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Marriage Customs Of Turkey

( Originally Published 1897 )

THE ceremonies attending a Turkish wedding are thoroughly Eastern, and it would be easy to point out resemblances to customs which have been already described in our accounts of China, or Japan, Arabia and more especially Persia. The go-betweens or match-makers play an important part. They are generally old women who visit one harem after another hawking such articles of commerce as the fair ladies are likely to require, and so they have exceptional opportunities for arranging marriages. Nor are the harems their only happy hunting ground, for they sometimes look in at the schools. An English teacher once saw an old woman enter a class in a Turkish school, walk round the table, and look searchingly at the elder girls. On inquiry the teacher was told that the old lady was looking out for a wife for somebody." When a mother wishes to get her son married she visits the harems with a match-maker and some of her relatives, and has a good look round. Having found a girl who seems suitable, she informs the mother, who is usually one of the inmates of the harem, and is received by her with the utmost courtesy. But if the girl selected should be a younger daughter it is the custom to offer the eldest first. We will suppose, however, in order to simplify matters, that she is the eldest. Presently the favoured one enters, arrayed in her best attire, and is presented to the honoured guests. She kisses their hands and offers them coffee. On her disappearance it is usual to make very complimentary remarks, such as,

What a beauty ! " or to compare her to the full moon. The slightest criticism would be considered quite out of place. Then the young man's mother, who has the advantage because her son is not present, gives an exaggerated account of his character and position, stating at the same time the amount of the dowry to be settled on the young lady. She also makes inquiries with regard to the amount of her fortune, if any. On taking leave she re-marks, " If it is their kismet (fate) they may become better acquainted." Should the negotiations proceed favourably, presents are exchanged between the two parties ; the future mother-in-law visits the house bringing with her several yards of red silk and some sugar-plums. The silk having been spread out on the floor, the bride-elect steps upon it, kisses the hand of her future mother-in-law, and receives her blessing, also some sweets. One of these she bites in two, keeping the one half and returning the other as a love-token for her future husband. After a few days the young man sends a present of money as a contribution towards the wedding expenses. The civil marriage takes place eight days after the betrothal. A contract is drawn up in which the husband states the amount he settles on his wife in the event of his death, or if she should be divorced, and the document is duly witnessed. He declares before the priest (imam) three times his willingness to wed the young lady ; and she re-plies three times, in answer to the priest's questions, stating her willingness to marry the man who has been chosen for her. But she is invisible, and her answers come from the door of the women's apartments. Thus is the civil marriage effected ; but the bride and bridegroom are not allowed to meet until the marriage festivities are ended, and that may not be for several weeks—in some cases, many months.

A week before the wedding-day, the bridegroom sends the wedding-dress to the bride's house. The festivities begin on a Monday, and on that day the bride's parents (as in China) send the trousseau and a number of useful domestic articles to the future home of their daughter. These are borne in procession by porters. They also decorate the bridal chamber very elaborately. On Tuesday the bride is taken to the bath by her lady friends. On Wednesday her mother receives the female friends of the bridegroom, who are led into a room to which the bride is presently brought. She kisses the hands of her mother-in-law and takes a seat by her side. The elder women give sugar to the mother-in-law and transfer it from her mouth to that of her daughter-in-law, as a symbol of sweet and pleasant relations between them. These friends then depart, and coins are scattered to the beggars who wait round the house ; but they re-turn in the evening to witness the ceremony of the henna. On their arrival a taper is given to one of the party, and a procession is formed with the bride at its head to the garden, where they wind in and out among the flower beds, while the gipsy-players make strange music and the dancing girls practise their graceful art. The effect is said to be most beautiful.

The henna ceremony, or application of the henna mixture then takes place ; the mother of the bride applies the paste to her hands and feet, and when the skin has been stained to a deep orange colour, it is washed off. Meanwhile the guests look on at a certain dance called the sakusum. On the next day (Thursday) the bride leaves her home ; just before departing her father puts a girdle on her, and both father and mother weep over her while she lies at their feet—apparently overcome with grief. Arrived at the bridegroom's house, she is expected, for the sake of appearances, to show great reluctance to enter. Some brides have been known to boast how much pressing they required on this occasion, and it is on record that husbands have had to wait for a whole hour ! The bridegroom, after receiving her, returns to the men's quarters while the ladies inspect her trousseau, and then he attends the mosque. After the fifth prayer he may enter the harem and see his bride for the first time. It is said that, on proceeding to the women's apartments, he upsets a bowl of water on the stairs and scatters it in all directions. The bride is now expecting her husband, who is led to her, in the gaily decorated nuptial chamber, by a matron. This person raises the bride's veil from off her face and spreads it out on the floor, so that the husband may kneel on it while he offers up a prayer, the bride standing meanwhile on its edge and behind his back. It is said by a writer on Eastern life that on this occasion a curious little trick is played by the bride, and one which has its counterparts in China and in Russia ; for before her husband raises the veil to get a glimpse of her features, she slyly advances her foot and tries to tread on his toe. If she succeeds in so doing, it is considered that she will be the ruler at home ! From this it appears that the veil is not always raised by the old woman, as is stated above ; but there are sure to be little differences according to the locality. The matron has not yet departed, for she has another little ceremony to perform, namely, showing them their reflections in a mirror while she knocks their heads together so that the images may appear united. They then put lumps of sugar in their mouths and pass them to each other. At last, the old matron retires and they are left alone.

On the following day a reception takes place, and the newly-married couple eat together at " the feast of the sheep's trotters."

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