At the end of last month, I experienced my first ever Harari Wedding. Harar is a small walled city in Ethiopia. It is considered the fourth holiest city in Islam, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. It is also a city protected by the UNESCO World Heritage due to its preserved historic culture, and deep Islamic roots.
Just before I returned home, I sat down with my cousin and we went through all the cultural steps involved when two people wish to get married. Culture plays such a heavy role in every day life in Harar, especially when it comes to wedding proceedings.
In Islam, marriage is a contract where the bride and groom consent to the marraige. This is done at any point before the wedding. Once the Nikkah is completed, the bride and groom and now Islamically married, and anything that follows from this point is cultural and NOT of a religious nature.
The elder women of the community make a type of bread called Sirri and take it to Ay Abida, a highly respected Saint of the Harari culture. This is done a week before the wedding, and is hoped that the newly wed couple will be blessed in their marriage and married life.
Cow intestines are washed extremely thoroughly and dried for a week before being stuffed with meat. A cow is slaughtered after sunrise on the day of waqaalim production, and a sort of minced meat is made. During the day, about 30 women sit around and stuff the intestines by hand to make sausages. Whilst filling, they chant some songs. The intestines allow the meat to cook in a way that retains flavour and taste of the meat.
The waqaalim is then distributed to close family and friends after the bride and groom have spent a night together, to symbolise and announce the ‘purity’ of the woman. If the woman was deemed to have not been practicing chastity, the waqaalim is left at the door of the family house and the community would be aware of the situation. This practice does not happen much these days, but waqaalim is still made as a cultural ritual.
4. Bun Wa Halawa
Translation: coffee and sweets
The brides side take some coffee and sweets to Jumuah Masqeed on Friday, the largest mosque in Harar to receive blessings and well-wishes from worshipers.
5. Aruz Mawalal
Translation: bride walking around
The day before the wedding, the bride and her entourage of about 15 single ladies dress in cultural clothing (Atlaas) and walk around the streets of Jugal. This usually starts after the Asr prayer (around 4pm), and lasts until 10pm. They also visit some houses to invite family and friends. Whilst walking, the bride may see people she forgot to invite and is sure to invite them to her wedding. This is also an opportunity to take some bridal photos at the Ada Gar (cultural house).
6. Raga Karabu
Translation: elderly drumming
In the morning of the wedding day, some (mostly elderly) women from the close circle of the bride’s mother (Afocha) get together to chant some songs including some dancing with the bride and family. This is done after guests have finished eating Haaris – a traditional porridge containing meat and fat. This takes place outside in the courtyard of the bride’s family house.
7. Qalam Masbar
Translation: breaking of the pen
This is usually done after the Raga Karabu. The bride demonstrates that she is educated and ready for marriage. Using a pen, she writes some Quranic verses with others watching her.
8. Zagan Karabu
Translation: drumming for engagement
At about 4pm, most guests would have arrived at the wedding house, and the main party begins. Here, the bride and her family and friends get together to celebrate the union of the bride and groom. Usually, this celebration just includes females. This takes place inside the main living room of the bride’s family house.
9. Ankar Mahtab
Translation: cow washing
So the story is, back in the day, people would wash a newly slaughtered cow whilst celebrating the wedding. This event takes place in the evening of the main wedding day at the bride’s family house. Today, there is no washing of a cow, but there most definitely is another celebration. The bride and her guests all change outfits (three times during the main wedding day)!
After the Ankar Mahtab celebrations are almost finished, the groom and some of his family and friends come to the wedding to dance and celebrate. The bride and groom are given some milk to drink to bless their marriage.
11. Henna Okhat
Three woman from the bride’s side (usually her aunties), dress in traditional clothing (Atlaas) to take some traditional Ethiopian food, Okhaat (bread) and Maraaqh (sauce), to the groom’s family house. The women enter the house, greet the family, give the food, drink some milk, and leave. They stay in the house for about 5 minutes, not more.
Early the next day, men from the community gather at the bride’s family house and chant some prayers and songs praising the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), and Allah. Following this, everyone eats lunch and the poor from the area are also allowed in the house to eat some food, as a way of charity.
13. Aruz Magba’a
Translation: bride is taken away by groom
Mid-afternoon, the day after the main wedding, the groom comes to the bride’s family house to take her to the new bridegroom house. Her home is no longer her family home, and she is now in a relationship with her husband and has officially left home. This can be quite emotional for the bride and the family.
All the friends and family also go to a place in Harar that is considered scenic to take some family photos.
The groom’s side bring some sweets to the bridegroom house.
15. Baqal Moose
The morning after the first night, close friends and family take some things that the new couple may need for the first couple of days settling into their place. This includes bananas (moose).
16. Abba Matora
That evening, the bridesmaids dress in traditional clothing (gey ganafi) and take sambusa (samosa) to the bridegroom house. The sambusa is usually placed under a traditional Harar object called Mot.
When the bridesmaids arrive at the bridegroom house, they feed the bride the sambusa and everyone recites some verses from the Quran in unison.
17. Enay Gabata
The next morning, local families and the surrounding community receive the waqaalim (to reflect female chastity) at their doorsteps. Some people give rice instead of waqaalim.
18. Aruz Mowta’a
Translation: bride and groom come back
The bride and groom come back to the bride’s family house to have lunch with close family and friends from the community. There isn’t really a specific day that this happens, but is usually a few days after the main wedding day,
19. Gufta Mowgad
Translation: tying the hair
To represent the woman’s married status, the elders from both the bride and groom side get together to tie the bride’s hair in a specific cultural style. The hair is divided into two through the middle and is tied into two balls, low on the head next to the ears. This is usually done in the evening. Some cultural chants are also recited here.
An incense is also lit and placed under the chair of the bride to make her body smell nice for her husband.
The FINAL event!
The bridal party get together and have dinner at the groom’s family house. This is meant for the families to get to know each other, and to close the wedding celebrations.
As you can see, there’s a LOT that goes on for a wedding. It is especially heavy on the bride’s side, an issue that used to plague families with many females. I must admit, even as a guest, I was tired by event number 3. BUT, overall, it was an eye-opener and definitely a great cultural experience. I hope I get to experience another wedding in Ethiopia soon.
– A Y –