Honeymoon and Married State in The Tigre Ethnic Group

About Eritrea - History & Culture

Among the Tigre ethnic group, honeymoon can last up to forty days (except in time of hardship when it is shortened to seven days only).  From the moment she comes to stay with her in-laws, the bride’s behavior becomes somewhat changed and she refuses any bodily contact with her spouse, who tries in vain to subdue her. But the bride’s fingernail (grown to an unusual size for the occasion) are the only weapons she has for defending herself against her tormentor, lashing and clawing at him desperately until he leaves her in peace for sometime.


In some localities, however, the friends of the bridegroom do take part in the “fight” on the side of their helpless partner who on certain occasions is kept at bay for up to seven days.

Among the Maria clans, the bride can prolong such kind of struggle for as long as one year. However, when the bride decides at last to allow the bridegroom to have his way, there arises again another problem as difficult to surmount as the first. In deals with the question of deflowering the bride who tradition obliges had already undergone the painful operation of infibulations. Consequently, the bridegroom is unable to consummate the marriage.
Strangely enough, virginity is taken very lightly among this ethnic group, and a bride who form some reason or another has already lost her virginity is more often than not forgiven by her spouse unless of course she is found to be pregnant in the time of her marriage.

Among the Beni-Amr clan the bride is bound by tradition to remain in her father’s house even after the consummation of the marriage. She thus stays with her family until after she bears two children and the  youngest reaches the age of one or two years.      


Pregnancy and Labor

Since in the Tigre ethnic group marriage has no purpose other than to continue the process of reproduction, the days of a woman who cannot supply children are numbered. And such an unfortunate situation is taken by the community to be a curse from God.

The frustration and remorse that the ‘barren’ parents experience after this cruel visitation from God is so unbearable that the husband tries everything to produce an offspring even to the point of arranging consultation sessions with various divines and sorcerers. And in the event that all fails, he swallows his pride and adopts a child.

Pregnancy:

In this ethnic group a lot of interest is shown for the pregnant woman who, for example, is exempted from performing heavy household chores after the completion of her six-month gestation period. She is made to eat choice of food because she is now ‘two souls in one’ and must consume extra ration of food.

Besides, there are various taboos that should be taken care of by the pregnant women if she is to keep the child safe inside her womb. These include, animal taboos, color taboos and food taboos, which should be strictly observed.

Aborted birth is the price that the woman pays for breaking any one of these rules. In addition, the pregnant woman is expected not to listen to the sound of thunder. If she somehow hears the roar, she smears her forehead with soot (for her protection) and anoints her navel with butter (for the safety of her unborn child). Her husband is, on his part, forbidden to pour dust on the corpse of a person being buried and is not allowed to kill a snake. If a guest arrives from a far away place, he or she is not permitted to come near the pregnant women for fear that the latter might get stricken by an unexpected disease.

When the time arrives for the woman to give birth, the village mid-wife is sent in order to perform the delivery. Now starts the long, painful and sometimes fatal task of bringing the child safely into the world. And the rest of the women begin to invoke the virgin for the safety of both the woman and the child.

In some localities, if the labor pain persists for a long time without any result, the woman is made to drink specially prepared water in which her husband had already washed his feet. Such practice, although on the wane, is thought to be helpful as much as the potion is considered powerful enough to ‘persuade’ the baby to come out quietly from the womb.

However, among the Tigre Protestants, if the birth labor continues and the pain becomes unbearable, the woman is taken to the nearest medical dispensary or is treated in accordance with accepted medial practices. 

Other types of marriage

There are in addition three types of marriage among the Tigre ethnic group worth mentioning. They are:
-    Mer’a Hayam
-   Menkets Dem
-    Mer’a Tcuhuluk and
-  Mezraf

Mer’a Hayam: This is a kind of marriage where a man who has lots or divorced his wife takes a widow or a divorcee as a wife. This type of marriage also includes the matrimonial union effected between an already married man (who is taking a second wife) and a girl or a woman.

As may be expected, the wedding feast held for such occasions is as much as possible kept at a very low level and expenses are also kept at the minimum.  Although in some localities people who practice this kind of marriage are mostly held in a very low esteem, they do however enjoy the same rights as the rest of the people in the society.

Second marriages had been very common in the past decades among this ethnic group as a result of mass killing of the male population by the Ethiopian soldiers.

Menkets Dem: This type of marriage is held in order to bury the hatchet or, in a literal sense, to dry up an innocent blood spilt following some kind of feud.

Sometimes a situation may develop in which two families may declare vendetta on each other without a visible end. In such circumstances, the only solution for the guilty is to try and appease the offended party. This is done by a marriage alliance in which the guilty family gives the hand of its daughter to a male member of the other family. No dancing and singing is allowed on this solemn occasion.

Mer’a Tchuluk: This is a poor man’s weeding ceremony (mostly practiced among the Tigre Protestants) where only tea and bread are served to the invited guests.

Such kind of frugal wedding feast is also reserved for the girl who gets married because she is pregnant. A low key feast is therefore all that the unfortunate bride gets from her humiliated family.

Mezraf:
This kind of marriage however looks more like eloping than abduction in that the boy and the girl know already what they are up to. Thus, the boy and the girl simply go somewhere else (far away from the village) to perform the ‘wedding’ by themselves.

If, however, the family of the girl manages somehow to apprehend the boy before he consummates the marriage, they can ‘salvage’ their daughter. If not, the two lovers are free to do as they please. In any case, if the newly married couple decides to return home, the family of the boy is supposed to fulfill all that the traditional marriage institution demands of it for marking the marriage ‘healthy’ and valid.

And once the boy obliges the offended family by observing the law of the land, the couple can lead a normal life among their kin in the village. 


Play, punishment and education


Among the Tigre ethnic group, the child starts to play and enjoy itself from the time it starts to stand up and make its first step. As in most parts of the world, boys are expected to play games which are by nature more strenuous, competitive and aggressive, a sort of initiation into the harsh and cruel adult life. Girls, however, prefer less aggressive but more skillful children’s play imitating their mothers’ daily activities such as cooking, corn grinding, fetching water, nursing babies and the like.

The innocent pastime of playing  house which includes imitating matrimonial ceremonies with its traditional practices, is gender blind and is played under the condoning but wary eyes of the mother.

When the children grow up, they become more and more gender conscious, and the only time they get together to enjoy themselves is on certain occasions that necessitate singing and dancing, which practice is again confined only to certain clans or localities.

Disobedience and punishment:

The child is “punishable” after the age of one year or when the family believes that it has developed the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong.

The punished offenses for male children include: refusing to go to mosque, refusing to recite the Koran, disobeying grow-ups, losing property, insolence, stealing, lying, etc. and for girls it includes: refusing to fetch water, to collect firewood, or to grid corn, insolence, etc. the subsequent punishment may range from simple advice and reproach to verbal abuse, beating up, cursing, and in some localities withholding food and even strict house confinement. In some areas, an unrepentant delinquent (below seven) is kept inside a net which hangs from the ceiling unit he or she promises to mend his or her ways. Among the Maria clans, however, corporal punishment is never administered to a child before the age of ten, for fear that it might hurt its psychological make-up.

Most of the time, it is the father who punishes the male child and the mother takes care of the female child. In the event that the father is not there to exercise the necessary punishment, it is the big brother or the uncle who is expected to execute the delicate job.    In such a situation, any hint of rebelliousness or aggressive reaction from the child is considered filial treason and the apex of parental disgrace.

As the child reaches the age of 15, the situation changes drastically, for the father has to think twice before he decides to beat up a person as such an advanced age, since that child of yesteryears has suddenly become a dangerous adult and is now capable of fighting back and humiliating the  head of the family.

Under such circumstances, when the young man/woman becomes a real problem and stigma to the family, the only choice left for the father is to either send him/her to prison or disown him/her outright.  

Divorce

All along the road of a married life, some kind of misunderstanding and resentment are likely to pop up now and then. Most of the time, such feeling of estrangement arise from financial problems and from the common notion of male superiority. The reason that create feeling of estrangement between the couple and which eventually lead to separation include: too much drinking and infidelity on the part of the husband, getting sick very often, inability to raise children adequately, inability to live in harmony with the mother-in-law and improper handling of guest on the part of the wife. 
Among the Tigre community, divorce cases are settled through the intervention of village elders, and in more difficult cases, the matter is referred to the Kadi (Moslem religious judge).   Most of the time, the guilty party is made to pay a certain sum of money as a fine and as a compensation to the wronged party. Among the Tigre Protestants, however, the case is settled by the church synod.

Since among Tigre Moslems the probability for a divorced woman to remarry is minimal, and since she is not welcome to stay with her parents as a divorcee, she is obliged to remain with her husband, suffering in silence, for the rest of her life. 

Although it is difficult for a woman to start divorce proceedings herself, in special situation where the husband is found to be impotent, the wife has the right to divorce her spouse. But, first, the case is carefully examined in order to determine whether the impotency is related to some genetic defect or has resulted from a recent accident.

In most Tigre clans the children (other than infants) of divorced parents remain in the custody of the father. Generally speaking, however, divorce is frowned upon among the Tigre community, for through experience they know that it has poisonous consequence on society in general.