USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘wedding ceremony’
Adulthood
Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ethiopian Wedding Traditions

Context & Analysis

The subject and I exchanged stories of our family’s traditions while sitting in a class discussion. She mentioned that she and her family were from Ethiopia, so I asked her if she knew of any unique Ethiopian traditions that westerners might not be familiar with. She provided me with an overview of traditional Ethiopian weddings gathered from the ones she and her family attend on a (mostly) yearly basis. She emphasized how many of the ritualistic parts of the wedding preparation are altered or substituted depending on each family’s preferences or personal ties to the country. The transcription is a little disjointed at times because the subject attempted to recount a variety of wedding traditions encapsulated in the ceremony. It was quite interesting to hear a younger woman’s take on these traditional ceremonies.

Main Piece

“So…for Ethiopian weddings…it’s like a, um, a couple days long process—actually it can take up to a month usually. I have 8 aunts on my mom’s side so—and I’ve been alive and I’ve missed three weddings—so every single summer someone is getting married. So like the whole summer we go back to Ethiopia or we travel back to where they are and so actually…there’s a process you do when you have your weddings. So first there’s the, uh, bride’s family celebration and they wash the bride’s feet in honey and milk and, um, they do all her makeup and beauty and stuff and they’ll like play this game there where the groom tries to break in [to the room the bride is in] and they’ll be like “No you can’t be in there!” [laughs], and that’s pretty cool. And these things are mostly ritualistic, like you’re not actually pouring milk on the bride’s feet but some people do. I’ve been to a couple of weddings where people have, um, and that is traditionally the night before the wedding. And the day of the wedding it’s—with my family it’s a lot of pictures and posing. I know with traditions they have the husband—the groom—has to kill a bull, or like a goat, and they cook it for dinner, like the wedding dinner. Like in most American ideas of [a traditional Ethiopian] wedding this happens but it’s like miming, which is like kind of a new tradition, um, but yea. There’s a huge selection of Ethiopian foods and a huge section of raw meat, that’s a thing that people eat a lot, and afterward you have a big dinner the day after which is the bride and groom’s first big party together, hosting like their friends and family. And it’s basically everyone goes over during the day—it’s not like a nighttime celebration—um, and then after that (I cannot remember the name of it). It’s just the bride and groom’s parents and they serve them dinner for the first time, like as a couple, um, in their own house. There’s a lot of ritual of, like, respecting your elders and stuff.”

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Proper Attire for a Muslim Wedding

The informant is a 58-year old woman from Trinidad, who has lived in the United States for 45 years. She was raised by her parents in Trinidad and lived in a house with her parents, grandparents, and nine siblings. She attended primary school, and then began working as a housekeeper and nanny. She loves cooking, mainly without recipes or set amounts of any ingredients, having learned her recipes “from my mom and aunts and from trial and error.” The following is what she said when I asked about her step daughter’s wedding a few years ago, of which I was in attendance.

 

Informant: “Abby’s wedding was a big one. Oh gosh, it feels so long ago now!”

Interviewer: “It was beautiful!”

Informant: “It was…”

Interviewer: “Do you remember going dress shopping with mom and me before? Can you tell me about it?”

Informant: “Yes, yes. Well for a Muslim wedding you need to have the proper dress. It is not like American weddings where anything you wear is fine. Because if you come to the Muslim wedding and you are dressed improperly, you may be asked to leave. And more than that, it is important to the bride and groom that you wear the proper clothes.”

Interviewer: “What would be improper to wear?”

Informant: “Something short, anything that shows a woman’s legs would be improper. Respect—modesty—is very very important in Muslim religion and culture.

Interviewer: “I understand. Can you tell me more about where we went to get the outfits for Abby’s wedding?”

Informant: “We went to Devon Avenue, a whole street of Indian stores, and we went into the best one to buy a saree. You tried on so many! They all looked so cute on you. We picked a colorful one, I can’t remember if it was purple or blue…

Interviewer: “It was purple!”

Informant: “Yes, it was. And then for your mom we got a green and maroon one.”

Interviewer: “Does anyone wear black sarees? Or white ones?”

Informant: “No. Everyone, at weddings is supposed to wear colored sarees. That is what’s done at weddings. The varna—that means color—means something always! Red is for the bride. Abby wore red. Colorful sarees make for a happier, more festive wedding.

 

Thoughts:

It doesn’t say anywhere in the Quraan that guests at a Muslim wedding are required to wear colorful sarees, or sarees at all for that matter. But it is a custom—a rule, almost—that guests do so. This reflects the modesty of the culture that is expected and has continued to be important to the Muslim people, especially in rituals. While all Muslims do not dress modestly all the time, it is expected that they do so when weddings and other religious rituals take place.

The colorfulness of the sarees at the wedding ceremony, aside from making photos beautiful and bright, makes the ceremony a very festive event. Interestingly, my informant told me that red is often the color of the bride in Muslim weddings, versus the Christian and Jewish white-dress custom. Red is bright and bold; it symbolizes fertility. It is fitting that this would be the color a bride wears on her wedding day, if what she wears is to symbolize the step she is embarking on in her life.

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