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4/23/09 The Big Berber Wedding of Noora and Rachid

A couple weeks ago, I got a text message inviting me to the Big Berber Wedding of Noora and Rachid. The happy couple urged us all to bring traditional clothing and big smiles. Check and check. :)

Rachid (left, below) is about to finish his service and go back to America. Noora (right) COS'd a year ago. Both served as Health PCVs on the other side of the mountain from Berberville. They were friends for most of the year that their service overlapped, and developed a romantic relationship towards the end of their time in-country together. They kept in touch through Skype and email, and spent Christmas together at her family's home. During that vacation, they became engaged. When he came back to his village and told his host family (and his neighbors, and his fellow PCVs, and everybody else he saw for about a month!), they insisted that he bring Noora - who they all remembered fondly - back to Morocco so they could throw him a Big Berber Wedding. She came for a several-week visit in April and May. Sometime during the week or three they spent in Rachid's site, they had their Big Berber Wedding...and we all came!

This is the only photograph you'll see that's out of chronological order. It's one of the last photos I took that night...but it's my favorite, which is why I'm leading off with it. :)

This is a terrible picture of Noora, but the best shot I have of her tahruyt. That's the white thing she's sitting on. It's a single rectangular piece of cloth, usually about 1x2 meters, and every bride I've ever seen is sitting on one, usually draped, like this one, over a ponj (big cushiony seat thing). On wedding days, tahruyts are purely decorative, but after that, this hand-woven, hand-embroidered, hand-muzun'd work of art can be worn as a cape in cold weather. See those small grey things, arranged in rows every foot or so? Those are the muzun - small, shiny disks pierced through the middle and tied onto the tahruyt. They're polished and highly reflective, so when a woman wears a muzun-bedecked tahruyt on a sunny winter day, she's eye-catching and quite literally bedazzling. If several women wear them and stand together, it can be almost blinding.

Here, Fatiha is putting the finishing touches on Noora's makeup. The bride is expected to act entirely passive throughout the wedding day. She can't dress herself, apply her own makeup, feed herself, or even move herself from one place to another (more on that in a bit). Fatiha, Noora's adopted host mother, had come with bags full of clothes, jewelry, makeup, etc, to make her adopted daughter's wedding perfect. She had already brushed out Noora's hair, applied her lipstick, rubbed kohl on her eyes, and is now wiping away the tears caused by the kohl application. Kohl dates back to the Egyptians, and the preparation may well be the same now as it was then (if I'm wrong, Egyptology buffs please correct me!): galena, aka lead sulfide, is ground down into powder form, then hydrated into a paste, which is applied to the eyes via a small pointed stick, about halfway in size between a toothpick and a golf tee. Imagine jabbing a lead-covered stick into your eye, and you'll understand why Noora teared up a few times. In later pictures of me, you'll notice that I'm wearing eyeliner and mascara - the first time I've worn makeup since coming to Morocco. I put it on expressly to *prevent* any overzealous Berber friends from trying to put kohl on me. It's beautiful, yes, but it's also the leading cause of lead poisoning in Morocco.

Noora had brought her own veil (left), but someone discovered that she could peer through the gauze, so she was forced to switch to the completely opaque veil provided by Fatiha (right). She therefore spent the next two and a half hours completely blind. (At that point, she was allowed to switch back to the gauzy veil. She didn't gain full visibility till 45 minutes later.)

Rachid, right, reminded me of one of the Wise Men / Three Kings. I think it's the headscarf. Might be the robe. Noora, in the middle, got a running play-by-play of the wedding from her groom, who got to watch all the action. Notice how Fatiha has her hand on Noora's? That's not an affectionate thing - it's to make sure the bride doesn't move At All. Fatiha, in the role of mother-of-the-bride, took responsibility for keeping the bride as motionless as possible. For hours. While the guests got to eat, chatter, dance, and make merry.

This was a just-for-grins shot. The difference between the pedicured feet of Fatima (my sitemate) and Kareem (part of the Souqtown PCV family) cracked me up. Fatima has pink nailpolish on her toes; Kareem has a Chaco tan (from his Chaco-brand sandals) par excellence. That's not dirt, it's suntan. Kareem lives on the far side of Souqtown, where it's been warm enough to wear sandals for months now. Fatima and I, perched in our mountain aerie, haven't worn sandals outside since probably September. :)

Me, Fatima, and Kareem, rocking out on the Berber instruments, in full Berber dress. Fatima and I are wearing jelabbas (also known as tejlabbin) that I bought down in our training city, last summer. Kareem's is much heavier-weight, so I assume he picked it up around here. Note that I'm playing the large drum, Fatima the small drum, and Kareem is knicking two tea glasses against a metal plate. These three instruments were passed around the room, so nearly everybody had a chance to play, but the more musical skill you had, the longer the crowd let you keep your instrument. We didn't keep them too long. ;)

An hour and a half after the bride's preparations were finished, which is when "the wedding" more or less began, we feasted on sheep-and-prune tagine with homemade bread. This is a traditional feast tagine - I've had it at a funeral and a baby-naming ceremony, as well - but it's usually topped with caramelized onions. This was topped with sauteed vegetables. Still delicious. :)

After the feast, we moved rooms. Since the bride (still blinded by the opaque veil) must remain helpless all day, she had to be carried out of our room, up the flight of stairs, and into the reception room. Here, Fatiha is carrying her piggyback-style. She made it as far as the foot of the stairs before wilting under the weight...whereupon an ancient Berber lady, shriveled with age, carried Noora up the stairs as easily as she has carried countless burdens (grasses, fuelwood, children) for decades. Also, to ease Noora's (and Rachid's!) peace of mind, several tall PCVs had their arms up on either side of the open-air staircase as "spotters", in case the old auntie stumbled or slipped. But she brought Noora up easily, and installed her on another ponj in the upstairs reception hall.

Other members of the Souqtown PCV family, Ilahm and Rahma, enter in their Berber wedding garb. They're wearing kaftans, not jellabas, but the only real difference is that jelabbas have hoods and kaftans don't. Aren't my friends lovely?

Both Noora and Rachid got their hands coated in henna. Noora had her feet done, too. Here, Rachid's host mother is neatening up the edge of the thick layer of henna mud she has just applied to her son's hand.

Guests got henna, too, but only a small dot in the middle of each hand.

I now present Sidi and Lalla Rachid Ait Sidi Meh. Actually, I have no idea when the wedding is officially complete, as distinct from the reception; it's all one long party. But Noora's veil has finally come off, plus she and Rachid have washed the henna off their hands (and her feet), so I figure they must be married now.

Another view of Rachid's wedding finery. I really feel like I should caption this one "King Nebuchadnezzar sitting in state", but the jeans poking out from under his dressy white jellaba reveal what century we're in. The glasses are a bit anachronistic, too, I suppose.

Bridal bling. You can see the engagement ring - an heirloom ring from Rachid's great-grandmother (I believe) - as well as the silver bangles and cuffs that Fatiha and Rachid's family had loaned her for the wedding. Bridal bling is a very big deal: Ama, my host mother, has shown me hers a few times. It's solid gold, and represents a major percentage of the net worth of my host family. Up until the current generation, when paved roads, solar panels, satellite dishes, and the rest of the modern world began intruding into these mountain villages, a bride's jewelry represented nearly all of the visible wealth of a family.

So there you have it: the Big Berber Wedding of Noora and Rachid. We arrived around 2pm, watched the bride's preparation from about 3:45 - 4:15, ate dinner (sheep and prune tagine) around 5:45, ate our second dinner (organ meats from the sheep Rachid had slaughtered that morning) around 10:45, ate our third dinner (chicken and prune tagine) around 11:45, and finally fell into bed sometime between 1 and 2am. Inbetween the various feasts, we mostly danced and chatted. :)

And there was great rejoicing.

Congratulations, Noora and Rachid! :D

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this informative documentation of a Berber wedding. I am involved with a Berber man in the High Atlas mountains and we are planning a Berber wedding too. I did not know about the passive part of the bride, very interesting. Thanks again


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