August 07, 2005

Tunisian Wedding Customs

No, I didn't actually go to one. But my friends Leila and Moussa showed me the video and pictures from there, and explained stuff to me.

In the Islamic world, wedding ceremonies last six days. I got a bit confused when they were all being explained (in Arabic), but several of them seem to involve the bride going to the bathhouse with her friends to get beautiful and painted with henna.

And on the one of the days, the groom comes to her family’s house to sign the wedding contract and pay the bride price (a symbolic token of 20 dinar... about 10 Euro... these days). On this day, she doesn’t bathe, doesn’t comb her hair, and doesn’t put on any makeup. I guess the idea is that the groom needs to be willing to take her at her worst!

Once the families have signed the contract, that night she gets all dolled up in a beautiful dress and they have a party. And two days later, they have the real wedding party. The ceremony doesn’t happen in a mosque… rather the religious figure, a Mufti, comes to the house to approve the contract.

Leila’s wedding dress was white, covered with sequins and beads, and in two pieces, showing off the midriff. Actually, it looks a lot like this picture I found on a Tunisian wedding gown website. Also, her hands were painted with henna in an elaborate design, like in this picture...

From the video, I could see that they had a band, with two drummers, a violinist, a keyboard player, and a singer (all men), which played Middle Eastern music.

The guests wore a diverse variety of clothing... some of the older women wore outfits which covered their entire arms, and headscarves tucked tightly around the face to cover their hair. But most women, and almost all of the men, wore modern clothing, in various shades of modesty. Most of the younger women were wearing outfits which could be seen at American proms.

Some of the guests danced, but usually in groups rather than couples. In fact, it was more common to see two men or two women dancing together than a man and a woman. Mostly the dancing looked similar to what Westerners would do to such music, but there were a few women who busted out the belly dancing moves!


Anonymous Imed Chihi said...


Great post. I got a couple of things to comment on if you don't mind.

One: on "the bride price".
What you're referring to as the "bride price" is technically called "mahr". It's, by no means, a "price", but rather a form of deposit paid to the bride-to-be (and not to her parents) as a guarantee. The reason for this is that the bride is about to leave a cosy and comfortable life with the parents and go into a new life that's potentially going to start a bit harsh since the groom is usually a young man just strating in professional life with little resources. The "mahr", a requirement in Islamic Tradition, is supposed to give the bride some confidence in her new "adventure" and to show that the groom is capable of maintaining a reasonable standard of living.

Unfortunatly, there was a time when this "mahr" was used to show off. The bride family would require a huge amounts to show that their daughter is used to a "noble" life and require to maintain it. The groom family would go for it to show that their son is rich and noble and can afford a luxury life.

In the modern Tunisian society, these huge mahrs are very unfashinable now since they were contributing to making the marriage harder to take place; moreover showing off is religiously not acceptable.

Practically, modern Tunisian women are financially independant anyway and they don't need such guarantees anymore, therefore mahr is now a mere symbolic sum paid to maintain compliance with a long Islamic Tradition no more. I had to pay 1 TND to my wife when we signed the marriage contract :) I know some regions where the value of mahr is still the same since several centuries: 0.068 TND (5 cents) :)

Two: on young ladies lightly dressed in weddings
It's commonly accepted, although not said, that weddings are somehow an occasion for youg men and women to meet each other, therefore some showing off and seduction is tolerated by parents. Since it's done for the good cause (finding a partner), and since all the other girls are equally lightly dresse, it shouldn't be that bad :)


September 04, 2005  
Blogger Lea said...

Imed, thanks for adding your comments!

September 26, 2005  
Blogger Dara said...

What is the web site for the Tunisian wedding gown you referred to?

September 23, 2007  

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