Marriage Customs Of The Druses
( Originally Published 1897 )
Among the Druses of Mount Lebanon, when one of their Sheikhs wishes to marry, he sends a messenger to the father of the girl that takes his fancy, and demands his consent. On being accepted as son-in-law he sends the young woman presents of clothes and jewels as a pledge of fidelity. On the day appointed for the wedding, a contract is drawn up with the father and signed by witnesses. Before this contract is read out some passages from the Koran are recited in order to give a kind of religious sanction, according to the Mohammedan custom, to which religion the Druses outwardly conform.
The bride, veiled and mounted on horseback, and attended by a long train of attendants of both sexes, proceeds to the abode of her future husband. Here for a week or so festivities have been going on. As soon as the bride approaches, the entire body of tenants and dependants of the Sheikh advance to meet her, and the meeting takes place at a distance of a mile or two from the houses. Both parties being liberally supplied with blank cartridges, a mock fight takes place. Extending in skirmishing order the Druses now display all the tactics of guerilla warfare, both in attack and defence. Rocks, trees, and eminences of any kind are successively secured and abandoned until the bride-groom's party is gradually driven back to his village, which is vigorously defended. At length, amidst shouts of exultation, and a deafening discharge of musketry, the bride comes up and is borne along pell-mell into the harem. Some two or three thousand men are now collected on the scene ; those on foot hastily arrange themselves on either side, while the Druse Sheikhs, on their high-bred Arab steeds, their spirit aroused by the mimic warfare in which they have been engaging, commence the game called jereed with great zeal. They are naturally anxious to exhibit their skill and prowess before the assembled vassals, and not altogether unconscious that from the high latticed windows of the harem many a dark eye is looking down upon them with no small admiration.
Meanwhile the bride, having received the caresses and congratulations of her new relations, is conducted to a separate chamber and placed on a divan with a large tray of sweetmeats and confectionery before her, after which the women all retire and she is left alone with a veil of muslin and gold over her head and shoulders. Presently she hears footsteps at the door ; it opens, her husband approaches, lifts the veil from her face, takes one glance—and withdraws. Returning to the reception room he takes his seat among the guests. Pipes and coffee are handed round, and all present offer their good wishes. He, however, maintains an imperturbable silence, his mind is supposed to be entirely absorbed by one engrossing object—the bride. His brother, who sits by his side, makes the necessary acknowledgments.
When the Sheikhs have dined, others come in and are hospitably entertained. Musicians come in the evening, and it is midnight before the party breaks up. All the Sheikhs make presents to the bride, according to their means. Lady Burton, who once witnessed a Druse wedding, says that the women take a great delight in preparing the bride. The Turkish bath, the diet, the plucking of the eyebrows, the henna, and the hosts of cosmetics, are studies in which all the harem take the greatest interest. Old women are always employed in these matters, and they like to show how much they have learned. She also describes a most exciting romp which took place in the harem, where the wives screamed, and pinched and pulled one another about, just like a lot of school girls.
Dr. W. M. Thomson 2 describes how, on one of his journeys in the Holy Land, a little girl of twelve years, the daughter of his guide, accompanied his party on foot. She was a bride-elect, and her father was taking her to her future husband, who had purchased her for about forty dollars. Except a young donkey she had no companion or friend of any kind. Arrived at the camp, she was immediately taken to the harem of her lord and master, the Sheikh. She had no outfit, and even discarded the boots in which she started from her mother's tent.
Syrian ladies lead a life of great seclusion ; they are closely veiled from head to foot when they go abroad. As a rule, a man cannot eat with his wife and daughters, because the meal is in a public room, and strangers may be there. Moslem women never join in the prayers at church ; they are accommodated with a part railed off, and a lattice shields them from the public gaze. The jealousy of their husbands goes to great lengths. For example, a Druse Sheikh, or wealthy Moslem, when he calls for a physician for any lady of his harem, makes a great mystery of the matter. Should the doctor ask to see the poor creature's tongue, there is much manoeuvring to avoid exposure. Some-times she thrusts her tongue through a rent in the veil made for the purpose. Again, it is considered quite improper for an unmarried lady to show any special regard for her future husband. Arabs give very poetic names to their daughters, such as sun, moon, star, rose, lily, diamond, or pearl. Married women think a great deal of ornaments and jewelry. They wear gay flowers, paint their cheeks, putting kohl round their eyes, as the Egyptians did of old, and stain both their hands and feet with henna. But unmarried girls are not allowed such vanities. So little are women esteemed that small boys often lord it over their mothers and sisters in a most insolent manner. Husbands rule their wives with the greatest severity, not even sparing the rod.