Let's Get Married- Kuwaiti Style (part 3)
KTM May Issue 2002
Now that we've been engaged for a while (done the "milcha"), it's time to prepare for the actual wedding. There isnt' much eloping that goes on around here in Kuwait. It happens but it is very rare indeed. Mostly it is because the families have so much to do with the arrangement of most marriages here that there really isn't much of a chance to do it, and also due to social stigmas that surround doing such a thing. But part of it is the great ritual involved in the actual wedding itself. People here live for a great wedding, and, in fact, I know of many older Bedouin ladies here that go every single weekend to weddings, whether they know the family or not. "Gate Crashing" weddings is a big pastime here for many women living along the outer areas of Kuwait. They don't have much to do, and that is fun. And what is even better, no one really minds. If they do they will make the wedding a formal affair with invitations that double as entry into the wedding. (And believe me, these invitations are taken very seriously. the other day I was going to a family wedding that had this type of invitation, and I had forgotten mine at home, I had just started to turn around and get mine when luckily the bride's aunt had a couple extras and brought it to me! No matter how well I knew them without that card the security at the hotel door wouldn't have let me near the place!)
There is so much to do here in planning a wedding, much like there is in other countries. At least here they don't sign up for their wedding registries, etc., like they would in the states. But still there is so much to do. In the olden days here in Kuwait all they would do is gather the people together and sing and play the drum. The bride would sit, and people would sing special wedding songs for her, and flap a kind of green cloth over her head. This ritual is called "yalwah" and is no longer done. Then the groom would either be brought to her, or she to him, and that would be that. There would be a dinner, and for the Bedouin, even the next day or several days there would be feasting and dancing of the "ardha", as special dance that is done by the men, in rows facing each other. (This sight comes on TV a lot, and most of you have probably seen it at one time or another). Nowadays, though, things are much different!
As with everything else in life, weddings have become very complicated now. Many people agonize over how they are going to outdo the next guy with their wedding. Now, they are starting to do even outlandish things.. like someone was telling me of a wedding where the bride came in riding in a shell, and came out of the shell as if she was a pearl. Another one, where a horse and carriage actually entered into the wedding hall and brought the bride in. Another where the bride was carried in by "servants" in what was described as a bird cage. Hmmmm. I think I would have laughed rather than to have been awestruck by a scene such as that. And the poor girl! It's mothers who think up things like that! Luckily, most of the weddings I've been to are, for the most part, regular ones, where the bride walks in wearing a gorgoeous white gown, and a veil on her head, flowers in her hands, walking slowly up the aisle with photographers in hot pursuit. Although they don't often play the wedding march here, there is accompanying music, which is usually a song by a singer called "Fatoum" called "Hebba Sa'ad". The whole while the singers and the attending ladies punctuate the verses with an ardent Arabian version of "yodelling"!!! At one wedding I went to recently someone way up in the risers waited till just when everything was quiet and then let out a loud "yeeee-hhaaaaa" instead of the "yodel", boy did that get some laughs!
The way weddings here in Kuwait are usually set up is with a "throne-like" area at the head of the wedding hall, and a large open area directly in front of the bride, where the ladies will dance. All Kuwaiti weddings are segregated totally, except for when the groom comes in to get the bride. He is usually accompanied by other male members of his family, and by male members of the bride's family as well. Lately, at many weddings, the groom is also accompanied by a male band, like a kind of folkloric style group as well. The wedding hall is set up with risers on either side of the "dance floor" and that is where everyone sits and observes the night's antics. Right next to the dance floor there are always special chairs (or sofas) set up in order to seat the close members of the families, and the older women.
Throughout the evening there are servant that go back and forth serving various sweetmeats, juices, Arabic coffee, and tea. In traditional weddings the "tagagaat" (drum playing and singing ladies) will vigorously play all night, and the ladies will sit and wait for their favorite song to come up, so they can jump up and start their promenade up and down the dance floor. (In more modern style weddings it is becoming somewhat of a fad ot have a male band play from behind a wall or screen, or even to have a DJ instead of the band or the singing ladies.) In Kuwaiti ladies wedding parties there are as many traditional styles of dancing as there are anywhere. There is one style that goes kind of slowly up and down in a kind of shuffle, with feminine movements of the arms and hands throughout, and there are rapid "horsey" dances that really do resemble horses galloping across, (that is my favorite!). (The women and girls are wearing fine and often very extravagant formal dresses that are often reminiscent of the coutoure dresses from Paris. Makeup and hair is often, if not always done at the salon, and they come out looking as elegant as any belle of the ball in any Western country, as this is the place where the women shine. Since they are covered up mostly when going out, it is only at weddings that Muslim women can really come out, dress up and show each other what they've got, which is exactly what they do!) Then there is one dance that I always wait for. It is very slow, and usually songs for this dance play only once or twice in the entire evening, but the older ladies are always prepared for them. They make their way on to the dance floor, wearing their "thobes" which are sheer black, lightly embroidered gowns that are put over their regular dresses, and often slung over their heads and faces as well, in a kind of demure way. These often VERY old ladies then proceed to slowly and elegantly glide up the dance floor, swaying gently to the beat of the music. I LOVE this dance. I love seeing those old ladies get up and dance like that. It is really beautiful. I noticed that the ladies who do this dance are usually very elegant looking to start with, like it's some kind of "sophisticates" thing. In any case, it is always the highlight of the evening for me!
The bride sits regally on her "throne" and people come up and congratulate her. In Bedouin weddings it is the proper thing to do that the bride should sit and look very upset, and unhappy, and never show her pleasure at the fact that she is about to set out on this new adventure of marriage, but in "hathar" (city folks) weddings the bride often smiles and looks happy, albeit shy. She is surrounded by beautiful flower arrangements and her sisters or other relatives attend her. It is part of the wedding planning that the "kosha" or wedding backdrop are designed and put in place, and they are often extemely elaborate. So people are forever having their pictures taken with the bride, and even when she leaves with the gorgeous backdrop!
Since weddings usually start around 8pm, and the bride is usually sitting their from 9 or 10pm, the groom usually makes his appearance around 11 or 12pm. When his arrival is announced most of the ladies run and grab their "abayas" and head and face covers, and sit down in their chairs. No more dancing will be done while the men are there, except for by the groom's sisters or other close relatives. All the women are dying to get a glimpse of the groom, the highlight of the evening, second only to the bride herself. He comes in with his entourage, wearing a most elegant "bisht" (a kind of traditional cloak-like garment with gold embroidery down the front) and traditional Kuwaiti dress of a dishdasha (the robe like men's dress), and gutra and agaal (the head gear), and takes his place on his own "throne" next to the bride, who is often covered completely at this time with a giant white cloak like garment, to protect her from the eyes of the groom's brothers and other men who are not close relatives of hers. At Bedouin weddings, once the men leave and the giant cloak is removed from the bride, it will be the first time the groom has ever laid eyes on his new bride. The Bedouin bride will sit completely still and fix her eyes on the floor, while the "hathar" bride has seen her new husband before, so they will often sit and chat together smiling. At this point every wedding has its different practices, including drinking juice together, feeding each other fruit, cutting and feeding cake to each other, etc. and lots and lots of picture taking.
After sitting for a while, the "hathar" bride will get up to a special song and dance coyly for her new husband's adoring eyes. This is no small feat either, considering the fact that she is usually wearing a dress that is heavy, dragging and loaded down with unusual contraptions. One dress I saw even had something that looked like little books all over it, which I found out later to be Bedouin poetry about the bride and groom. It really did look quite strange!
After some time the bride and the groom will both get up and walk down the "aisle" together and off on to their new life together. As soon as they leave the women all tear off their covers again and get down to the business of dancing and having a good time!
Sometime soon after the groom leaves the dinner is served, which is usually a buffet, and usually very extravagant and lavish. The must have "qoozi" (lamb and rice) is always there, along with other main dishes, salads, desserts and more! Ladies feast, and feast, but there are always leftovers, which are usually give to the poor and not wasted.
At some weddings the partying continues until the morning and even breakfast is served, but weddings like that are becoming more rare, and most weddings these days finish around 2 or 3am at the most. All in all a great evening out, and a good show to boot!