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A Glimpse into a Traditional Afar Wedding

Eritrea is a nation endowed with multi ethnic groups, different languages and cultures living in peace and harmony, each practicing its own different traditional customs. Among these diverse practices is the traditional wedding customs of the Afar ethnic group. There are three ways of planning a wedding in Afar ethnic group which is mostly similar to different other ethnic groups in the country. Sometimes the parents agree for marriage when a child is born and the male’s family chooses a bride and it grows solely by the choice of the man.

The first thing the groom does is after he chooses a bride is informing his father and ask for his approval. Because his father could not only decide his son’s wedding, he calls his brothers and then the approval of the wedding is discussed within the group discussions. During these discussions, the father consults his son’s choice and asks if the girl is suitable. The uncles also discuss where and which family the bride is from. If the family is a distant, one of the groom’s uncles suggests it’d be better if the groom would take his daughter. After long and exhaustive discussions, the groom is asked again about the offer. But since a man can not be deprived of his choice in this culture, he gets his approval from his father and his uncles.   

The men give their blessings and pray for the fulfillment of their thoughts. Since the groom’s family has discussed in approving the wedding, what comes next is informing the bride’s family. Then the family of the groom’s father head to the bride’s residence.

After welcoming the guests, the bride’s father schedules the meeting between the two sides in order to discuss the issues with the uncles of the girl and his clan. In Afar, the clan is informed as a tradition. But most of the time the decision of the wedding relies on the uncles of the girl.

More than the father, the uncles and the girl’s family play a key role when it comes to the approval of the wedding. It is after the approval of the uncles that the mother of the girl goes and tells her daughter that she is going to get married. At this point of time, both the families gather and decide the schedules for the time of the wedding.   

After the first step is done, both fathers of the bride and the groom proceed to the administrator of the village in Afar to the Derder or Sultan of the city. The wedding is then officially approved and both sides of the families finalize their legal duties.

It is after this that the exact timing of the wedding is being decided. The wedding could be after several months or even a year. The men then depart after praying for the success of the wedding.

Three days before the wedding, there is a special ceremony prepared by women of the village. Bookali, which is an ornament scented with butter and different perfumed leaves, is prepared on this occasion so the bride could put it on during her wedding day.

Different programs are prepared for the ceremony. They dig a small hole and put their container made of clay in the hole for three days. This specific norm has passed through generations; it’s believed to be a good omen for the weeding if the women who participate in the making of the perfume butter for the bride are still married. That way the smell of the perfume butter is believed to be stronger so that the bride could put it on her body on the wedding day. The women are dancing different songs praising the girl and her family.

During this ceremony the mother of the girl breeds the girl in two or three corner and the girl hides in her friend’s house. She hides there for four to five days before the wedding. The girl occasionally comes to her house covered in order to assist her mother with in the household. The reason why the girl hides is to avoid exposure to different invitees for the different ceremonies even before the wedding day.

The girl returns to her bed room just two days before the wedding day along with her friends and her friends sing different songs for her. After this, a man comes to the girl and moves her to the left and right as a sign of testing the girl’s endurance. This tradition is known as Niksow.  

The girl could not stand from where she fell the whole day until her friends come in the afternoon to help her prepare for the wedding. The person who does her hair for the wedding should also be someone who is married.

The eve of the wedding is then celebrated in the house of the Derder or the Sultan. The villagers then make for the beginning of signal of the Derder at dawn by the Banda to precede the wedding ceremony.

Everyone then goes and gathers in the house of the Sultan Abdelqadir Dawd which is beautifully decorated by the women in the village. This gathering is to handle occasions to the members of Feima. With in the Feima, all the members of the legislation above the age of 15 which serve as the main assistance of the Derder in the rules and regulations of the Sultanate.

It is mandatory that the Feima is informed about any wedding ceremony in the villages just a day before. The Feima then officially decides if the wedding is going to be held or not. They could ban the wedding if the father of the bride or groom has been convicted of any crime or did not abide by the legislation of the Sultanate; and in such case, the Feima sees to it that the proper punishment is imposed upon the families. 

This wedding has already been approved by the Feima. So both the families are only waiting for the signal to begin the wedding ceremony. At this time the groom chooses two of his best men and the head of the Feima chooses two for the groom’s best men during the wedding.

The Dekar, a traditional drum is played for the honor of the groom and elders are presented with different food provided by the groom’s family.

The women wearing glittering clothes with their silvers, gold as well as other decorations on their hair, play and dance until dusk. Different traditional dances such as Denkalit and Malebuwa are performed during this time.

On the groom’s side, one of the best men gives the groom a hair cut and prepares a head of washing his body. The groom also washes his hair with an egg after a hair cut. One of his trusted men encloses the groom and ties a stick on his hand, known as the Ketel, which is not allowed to put it on the ground. After this, the groom goes out to eat a special food prepared by his mother-in-law. The special food is known as Ara-Iskwada, which is made of milk, butter, rise and different spices.

It is said that this food is specially prepared for the strength of the groom and nobody starts to eat before he does. The groom is said to be even above his father forty days after he’s washed with Henna. Similarly, the bride prepares for the wedding while her hair is being breaded while different plays and dances are taking place.

The perfume butter prepared and buried in the hole for three days is opened and put in different containers on the wedding day.

The honeymoon house among the Afar ethnic group, which is called Ado Ari (afar for white house) is prepared by the bride’s family. It is chosen to be further away from the main house of the bride. Therefore, the villagers gather to help build the house after a message is sent early in the morning through the Banda, already made of antelope’s horn.  

The bride’s mother usually accompanies the couple to help them construct their house and returns home after three days. When the wife gets pregnant, the husband usually takes her back to her family for delivery. The husband would then dismantle the mat house.

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