Marriage Ceremonies of Dongolese Nubians in North Sudan,Continuation and Change

Sun, 15 Apr 2018



Dr. Amel Osman Hamid

 

Abstract:

This Study is about the Marriage Ceremonies of Dongolese in North Sudan. It describes them and states their social and cultural significances. The Study follows the descriptive and analytical method and relies on some secondary written references and sources. But, most of the related data have been collected from the basic sources through the field work and the interviews with the concerned narrators and informers.

 

Preface:

The Study has stressed on the continuing rites and values such as the keenness on the family solidarity and the tight relations between relatives, tribe members and neighbors. The sharing and exchange of donations in this event indicate an apparent commitment toward the others and supports the relations between relatives, neighbors and friends.

 

What is Marriage?

Marriage is one of the most important events of life[1]. It represents an essential role in the social system as the base of the family and the origin of the social entity. Accordingly, it is governed by a number of firm conditions and commitments which should be followed[2].

Westermark describes marriage as the continuous and permanent relation which lasts beyond breeding and growing the children. But, this will not deny breeding as the vital objective of marriage. For example, the girl in Massai tribe in middle and east Africa will only be qualified to be married after she becomes pregnant[3].

 

A number of general features of marriage in Dongola area are still in their traditional form, despite of the changes to various cultural values and traditions. For example, the marriage between relatives is still followed and this may be attributed to the reason that most of inhabitants of the area are belonging to one tribe. The other groups who settled in the area have been welcomed inside the Nubian community of Dongola, and we can remark various changes in the details of the social events and ceremonies of the area.

The first change is related to the issue of selection in marriage. In the past, the youngster cannot select by himself and the bride cannot refuse the choice of her parents[4].Regarding the young man, the selection of his bride is the job of his parents and he willfully accepts[5]. But, this condition is changed due to the availability of education of both genders and the opportunity of their meeting in the working and education places.

In the past, the girl used to stay in the house and learn handling the house affairs from her mother to be a good wife. The boy also leaves school and joins his father’s job, e.g. farming, trading, boat industry or iron-smithing.This situation is changed, the sons and daughters can regulate their own life and it turned to be possible for the man to be introduced to the girl’s family for marriage as her work colleague[6]. Sometimes, a man working in Dongola may be rejected, despite of his good character, due to the preference of relatives’ marriage.

The mother and sisters, and sometimes brothers and friends, play a major role in the selection process with the stress on the acceptance of the mothers of the bride and bridegroom.[7]

The age of marriage is generally between twenty and thirty for the girls and thirty to forty for the sons, whereas the sons in the past usually merry immediately after their maturity between twelve and sixteen years of age. In this regard, the Donglese society is not varied from most of the Sudanese cultures.[8]

The Engagement:

The engagement was treated as an immediate introduction to marriage. The son and daughter, and especially the daughter, have no right to select or know his or her pair. This job is performed by the parents by their agreement with the other family and they immediately start preparing for marriage. At this stage, the son will be informed by his parents about such agreement.[9] Informing the girl takes more dramatic way. Three married women with children go to the Nile with a vessel filled with bits of bread. They pour water in the vessel until the bits become wet. Then they return to the girl’s house to inform her about the marriage. She stays in a room and sits in a basin. They start filling her mouth with the bread bits with her dalliance and moaning while the women repeat in Nubian language:”Woyoyo Ingrika Shekka” wich means “Oh, Mom”. During this operation, the girl’s hair and body will be filled with bread bits and a woman will try to insert the bread bits in her mouth. The women will collect the bread bits and return it to the Nile. This operation indicates fertility and sexual signs. This is the exact meaning of this process as told by local inhabitants.[10]

At this stage, the girl is considered as notifies about her marriage. Then, she will be notified about her future husband and asked to prepare herself for the marriage ceremonies. The following rite is tattooing the bride’s lower lip. The first rite stated above was abandoned and the second one is employed as a declaration of engagement and marriage.[11]

All this is changed now, and the engagement became an essential stage which may extend to days, months or years. But Dongula society, in general, prefers an engagement not exceeding one year.

Any further communications between the two families usually carried out by the two future spouses themselves. The related communications of the expatriategroom are usually conveyed by his mother and sisters. The groom’s mother first contact the bride’s mother. Then each mother will inform her husband first, and then her family. A date will be fixed for the groom’s family men to ask for the girl’s hand from the men of her family.[12]

The next step is the visit of a group of the fiance’s family women, headed by his mother to the fiancee’s house with some symbolic presents. This is called “Golat Kheir” or “Fat-h Al Khashom” which means the approach toward marriage conclusion. This step has two levels:

  • The fiancée, during the engagement period, was used to avoid her fiancé and to keep silent when they meet, until he gives her a present which is usually in the form of an amount of money which he binds it in the edge of her toub and she will give it to her mother. At this point, she will talk with him.
  • The second level, which presently prevails, is that: such visit is considered as the first meeting of the two families as one family where each of them expresses its honor and happiness for this relationship.[13]

The above steps take place in case the different families of the two spouses, but if they are relating to the same family, a lot of these formal steps will be left.

Dowry, Sheila and Sad El Mal:

The Dowry is the money paid by the family of the groom to the family of the bride in return of marrying their daughter.

Sheila is the clothes, perfumes, bride’s necessaries and other provisional goods for the wedding provided by the groom’s family.

In Dongola, the dowry was not paid in cash in the past due to the scarcity of currency. It was usually paid in kind such as a fertile cow or a number of fruitful date trees. And in case of divorce, the divorced wife will keep such items.[14]

The rite of Sad El Mal was performed by men and women, but it turned into a pure men’ affair.

In the past, man will be invited by the fathers of the two spouses where the groom’s father counts the dowry money before the attendants and gives it to the bride’s father.[15] Presently, the dowry is handled by women only. A group of groom’s family women, headed by his mother, go to the bride’s family with the money. Dowry is usually accompanied by Sheila,which include clothes, perfumes, provisional goods, money and gold.[16]During the joint party, the paid amount of money will be declared by a groom’s relative woman before the attendants and this is usually met by joy shrills.

Besides the dowry, there also a quantity of gold which will be displayed for the attendants.[17]

Sheia in the past include the said items and usually placed in palm leaves pots, each is called “Amra”.[18]

The provisional goods are prepared by the women of the two families in a practical application of cooperation, the main component of marriage traditions.

The Sheila clothes include red dress, red carpet and shoes etc. On this concern, the narrator says:

“Sheilaincludes red dress, red carpet, red Firka, a dress called Bint El Pasha and Mudeer and a red slipper of skin.[19]

Presently, the Sheila items increased and are more expensive. For example, the perfumes quantity now fills a large bag and usually brought from abroad due to their high prices in Sudan.

The clothes should follow the current fashion.[20]

The next step is fixing the marriage date, usually within a period not exceeding three months. The people there prefer certain dates such as the 27th of Rajab according to the Nubian ancient traditions.[21]

Preparing the Bride:

The preparing starts with her skin and body through two tools: Smoking and Massage.

  • Smoking: It is a kind of Turkish bathroom according to Dr. Abdullh El Tayeb[22], where the bride sits, nude covered with a blanket or Shamla over the smoke of a pit with burning special types of wood i.e. Shaf or Talh[23]. She will aweat and her outer skin layer will peel[24].
  • Massage:  In the past, it was done by the fermented durra paste or the lupine powder paste[25].

The aim of this operation IS TO soften the soften the brides body which is considered as a symbol of fertility.[26]

The smoking rite is still unchanged. In the past, only married and old women can share in it, but now, it can be shared by the unmarried friends of the bride. It can be described as follows:

“An expert woman will be selected for this job. In the day fixed for smoking, the smoking expert woman will check the pit and smoking woods. The bride will be ordered to take off her clothes, wash her body with water to increase its wetness and to cover her body with a blanket or shamla (thick wool blanket).[27]

The bride shall smoke her body every night, assisted by her sisters or friends.[28]

The massage takes place every night accompanied by the removal of the skin outer layer.” [29]

 

Marriage Perfumes:

The Sudanese woman usually uses a number of home-made perfumes. The use of such perfumes starts after marriage. The components of these perfumes are included in Sheila. A festive day will be fixed for making these perfumes by the bride’s family women. The women will be divided into three groups to make the three known types of perfume: Khumra, Bakhour (incense)and Dilka.

                

Khumra:

It consists of a number of perfumes and fragrant wood from India, besides perfumes from Sudan and other countries. It is a pure Sudanese heritage although it is not known by a number of Sudanese tribes. Khumrais divided into two basic types:

  • Special Khumra
  • General Khumra

Khumra Components:

  • Sandal wood: from India, a fragrant wood tree of high price.
  • Dry Clove
  • Dufra: special fish shelves from India
  • The Musk: either from India, which is the better, or from the Nile crocodiles, of lower quality: In the past, they use Jalad[30] which they extract from a wild cat in the same name.
  • The oily high concentrated perfumes from India, i.e. Sandaliya, from sandal wood, Surratiya, Mahlab and Majmou.[31]
  • French perfumes with Sudanese names, e.g. Bint el Sudan or Arayis Paris.
  • French perfumes: Flourd Amour, Soir De Paris and Reved’or.

These components produce the Kuumra with its outstanding fragrant smell which is believed to be a sexual stimulant. Some of these components are not included in some sorts of Kuumra which is divided into two types as follows:

 

General Khumra

It is available for all the women attending the wedding celebration.[32]

 

Special Khumra

It is limited to the bride only due to its high perfection, piercing smell and high cost. It is divided into red and white Khumra.[33]

 

Bakhour (Incense)

There are two types of Bakhour (incense):

  • The general one: for smoking the houses and to be given to the relatives as a good omen.
  • The special one: for the bride only. It is the best and more valuable due to its refined components.[34]

The general one is prepared in the form of small pieces of sandal and shafwood.[35] It shall be boiled in a special pot named “Saj” with a suitable quantity of sugar, and to be mixed the perfumes, musk and dufra.[36]

 

The special Bakhour is made by the sandal woods only and it is more concentrated. It is always kept in private places such as the sleeping room and used by the bride to smoke her clothes, accessories and body.[37]

 

The Bride’s Furniture:

This indicates the new marital furniture including the various tools, kitchen utensils and other accessories such as Sahara (local cabinet) for clothes and utensils.

In the past, the cost of such furniture was borne by the bride’s father, but now, it is borne by the groom and the bride’s family shall prepare the kitchen. The groom shall provide the sleeping room, clothes and utensils’ cabinets and the sitting room.[38]

 

 

 

Preparation of Marriage Ceremonies:

This include the renewal of the bride’s family house to receive the groom’s family men and women.[39]

 

Henna Night

It is the night prior to the wedding night and considered as the introduction to marital life. The relatives and neighbors will be invited by the both marriage parties in their houses. The bride’s Henna night usually performed before the groom’s. This rite is no longer an important one as in the past.[40]

Presently, the Henna rite is changed to a formal one,[41] due to the presence of the artificial dyestuff instead of the natural Henna.

Upon the end of Henna ceremony, the bride goes, with her friends to a woman or girl specialized in Henna design by the dye pastes.

Henna is made from the dry ground Henna tree leaves. It is also used to dye the hair and as a body massage material.[42]

The groom’s Henna ceremony is still unchanged and performed by his mother and elder relative women.[43]

The Henna rite is accompanied by a non-formal party by an amateur singer with Tanbur  or Oud. In the past, they sing only in the Nubian language with Tanbur, but now, the Nubian songs are performed in Dongula area only.[44]

 

Seira songs are still performed during the Henna ceremony of the groom surrounded by his friends.

 

Jartiq

It is consists of Harira and Yusr beads. This rite goes as follows:

Fixing silk strings on the groom’s right wrist with silk threads called Harira and a gold crescent fixed to his forehead by a red cloth string. He also wears a jewel piece with  silk threads and a blue or green gem.

The groom’s head will be rubbed by sheep oil, mahlab, sandal and perfume. This is called Darira.[45]

The Jartiq is also performed in the events of circumcision and birth.

A number of Jartiq details were changed such as the custom of taking the Jartiq tray by the bride’s sisters and friends, headed by an elder woman, to the groom’s mother house while singing Seira songs.[46]

 

Note that a number of Nubians in Dongula area express their great happiness by weeping. This phenomena is remarked in women rather than men.[47]

 

Wedding Night:

By the conclusion of the main Henna night, the ceremonies come to their final stage: the wedding night.

Note that the marriage ceremonies take place in the groom’s house unlike the situation in the middle area of Sudan.

 

 

Marriage Contract:

Legally, the marriage contract is the most important step in marriage process. It is performed by men and attended by a group of persons for the declaration purpose.

Although the groom can attend this rite, he usually does not attend as the marriage contract in Islam takes place by way of proxy through the representatives of the two spouses. The contract takes place in the groom’s house by the marriage official (Mazoun). This part ends by reading El Fatiha among women shrills and gunshots.[48]

 

Seira or Zaffa (Procession):

Upon the conclusion of the marriage contract, the bride’s family women start preparing for Seira or Zaffa (Procession). In the past, the procession goes from the groom’s house to the bride’s, as applied in various Sudanese societies, but the contrary happens in Dongula.

At this time, the bride has concluded her Henna process and the wedding dress is prepared either by its hiring or being provided by a friend or using her own wedding dress.

Regarding the hair-dressing: Although is a coiffure in Dongula, they visit it only for limited jobs and most of the girls make their hair by their own tools.[49]

 

The Seira in Dongula is different from that in the middle of Sudan in which the groom goes to the bride. To go to him, the bride should be accompanied by her pair. Therefore, the groom comes to the bride’s house with his friends and a number of his family’s newly married women in the evening to start the Seira.

 

Before the caravan moves, the wedding main car shall be decorated with palm leaves and flowers and with cellophane papers and plastic balloons in Khartoum.[50]

 

Upon coming near the bride’s house, the girls sing the known Seira songs in Arabic. This can be attributed to the influence of the culture of the center, Khartoum. The bride’s house will welcome the groom’s caravan which members will be given drinks and sweets.

The bride’s companion leads the groom to the bride’s room where he will take her to their car to take them to his house or to walk to it if the distance is short,

The separation between males and females is not so firm in the Nubian culture. So, the youth and children used to walk together in the Seira.

Upon meeting the groom’s family, the bride’s family members start singing and praising their daughter. The groom’s family members do the same thing. After that, the family of the groom will welcome their guests.

In general, the wedding celebration takes place in a pavilion in the street as in Khartoum. The pavilion is not used in Dongula remote areas and in some places, the chairs are replaced with mats and no electric power or microphone.

In the past, Seira takes a longer time due to the repeated stoppage for dancing and taking Shabbal. Upon the arrival to the bride’s house, the groom draws his sword and hits its door seven times.[51] Then he will be sprayed with salt and pay the bride’s women relatives for entering her house. The bride’s mother will receive the groom and cover him with a white Farda (cloth) or a shawl and spray him with salt and perfume. He will give her a palm branch with paper money fixed on it. This is called “Gate Payment”.[52] The sword, whip and stick are considered as a symbol of manhood and are used in the praising sessions and circumcision events.[53]

 

 

One of the rites following Seira is the preparation of a special place for the spouces: Kusha, which starts to disappear and replace by two confortable chairs.

The wedding musical party is similar to that in Khartoum: A singer in Arabic songs accompanied by the orchestra or organ or with Tanbur, in Arabic. Some Nubian songs are performed and shared by the elders.[54] The party usually continues to the first morning hours.

 

 

 

Rahat Cutting:

Rahat consists ofthin tanned skin strings worn in the body waist. Wearing Rahat is an old rite in Africa, Hawaii islands and Arabian countries. Darir stated that the Arabs, before Islam, roam around Kaaba nude while the women wear Rahat. So, it is not limited to the Nubians or Sudanese societies.[55]

Darir argued that Rahat is of Arabian origin. But, he also says that Rahat is a general dress in all Sudan except the herder tribes such as Missiriya, Habbaniya, Rizeigat and Taaisha which are Arabian tribes.[56]

The Researcher believes on the Sudanese source of Rahat.

Rahat was treated as a sign of virginity and accordingly not accepted to be worn by the women after their marriage.

The rite of Rahat cutting begins after the end of the party and the Jartiq ceremony for the two spouces.

Rahat, as turned to be a symbol, can be replaced by red silk strings, as what had been occurred in the wedding of the Researcher herself.

 

In some Sudanese places, e.g. in Khartoum, the Rahat canbe hired from some firms of bride accessories or provided by some families with an inherited one.

For cutting the Rahat, the groom pulls out about seven strings and drops them to the girls who will try to hold them as a good omen. In the past, they fix some dates to the strings, and later this was replaced by sweet pieces.[57]

 

Afterwards, the groom pays an amount of money “Payment for Rahat Cutting”[58]

 

The Wedding Night:

It is the first night for the two spouses together. The bride will be taken to the marital house by a number of women and the groom will follow them. The accompanying women will leave the room despite of calling them to stay by the two spouses.

In the past, the bride’s friends will leave only upon being paid by the groom.[59]

Before her entry to the wedding room, the bride will be advised to deal in a manner showing her ignorance about sex affairs and to prevent any man, even her husband, from touching her body. In the past, the bride was taught such dealings by elder women.[60]

There are some troubles occur as a result of the girls’ circumcision. Some observers say:

“The bride cries in this night, and the groom uses all his force”.[61]

 

Presently, all these have changed, and the tension was remarkably decreased and the two spouses spend this night out of their houses in their honeymoon in a hotel or any other suitable place.

 

 

References:

 


[1] Sayed Hamid Hreiz – Mohd. Ibrahim Mansour: Human Life Circle in Emirates Society, Jan. 1997, p. 153.

 

[2] Fawzia Diab: The Social Values and Customs. Al Katib Al Arabi  Printing and Publication House. Cairo 1966. P. 309.

 

[3] Funk and Wangnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend 1950 H. Wolff, New York. P. 679-680.

 

[4] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3681

[5] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

  Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

 

[6]  Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3677

   Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673 

 

[7] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3682

   Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

 

[8] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

 

[9] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

   Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3681

 

[10] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

 

[11] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/368

 

[12] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3681

   Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

   Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

 

[13]  Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3680

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

 

[14] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

[15] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3681

Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

 

[16] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

 

[17] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3672

[18] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3680

 

[19] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

   Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3681

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

 

[20] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

 

[21] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/368

 

 

[22] Abdalla El Tayib: “The Changing Customs in Riverain Sudan”

   Marriage: S.N.R. vol 11 1998, p22

 

[23] Op. cit

 

[24] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/7636

[25] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3680

[27] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3680

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3677

                                                                      

[28] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

[29] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

 

[30] Abdalla El Tayib: “The Changing Customs in Riverain Sudan”

   Marriage: S.N.R. vol 11 1998, p21

 

[31] op. cit  p20

[32] Interview with Fawzia Mirghani Babikir,  Khartoum 1999

[33] Fawzia Mirghani Babikir

[34] Fawzia Mirghani Babikir

 

[35] Fawzia Mirghani Babikir

 

[36] Fawzia Mirghani Babikir

[37] Fawzia Mirghani Babikir

[38] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3672

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3677

[39] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3677

[40] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

    Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3677

[41] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

[42] Fatima El Rasheed Shaddad: The Continuation of Sudanese Woman Adornment- Diploma Dissertation, IAAS, May

   1993, p 30. 

[43] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3680

[44] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

[45] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

[46] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

[47] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

 

[48] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

 

[49] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

[50] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

 

[51] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

The groom of Knouz (Egyptian Nubians) draws his sword and hits the bride’s room door three times and enters 

    the room. See:

  • Ali Zein El Abdin : The Art of Making Nubian Popular Jewelries, Egyptian Book Corporation, Cairo, 1984, p 84.

 

[52] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

[53] Fawzi El Entil : Between Folklore and popular Culture, Egyptian Book Corporation, Cairo, 1978, p 360-361.

[54] Researcher’s Remark and Watching

[55]Abdullah A. Rahman El Amin: Arabic Language in Sudan, Lebanese Book House, 2nd Edution, 1967, p 22.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3677

[58]Harold B. Barclay : Burri Al Lamaab. Comell University Press, Ithaca, New York 1964, p 255

 

[59] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

[60] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3676

[61] Archive of Institute of African and Asian Studies, Tape No. IAAS/3673

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