as a queen among all her guests.
The party continued until 9:00 PM. At that time, the bride will be ready to travel to her husband’s house. Her father, brothers, uncles and a large group of men composed of her relatives and neighbors gathered to transport Salwa in a wedding procession, with music blaring and horns honking until they have arrived at the groom’s house.
Before she enters her husband’s house, the groom’s ‘jambiyah’ dagger will be placed in front of her. And egg will be broken and she will step up, over and inside.