Local News

Yemeni weddings: between the modern and traditional

National Yemen

By Tamjid Alkohali

Yemeni weddings are considered to be distinctly social occasions, featuring singing, fashion, banquets, and emotional speeches. Sometimes, over a thousand people can attend, linking the entire community. Weddings used to be very traditional in Yemen, but recently, Yemenis have become more open to new ideas.

Part of this is because of how Yemen has changed. Weddings have started to have a modern touch just as women have become a little freer, and people have become more educated and able to work. Takai, a mother of four, wonders about modern weddings, since she planned her first daughter’s wedding a month ago.

“Before, people were following the same customs and traditions whether the rich or the poor, but today the wedding’s is implemented according to mood and physical and social conditions.”

Takai said that her daughter’s wedding still consisted of events over five days starts with: Thebal, Hamam, al-Naqsh, Gold Day, and the wedding day itself.

“Basically, Thebal occurs in the bride’s house. The brass vases are filled with ‘Rihan’ and roses, to then be placed before the bride for the entirety of the day. The bride should wear traditional garment known as a ‘Qamis’ and cover her face. No one would be allowed to see her – at least, not until the last day of her wedding.”

“However, although these things were done for my daughter, she didn’t wear ‘Qamis’, because she doesn’t like it. Therefore her face stayed uncovered for all guests. She wore one of her new beautiful dresses. The day started with ululations to declare the beginning of the wedding, and then she and her friends spent a wonderful time and continuously spoke about preparations for the second day.”

On the second day, Yemeni brides go to the ‘Hamam,’ or Turkish bath. Takai’s daughter was taken from the Hamam to her family’s house in the afternoon, to the accompaniment of fireworks, and was received at her entrance amidst burning incense and drumming until she entered her room.

During this time, Takai’s family offered tea and cookies to guests, while women awaited her appearance. She then stepped out of her room, although not traditionally as with clothes decorated in coral, agate, and antique silver. Takai’s daughter was happy with doing the Hamam.

“Hamam is an important thing for the bride because it gives a bright appearance and soft skin.”

The third day of al-Naqsh consists of decorating the hands and legs with henna or Qathab in the bride’s house. Takia says her daughter did not do this.

“Most of the girls these days ignore this day, because they like to wear a white wedding dress with bright skin. Therefore, on my daughter’s al-Naqsh day, she didn’t paint her hands or legs, but we brought a woman to paint for those who want from the relatives, or any other guests.”

The fourth day, the wedding itself, is called gold day and consists of the bride wearing her jewelry, along with golden decorations and veils.

“Gold Day for my daughter was traditional, though the new thing is that my daughter wore a Moroccan dress and not an expensive Yemeni one. Most brides do this, because they consider this day to be traditional and they wear any traditional dress from any country. Mostly they wear Moroccan and Indian dresses.”

Many Gold Days are not held in the bride’s house, but rather in a wedding hall. After this comes the wedding itself, which has become most modernized.

“It’s the day that is most different from weddings twenty years ago, with many new ideas.”

For instance, Takia’s daughter was married on a Sunday at 6 PM, rather than on Thursday to finish before sunset.

“That was according to the hall, Hairdresser, and DJ we have booked. In the past, there weren’t all these things. The wedding day was taking place in the bride’s house or one of the neighbor’s whose house is little bigger, and then three women come to the bride’s house to prepare the bride’s hair styled and make-up as well as to sing in the party. My daughter insisted to start at 6 PM, because she said that at this time, the wedding would be more interesting and comfortable for both her and the invitees as well.”

According to Takia everything in her daughter’s wedding day looked different. The hall was very big, there were hundreds of invitees, and women also stylized themselves differently.

“For example, in the past and until now, single girls wouldn’t put on make-up in order to be different from married women, but now no one can distinguish between single and married girls. Both wear and put on make-up in the way they like.”

Takia emphasized that wedding days have become more enjoyable than in the past. A group of the bride’s friends offer a dance in front of the invitees. The bride sometimes displays her best photos through a display screen. Brides these days feels happy and enjoys their wedding day more than brides in the past.  She dances, and laughs, but the bride in the past had to be quiet.

Even the tradition of the groom’s family taking her to his house has changed. Now, brides can go directly from a wedding hall to the groom’s house, or be picked up by the groom itself.

Many traditions are vanishing as other options become easier, but weddings are still very expensive. Even simple weddings can cost at least YR 1 billion. Brides have to pay for hairdressers (at least YR 30, 000,) wedding halls (at least YR 100, 000) and DJ’s (YR 60, 000). This is not to mention the catering, invitations, and many other things.