Mar 26th, 2010 |
Lets face it. The outside world knows little about the traditions and customs of Saudi Arabia. Even I, as an expat raised in Saudi, knew little about Saudi marriage customs until very recently. And my knowledge of what actually happened at weddings was all hearsay and rumors.
Things are changing though, and people are becoming a lot more open with sharing their traditions with outsiders. A recent post by Qusay goes into details about the entire process of Saudi courtship and marriage. As a photographer, I do end up in quite a few weddings, so I thought I’d add to Qusay’s great commentary and provide a visual of what happens at a Saudi wedding. MENS’ SIDE ONLY though, don’t want to get in trouble now do we?
The photos I’ve put up are from several weddings. As people will eventually point out, there is a lot of variation in weddings across the Kingdom, and what these photos represent are weddings in the Eastern region and perhaps Riyadh.
And if you’ve got the bandwidth:
See it BIG
Make it small
As Qusay mentioned in his article, the wedding is mostly a womens' event. A lavishly decorated hall, with a stage, catwalk and seating areas are features of most such venues. Separated from the men, women do not wear the traditional Abayas during the majority of the event, preferring more risqué garments and will usually dance the night out. There are no such women in this picture. So stop staring ;P
The mens' side is comparatively more spartan, yet still elegant. Men and women's parties are usually held at different venues, sometimes even at different times. If they are held at the same location, access between the two is strictly prohibited and enforced by Saudi ministries.
Guests arriving at the wedding will be greeted by close family members of the groom and guided to correct halls. The traditional Saudi greeting of kissing the cheek is seen quite a bit here!
The groom, called the 3rees (Arees with a guttural 'A' sound), will occupy a central location in the main hall, surrounded by close family. The formal dress worn here is called the 'bisht' which is a cloak work on top of the ubiquitous Saudi thawb.
Guests arriving at the wedding will first head straight to greet the groom and exchange a few words. A common phrase said to the groom is 'Mink almaal w minh al3eyal' which translates to 'From you comes the money and from her the children'. Don't complain about gender roles people, this is a traditional blessing!
The traditional Arab Bukhoor is usually passed along those seated. The bukhoor is made my dipping wood chips and bricks in special oils. Set alight, it produces a fragrance similar to that of incense. Guests will use the scented smoke to perfume themselves.
The coffee flows at Saudi weddings. Attendants will pass along the seated guests, passing out cups of Arabic coffee and tea. Arabic coffee, called qahwa, is usually passed in special cups which are smaller than traditional drink portions and have no handles.
And there is entertainment too. Saudi dancers are usually dressed up in ceremonial war attire, carrying guns and swords. It is a tradition that has carried on from bedouin tribes.
What's dancing without music! The duff is a traditional arab instrument, very similar to a drum, and not to be confused by a certain actress bearing the name...
The duff players will usually start a beat and singing as the guests start to get seated. The songs are usually those of praise to the groom or to mark the occasion of happiness (in a MANLY way of course ;P)
Why is it manly? Because there are SWORDS there! No fancy acrobatics or rehearsed dance steps here, the dancers will usually stand in place and sway to the beat.
The highlight of the night is the wedding feast that occurs in a separate dining hall. The traditional Saudi kabsa (or rice) with grilled lamb will usually be served at each table.
Obviously kabsa is not the only choice available. While the mens' side of the wedding sticks to more traditional foods, the womens' side (allegedly!) offers much wider variety as their parties last much longer than men.
And occasionally there's something bite-sized enough for a poor starving photographer to nab. *wipes hands on pants* Dont want the camera getting dirty : -P
And this picture has absolutely no educational value to add to the discussion of Saudi weddings... but sooo cuuuuuuuute!!
The grooms table at the feast is usually a flurry of activity. Seating with the most important members of his house, several attendants will scurry around ensuring an amazing (final!) dinner.
After dinner, the singing and music will begin anew...
Except this time the men join in! The sword dance itself is an ancient Bedouin tradition. The men will dance shoulder to shoulder, swaying with the beat and song, and occasionally singing along!
The formal part of the wedding is essentially over by this point. Kids are encouraged to join in and its all about the groom, friends, and family having fun!
Those of you wondering about kids with swords, don't worry! They are all ceremonial and not really sharpened for sticking into vital organs.
As the night wears on, the dances become less and less formal. The swords are thrown away, and the dancing is replaced with more freestyling : P
Probably a more bizarre (at least for an outsider) form of dancing, the groom and his friends will sit in opposing lines and perform a seated dance. This one is all about the fun, and really interesting to watch!
The dancing itself will go on late into the night. Sometimes a bit beyond midnight but not usually later than that. By this point, most guests will have filtered out of the halls and the groom and close friends will by living it up!
But it's not the end of the night for the groom. Saying goodbye to the guests, he will now move, with some close family, to the womens' venue, so they may see him too.
Before the groom enters the venue, the women all don their abayas. The room is usually made dark and a spotlight shines on the bride and groom as they walk down the walkway towards the stage. Photography is usually allowed at this point, but just of the bride and groom.
In my experience, though this is probably not the norm, by this point, the girls are going bananas. There's a lot of excitements as the couple sit down on the stage. While the main purpose here is for the women to see the groom, there may be other trends/traditions that the couple may undertake. There will be dancing of the close family, if the family isn't too conservative. And I have seen a couple share a glass of water or milk, though this may be an external influence!
The girls party can go on late into the night, and in some cases well into the next day. At some point the groom will leave (taking the well exhausted photographer with him) and the women will begin their party anew. I've heard of weddings that will go on to 8am the next day... Now THATS partying!
Well there you have it. That was an outsiders impression of Saudi weddings. I have been told that these weddings are considered on the more luxurious style There is obviously selection bias here in that since photography isn’t mainstream in Saudi Arabia, I will only shoot a particular type of wedding (perhaps affluent and less conservative). So I’d like to put the question to you:
What are your experiences with Saudi Weddings?
Are they usually as glamorous as what these pictures portray?
As for the womens’ side. What traditions and customs have you observed?
Any other anecdotes from weddings you’d like to share?
In particular I would love to hear a short narrative of what happens on the womens’ side, since that is where I’ve noticed the most variation in traditions!
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