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A Wedding and Tabaski

We've known Arabi since he was about eight years old. His name means "BlackBoy"'s that for an original name? His mother and my house lady are wives of the same man. Their family has more or less adopted me. So, when he decided to get married (he is now about 23) they wanted to choose a date when Daniel and Suzanne would be home. The date they chose was the week after Christmas.

The week before his wedding was a real panic because just as we were getting things ready for our Christmas feast, Maimouna came and said they had announced the date. I had already bought cloth for the "uniform"...all the bride's and groom's friends buy the same cloth and come dressed alike. After you buy cloth, you start looking at all your friends to see what style or "modele" of top they have that you would like. Then you borrow it, take it to the tailor with your cloth, and tell him to make you one just like it. I had a top in my closet that I already liked, so I took that to the tailor along with my cloth. But they ran out of the cloth the groom's cousins had chosen, so Suzanne and some others just went and bought some cloth they liked. I had enough left over that my little neighbor girl got to get a new outfit, too....they are too poor to buy new clothes very often. Suzanne had enough for herself and my little girl's little sister to have a new outfit. They were very pleased as you can perhaps tell from these pictures.

I'll try to explain a bit about the wedding. Arabi's uncles and his fiance's uncles arranged the wedding and a few months back "tied the papers". They went to the mosque and before witnesses made an agreement between their two families. Essentially at that point in time they were legally married. Arabi would have then been permitted to go and visit (you may think of it as dating or courting) his fiance. They would have been allowed to stand outside her family's courtyard in the evening and talk.

A few days before the "welcoming" ceremony the groom's aunts and female cousins brought gifts to his house. They admired them all and then in a very noisy procession, took them to the bride's house. The next day the bride's friends cooked a big meal and took it to the groom's friends. Daniel and Jeremy got to participate in that meal.

Then there was the wedding, which I always think is kind of anti-climactic after the big build-up of getting ready. It is called a "welcoming" in Songhai. Around 8 p.m. all the friends and family come to the groom's house and sit on mats, waiting for the bride to arrive. Or if you are on the bride's side, you sit at her house and wait for them to come take the bride away. But since the groom is our friend, I'll tell it from his viewpoint. So, anyway, the groom's friends go to get the bride, usually borrowing a car or two even if she only lives a few blocks away like this girl did. When they get to the bride's house, she has been sequestered in a back room with her "slaves" or bridemaids. She has been washed, perfumed, oiled, and dressed in her best. But her mother and aunts give the boys a hard time about how they still owe money for the bride price and will sometimes go as far as to hide her on a different compound until they produce more money. Finally the negotiations are over and they bring the bride out, with her head completely covered by a cloth. She begins crying over the fact that she is leaving her mother's household....and sometimes I think out of genuine terror.

Finally they arrive at the groom's know they're coming because they blow the car horns, flash lights, hoot, holler, and give the wedding wail. Maybe wail isn't the right word..... Anyway, they bring her into the compound, usually into her mother-in-law's house but sometimes right into her own new house. Again she is sequestered in the back bedroom with her "slaves". The night Arabi was married, we women sat around on a mat and every woman that came in put down a small amount of money (25 to 50 cents). They kept counting and recounting a very loud volume with a huge discussion after every counting. I could never quite figure it out, but I guess everybody had to agree and have a say in it, even if they couldn't see what was going on.

After awhile most of us went out to watch the dance. Daniel, Jeremy, and all the groom's friends had set the dance area up earlier in the day. They drove huge sticks in the ground, then strung ropes from stick to stick so it looked rather like a boxing ring. A d.j. was hired to do the music and act as MC. Basically, a few people at a time danced and if somebody in the crowd liked their dancing, they threw money or candy at them or put a hat on their head. One girl ended up with about three hats on her head. She was pretty good. The MC called for his sisters to dance, then his girl cousins, then his little brothers, etc. Guys and girls pretty much don't dance together and it wasn't a big enough place for everyone to dance at the same time. I couldn't see very well and I was cold (yes!) and went home. It was about 11 p.m. around that time.

The last I saw of the groom that evening, he was feeding the cattle. Neither he nor the bride participated in any of the festivities. She was brought to his house, and everybody else celebrated!

A day or two after the wedding was Tabaski or the Feast of the Ram when the subtitutionary sacrifice of Ishmael (as they say) was made. Rams are killed and roasted all day long over open fires. The aroma in the air that day is amazing! I didn't get any pictures, but Jeremy has probably posted some. He ate parts of the sheep that he didn't even know were edible including intestines, stomach, and testicles. We all had some of the roasted meat later in the day.