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Marriage Customs Of North Africans

( Originally Published 1897 )

THE marriage ceremonies of modern Egyptians resemble those of Turkey at the present day, so we need not repeat what has been already said of that country. If a maiden, in spite of the efforts of her parents, has not succeeded in being chosen, and desires to obtain a husband, tradition prescribes the following mode of procedure. She must go on a Friday to midday prayer—the most solemn service in the whole week—in the Mosque of the Daughters. When the believers prostrate themselves for the first time at the cry of the Imam, "Allah akbar " (God is Great), and while their foreheads touch the reed mats on the floor of the mosque, she must walk once up and down the space dividing two ranks of worshippers. Then, beyond doubt, within a year she will become a wife.

In Egypt girls are prepared for marriage with a great deal of ceremony. There are tirewomen who make the beautifying of brides their special profession. On the morning of the wedding the bride is attired in her wedding robes, her hair plaited with the Grecian plait, small pieces of gold leaf are stuck on her forehead, and great care is taken not to conceal any of the stars and spots tattooed on her face and chest in infancy. A little rouge is added. Travellers sailing up the Nile may sometimes see a large boat going across, with a gaily-coloured canopy containing a bride, and a merry party on board all going to the wedding.

The Mandi, whose cruel and despotic rule in the Sudan has caused so much misery, has often a good deal to do with the matrimonial affairs of his subjects. Slatin Pasha, in his deeply interesting book,' gives an example of the arbitrary way in which this despot exercises his authority. Abu Anga, commander of the Black Troops (Jehadia), and his brother, Fandl Manla, were sons of a liberated slave-woman, their father being one of the Khalifa's relatives. Fandl Manla had a great friend and adviser, by name Ahmed Wad Yunes, of the Shaigia tribe. One day they appeared before the Khalifa, and the former asked permission for his friend Yunes to marry a certain girl and receive the prophet's blessing. Unfortunately, as it happened, the tyrant was in a bad humour on that day ; the girl's father was at once sent for, and asked whether it was his wish to bestow the hand of his daughter on Yunes. Receiving a reply in the affirmative, the Khalifa, wishing to show his authority, said, I have decided, and consider it to the girl's advantage, that she should marry Fandl Manla. Have you any objection? " Needless to say the father assented, for he dared not refuse ; and the Khalifa, turning to his attendants, ordered them to proceed at once to read the form of prayer and blessing used at marriages, which they did forthwith, and dates were partaken of by the bride and bridegroom. Then the Khalifa dismissed all those present, and Fadl Mania departed, one wife to the good, whilst Yunes was one hope poorer ; but what the girl said about the new arrangement I cannot tell." The Pasha was detained for seven years a prisoner in the Mandi's camp, and is probably the best authority on the ways of these Sudanese Arabs ; and he states that he knew men who, in the space of ten years, had been married forty or fifty times ! Also that there are many women who, during the same period, have had fifteen or twenty husbands, and in their case the law enjoins that between each divorce they must wait at least three months.

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