I have been to a few weddings since I’ve been here, but this last one definitely takes the cake (there was no cake, actually.) My friend and neighbor, Bedia, was the bride. The groom was someone from Ouarzazate who I didn’t know. Chances are, she didn’t really either. The whole neighborhood was busy day and night making preparations for about a week, but the wedding itself lasted three days. Before I get into the details of this specific wedding, I should give a little background about TashlHeit weddings in general.
Traditionally, weddings last three days. The first two days of the wedding are celebrated separately—one party at the groom’s house and one party at the bride’s house. On the last day, usually around midnight, they come together at one house for the joining of the new couple.
On the first day, they have a dinner for the men. Typically, they serve first a whole chicken with French fries and green olives, and then a stewed beef and prune tagine. Desert is usually some sort of fruit. The second day is the women’s lunch. They serve either couscous, or the same meal as the men. The women’s party is accompanied by constant drumming, singing, and dancing. Even before the actual wedding starts, if they are done with their work for a while, they default into song and dance. On the third day, the real party starts. Men and women are both served, although they are not in the same area. Often, the men will be outside and the women inside, or perhaps they will be in different houses. Depending on how conservative the village and the family, gender segregation is more or less strictly enforced. This doesn’t stop weddings from being the best place to get engaged, though. Everyone dresses up in their finest, glitteriest, and, to the untrained eye, tackiest, clothes. Women go around and spray strong perfume on you when you least expect it, so that you never quite get used to the musky, borderline alcoholic smell of Moroccan perfume.
There are a variety of ceremonies that accompany weddings. In a traditional TashlHeit wedding, the bride wears a red scarf over her face the whole time, as well as an elaborate, dangly headdress. Part of the joining ceremony involves taking off her scarf in the presence of the groom (under a blanket) and showing him her hair. This is significant because the husband and family are supposed to be the only ones who can see a woman’s hair. (A barber here once refused to cut my hair because he knew that I was married and didn’t want my husband to get jealous because he was touching my hair.) Another aspect of TashlHeit weddings, although not a ceremony per se, is parading the bride around for all to see. During the second day, at the women’s lunch, she sits for hours while she gets her hands and feet elaborately tattooed with henna. She spends most of her time throughout the three-day wedding literally sitting on a pedestal having her picture taken.
So now that you have a general idea about how TashlHeit weddings are, I will tell you about the details of Bedia’s wedding. The first thing that was a little different about her wedding was the chronology of events. The men’s dinner was first, as normal, but because some unknown reason, they postponed the women’s lunch until after the joining ceremony that normally takes place on the third day. This was confusing for everyone. Anyway, so my [other] neighbor knocked on my door around 5pm and told me to get my clothes so that we could go over to the wedding house to get ready. When I arrived, it was a cacophony of women rushing around to put pillows in place, finish preparing food, and get dressed. My neighbor ushered me into a back room piled with colorful, glittering dresses and plastic bags full of makeup and jewelry where several women and girls were frantically trying to figure out what they were going to wear. Since I had already done my makeup and I only had one dress choice (the one my neighbor lent me), I was ready pretty quickly.
As more women finished, we started to gather in the courtyard to play drums, sing, and dance while we waited for other guests to arrive. I was glad I got there relatively early because I got a nice place to sit next to a fig tree and as guests arrived, I didn’t have to get up to greet them—they just came to me as they went around and kissed everyone’s hands in the traditional style. Around 9pm, the groom’s party arrived. We all went out to greet them by singing, drumming, and clapping for about an hour. The women in the groom’s party were carrying all kinds of brightly wrapped gifts on trays on their heads, which they impressively balanced while dancing. The men did a traditional AHeydus dance, which involves standing in line and singing and clapping. They had hired a special band to play as well. After a while, we all went inside. Sugary mint tea and cookies were served, and then the bride came out in an elaborate white and silver outfit. She got into a silver glittery coach, which was carried around the courtyard by four boys dressed up in capes and pointy hats. Everyone took lots of pictures. After a while, she went into a back room to rest and change into her next outfit. The women went into the courtyard for more singing and dancing, and the men went outside where the band was and just sat around and talked. Girls came around with a variety of fancy, sugary cookies, mint tea, and almonds every hour or so. We did this for about 7 hours. Every hour or so, the bride came out in a new outfit and posed for more pictures on her elaborate, silver, LED- lit pedestal couch.
Around 2am, they finally served dinner. At 4am, the bride came out in her final outfit—a white, American style wedding dress. The bride and groom fed each other sugary cookies and milk from a fancy goblet. The groom then gave the bride several pieces of jewelry, including a ring. She gave him a ring as well. Then, they tossed small gifts of food and candy to the guests before heading back to their room to consummate the marriage. The rest of the guests rushed outside to cram themselves into cars so that they could drive around the neighborhood honking and yelling. Fortunately for me, I was too slow and all the cars were full by the time I got outside. So, I got to go to bed, just as the dawn call to prayer was being announced.
If this sounds exhausting to you, you’re right. I have just described one night of three, so imagine this whole thing multiplied. If you happen to be a close friend or family member to the bridal couple, you have been doing this for a week. The purpose, as far as I can tell, is to show the community how well you can provide for your family, but also to share with them your wealth. In American weddings, the motivation is a little different—the bride wants to live her fairytale dream—but the result is often just as elaborate. I’m not sure what it is about weddings that make people spend so much time, energy, and money, but they sure make for a good party!