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Marriage Customs Of Kabyle People

( Originally Published 1897 )

A Kabyle wife leads a much happier and far more rational life than an Arab married woman ; no rival shares her husband's heart—she is his wife in the best sense of the word, treated with affection and respect. She takes her meals with the family, and is present even when there are guests in the house. In summer, when her household duties permit, she assists her husband in his work, taking part with him in the labours of the field. Kabyle women are decidedly more handsome than those of the Arabs, or of the Moors.

An artist,' who has travelled in Algeria and published a book illustrated by his own drawings, thus describes what he saw of a Kabyle wedding in the neighbourhood of Borj Boghni :

The bridegroom had gone to fetch his bride, and I waited with many others beside a stream that flowed at the foot of the village, for his return. Suddenly we heard the sound of pipes, and saw the marriage procession streaming from the summit of a neighbouring hill, and then lose itself among the trees ; a few minutes later it issued from the avenue near us and ascended a slope towards the bridegroom's house. First came the pipers, then the bride muffled up in a veil, riding a mule led by her lover. As well as I could judge, she was very young, almost a child. Then came a bevy of gorgeously dressed damsels, sparkling with silver ornaments, followed by a crowd of her friends, and Kabyle Dick and Harry. In front of the bridegroom's house the procession stopped ; the girl's friends lined both sides of the pathway and crowded about the door. The pipers marched off on one side, while the bridegroom lifted the girl from the mule and held her in his arms. The girl's friends thereupon threw earth at him, when he hurried forward and carried her over the threshold, those about the door beating him all the time with olive branches amid much laughter. This throwing of earth, this mock opposition and good-natured scourging appear to be a symbolised relic of marriage by capture, and a living explanation of the ancient Roman custom of carrying the bride over the threshold of her lover's (see pp. 8, 14, 15). In the evening on such occasions the pipers and drummers are called in, and the women dance, two at a time facing each other ; nor does a couple desist until, panting and exhausted, they step aside to make room for another. The dance has great energy of movement, though the steps are small. . . . As leaves flutter before the gale so do they vibrate to the music ; they shake, they shiver, they tremble. . . . They also deride the men by clapping their hands to the music and singing verses."

In ancient Rome customs such as these were observed. The bride was brought home in procession, with singing and the music of the flute ; she was carried over the threshold, and in the evening there was a marriage feast. This habit of carrying the bride was variously accounted for. " Concerning the bride, they do not allow her to step over the threshold of the house, but people sent forward carry her over, perhaps because they in old time seized upon women and compelled them in this manner." Another explanation suggested by Mr. Barclay is that the bride was carried in order to avoid the chance of tripping at the threshold, which would have been considered a very bad omen ! And he quotes a verse as follows :

"Let the faithful threshold greet
With omens fair, those lovely feet,
Lightly lifted o'er:
Let the garlands wave and bow
From the lofty lintel's brow
That bedeck the door."

Theocritus, in his " Epithalamium of Helen," describes the twelve first maidens of the city forming the dance in front of the newly painted nuptial chamber. And they began to sing, I ween, all beating time to one melody with many twinkling feet, and the house was ringing round with a nuptial hymn."

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