Moroccan Weddings — Gifts, Gowns, and Glory

Morocco — In this largely agricultural nation, many of weddings are scheduled in August, primarily because the harvest is over, school hasn’t begun, and it is too hot to do anything else. Celebrations are noisy public affairs, although public doesn’t mean everyone is invited to the party, which invariably happens in a rented hall or big tent set up on the roof of a house or in the street, blocking traffic to and from several houses for the duration. The duration may be three to four days.

The tents used for these events are usually white on the outside with a couple of peaks raising the roof, very much like the tents one sees in old movies about knights jousting with the favor of their lady tucked daintily into the armor. Inside, wedding tents are often designed with a red and green banner pattern at intervals along the walls, and they will be carpeted with red, white, and green patterned rugs.

Musicians follow the gift parade and play at the wedding

Before the celebration, a little bit of showing off gives notice to the community of the family’s status and displays the gifts pledged to the happy couple. In small towns and cities, like Settat, Morocco, which I am familiar with, the festivities begin with a kind of parade through town, often consisting of a few musicians playing the Qraqeb, the guembri, flutes, and tambourines, a horse drawn cart laden with sugar cones (a traditional wedding gift — for a sweet life), bags of rice or cous cous, blankets, kitchen ware, and pieces of furniture. The more gifts, the bigger the cart, the more people trailing along, the better.

1. A bride getting henna tattoos on her hands, 2. A bride wearing what is probably borrowed finery. 3. A traditional tribal bride with ornamentation that reveals her family’s status.

The actual party is an intense affair, consisting of music, dancing, comedy, multiple changes of clothing for the bride, and invariably, a few people in attendance falling asleep in their chairs out of sheer exhaustion. A young man I know quite well, Mohammed, had a wedding which followed tradition. He and his bride arrived at the house on the night of the party and were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd and a lot of trilling of tongues, known as ululation. This is a peculiar oral movement which I haven’t mastered though I continue practicing. The result is a vibrato squeal, the decibels of which have yet to be measured by science.

Bride being carried in an ameriya

Mejda, Mohammed’s bride gleamed in a white Moroccan gown overlaid with a sheer sequined and pearled tunic. Her hair, black and abundant was dressed in an intricate chignon and anchored with a crown of sorts. Before entering the house with Mohammed, she climbed into a small bier, an ameriya, a kind of human tray with a roof, and was lifted and carried up and down the block in front of her family’s house by four stalwart males while the band tooted their horns and tapped out a joyous rhythm on their drums. At last, the outdoor parade was over, and she and the groom walked sedately into the house.

The young couple is the focus of every eye.

There they took up their stations on two thrones at one end of the tent. Flowers, provided by a better-off brother, festooned the dais and were also gathered into two huge arrangements at the back of the stage and on the stairs of the stage. The wedding celebration is essentially a performance piece in which the bride changes into a variety of ever-more elaborate gowns and reenters the reception area to the glee of all female attendees. At another wedding , years before, I had seen a bride was so tired that on the sixth or seventh changing session she literally needed people to help her remain upright as she returned in for another stint on the throne. It was around 2:00am by then, so who could blame her? Mejda held up remarkably well, being in full possession of her faculties as she exited once again to be disrobed and redressed in more opulent garb. The initial pristine white costume gave way to a midnight blue outfit, heavy as velvet with gleaming silvery threads on the cuffs, down the front, and around the collar.

Next came the brilliantly emerald hued “taksheeta”, a two garment costume famous in Morocco and sewn in an infinite array of fabrics and details. The “taksheeta” is essentially a translucent tunic-like slip worn over another of heavier, luxuriant fabric. The two garments can match, contrast, or favor one another by picking out one of the colors of the other and using that as an accent. Both pieces fall to the ground and have high necks and long sleeves, from beneath which the bride’s hennaed hands can be seen. Following Mejda’s rose colored dress was a crimson version with gold threading, intricate embroidery and a wide gold belt. A satiny turquoise blue choice was followed by the second of two varieties of lacy white gowns. Somewhere in the middle of the fashion parade was a gossamer gold dress with the sheer overdress. That’s seven. It’s enough to put one off shopping all together.

While the bride is changing and rearranging a selection of jewelry and hair adornments, which, like the gowns, are rented for the occasion, the guests, mostly female, fan themselves, gossip, dance, listen to the crooning tones of a series of singers, and plot the next wedding. Sometimes there is a small dramatic troop which does skits, usually poking fun at woman, or marriage, or both. Mohammed and Mejda had an all male group working the party and bringing out a laugh or two to distract the audience from the late night and the lack of on-hand refreshments.

Everyone had eaten at the bride’s family’s expense earlier in the evening. Guests were served from an animal killed for the occasion and roasted to Moroccan perfection. The end of the evening is announced by a series of small events, one following on another quickly, so that

there is a certain momentum to the mass exodus. First, the bride and groom exchange rings, and the groom puts his gold jewelry offerings on the bride’s wrist and neck. Then they partake of milk and dates, each sipping from the same bowl of milk and then feeding the other a tasty date, with the pit removed. Finally, the bride circuits the room with a basket of special wedding candy, distributing a piece to each person in turn. That signals the end, and everyone leaves while the bride and groom no doubt fall into a grateful slumber.

NOTE: I have chosen pictures from several weddings to represent a traditional celebration. The couple in the featured image is none other than King Mohammed VI and his bride, Salma Bennani, on March 21, 2002, in Rabat, Morocco.

Writer, ESL instructor, editor, traveler, seasonal ex-pat— my life is both an intentional and serendipitous circumstance. Motto — “Buy the ticket, and go!”

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