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Marriage Customs Of Morocco

( Originally Published 1897 )

The people of Morocco, both men and women, take a great delight in weddings. Unfortunately, marriage with these people is far from being the sacred tie, or the life-long union of Christian men and women. Lightly made, it is lightly broken, and people are often married and divorced many times before they reach the age of thirty ! The contracting parties have no opportunities for making each other's acquaintance before the wedding-day, consequently the first few months, or years, of their married life are sometimes very stormy. The youths in Morocco usually contrive to get a glimpse of their future brides by hiding in their mother's room when the young ladies come to pay their respects to her. As in most Eastern countries, marriages are " arranged," not, however, by a match-maker," but very often by some friend of the young man. There is no hard-and-fast rule in these matters, and the search for a bride is often undertaken by the young man's mother, or some female relative. Moorish tribes are made up of duars, or clans, each one consisting of ten, fifteen, or even twenty families, all related to one another, and a man usually marries a girl belonging to his own duar. If a suitable young woman cannot be found in the town or village, a search will be made among those who inhabit the mountains. A visitor may be told that So-and-So is to be married at a certain time, but on inquiring the name of the bride they say, " that is not settled yet, but we shall be sure to hear of a girl somewhere ! "

Generally, when a mother hears of some nice girl likely to prove a good wife to her son, she takes two other women with her and visits the young lady's mother, in order to see for herself whether what she has heard be true. Should she be satisfied she asks the mother for her on behalf of her son, and the mother replies, Ask her father, and if he consents, I will give her." After that the young man must apply to the father, and, escorted by six or seven men, pays him a visit. In some villages the head man has a great deal to do with the arranging of marriages, acting the part of father to those who are orphans, and in any case assisting the father in his negotiation with the suitor. The formal engagement takes place in the head man's presence. The amount received by the father for his daughter varies greatly, and depends on the young man's position and means. It is never less than twenty dollars, and sometimes as much as six hundred or seven hundred. The bridegroom-elect provides an ox for the feast at the bride's house, and if he can afford it another to be killed at his own house. The people appear to attach some idea of sacrifice to the killing of an ox at these feasts. Among other things he must provide the henna for staining the bride's hands and feet, a kind of earth used in the bath, a considerable quantity of wheat, butter, charcoal, blankets, &c. The bride buys her trousseau partly out of the money received by her father. Girls love to make a good show at their weddings, and so lay by what they can from time to time for this purpose. Silver and gold bracelets she must have, and now she can afford to buy them. Bright, pretty robes she must also have, one of cloth and another of silk. But she also makes one or two garments for the bridegroom.

Feasting goes on day and night for seven days before the marriage takes place. Early on the first day native musicians arrive and play morning and evening for several days ; their music and their chanting sound to our ears very dreary and monotonous, but the natives are delighted with it, young and old leaving their work to come and listen to the strains. As with the Jews of old and the Chinese of to-day (see pp. 40, 89) the bride is expected to make great lamentation at the prospect of leaving home, and to declare that she has no wish to be married, which, to say the least, is not sincere. Meanwhile, on the first day, a messenger is sent round to bid the guests come to the marriage, for all things are now ready." Then the ox, or the two oxen, as the case may be, are led to the slaughter. In the afternoon the bride is taken by her girl friends to the bath, returning late in the evening. The feasting goes on merrily ; guests, all arrayed in their best, remain with the bride all night, talking and laughing and making jokes, while she, poor thing, lies on the ground wrapped up in her blanket ! On the next day also there is a great gathering of women and girls, the house and all its precincts being crowded with guests.

On the third day the final preparations are made, the bride again audibly bemoaning her fate. The lawyers draw up a marriage contract and make a complete list of all her worldly possessions. A married woman retains her own property, and if divorced, as is often the case, can claim everything that is written down on the list. An hour or two before sunset the bridegroom sends the box in which the bride is to be conducted on a mule to his house ; it has a pointed roof, and is only just big enough for her to squat in. A professional woman from the town is hired to dress the bride in simple white clothes. She paints her face, combs out her hair, and puts on her jewels for her. Then a little before sunset the bridegroom's men come with a mule (unless the distance to his house is very short) to fetch the bride. She squats in the little box and is borne in procession on the mule all round the town or village, the men dancing round her and firing off their matchlocks every few minutes, and a great crowd following. On her arrival the bridegroom, mounted on horseback, comes out a little way to meet her, with his cloak drawn over his head so far as to cover his face, and both together stop for a few minutes at the door of the mosque, while the fakih, who is partly a minister, gives them his blessing and wishes them all happiness. At last they reach the bridegroom's house where the bride is received by women only. At about ten or eleven o'clock the women retire, and the husband and wife are left alone. Very early next morning the former goes forth, and if he is pleased with his wife there is more firing off of guns. This seems to correspond with the shout of delight given in Syria by the friends of the bridegroom, when they " hear his voice " (see p. 70). But the poor bride has to go through yet another ordeal ; for on the day after the wedding she is obliged to sit on the bed, with a curtain before her, to be looked at. All day long the married women come to see the young wife while she is thus " on view " sitting patiently with her eyes shut ! Each woman places a small gift in her hand and wishes her every blessing. The bridegroom, meanwhile, is spending a merry day with his friends, not at his own house, but perhaps at some neighbouring garden, and he also receives presents. On the fifth and sixth days the couple are left pretty much to themselves, being only visited by an old woman who brings their food, but on the seventh and last day, the husband goes out to the mosque (or perhaps to a cafe) while his bride is being adorned once more ; and now she is allowed to sit on a cushion, or in a chair. Both resume their girdles, which are not worn during the festivities. For many weeks, or even months, the bride is not allowed to go out. After a long period of seclusion she goes to visit her mother for about a week. After that a good dea more freedom is allowed her. It will be evident from the above account that weddings in Morocco are a source of great expense. We are sorry to be obliged to add that, although the Koran certainly does not encourage drinking it is by no means rare for one or more of the guests to get drunk. The owner of the house is not expected to provide wine, or strong drink, but very often some of the men bring wine with them. In the cases of widows, or divorced women, the marriage festivities are much curtailed.

In some parts of Algeria and Tunis a curious custom is still practised. When the bride enters her new home the bridegroom, walking backwards, holds a dagger in his hand, and she follows him, touching the point of the blade with the tips of her fingers. In accordance with another still stranger custom, the unfortunate bride is obliged to stand against a column in the public place, and under the gaze of the people, for two hours or more, her eyes closed, her arms hanging straight down, and her feet resting on the narrow base of the column. So trying is the ordeal that she sometimes faints.

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