By "Madge " (Mrs. Humphry)
The Most Picturesque of Weddings - Corpulency a Sine Qua Non in Tunisian Brides - A Ceremonial Bath - The Wedding Ceremonies - The Important Part Played by the Barber-simplicity of Tunisian Divorce
Thb Tunisian Jew is usually a colourist of the first rank. He can combine and harmonise colour in a fashion that delights himself and enchants all spectators. Strange that this gift should be allied to a distorted idea of the beauty of outline in the female form. The women have to be shapeless to please their compatriots. Their gowns are beautiful, and in colour splendid, but the figures they invest are corpulent to a degree that is most ungraceful, and, from the European point of view, unpleasing.
Festivities begin long before the actual wedding-day. The wedding presents, consisting of dresses, perfumes, slippers, jewels, dyes, and scented soap, are exhibited, and visitors comment freely upon them, restrained by no consideration for the feelings of either donors or recipients. The chief topic of conversation is the estimated value of each article.
About a week before the wedding, the bride goes in state to the bath, after which there begins for her a truly penitential time. She is not allowed to speak, and is obliged to obey every command given her by her relatives. In the bath her body is covered with a peculiar kind of ointment, which, as it dries, peels off all hair. Her head is then treated with some special application that turns the hair to a bluish tint. Her eyelids are blackened' by means of little brushes dipped in a particular preparation, and a thick line of red paint connects them both. The finger-tips and nails are stained with henna to an orange red. The festivities are kept up until the wedding-day arrives, but the bride takes no part in these, and has to refrain from speaking until she becomes a wife.
A Tunisian lady of the upper classes, wearing the voluminous and auaint looking veil demanded by her position
Weddings take place in the afternoon. Parties of friends and relatives assemble at both houses. At the bridegroom's, some of the men wear frock-coats. The women wear tight trousers of the richest texture, elaborately embroidered. Over the upper part of the body, and to a few inches below the waist, falls a short chemise, made loose and full, delicate in colour, and richly wrought with gold and silver. This upper garment is not caught in at the waist, but hangs straight down all round. Velvet, brocade, and thick silks are the materials used for the dresses. Sandals are the footgear. Long earrings, weighted with pearls and diamonds, are worn and necklaces that, as a rule, match them. The ladies also wear many rings. They crouch on the divans that line the walls, and the men stand in groups apart. When not in European dress, these latter wear long cloaks and turbans of various shades of blue.
When all have assembled, the bridegroom's father gives his arm to his wife, and all form a procession to the house of the bride, where another party of guests is assembled. These are received by the ladies with cries of delight, and they lead the way to a room where the bride is seated on a raised divan, wearing a magnificent gown. Her trousers are of red velvet enriched with much gold braid, and her upper garment is also embroidered and braided with gold. Her face is covered with a gold-embroidered veil, and her slippers are embroidered to match. She presents an appearance of shining gold from head to foot. Her henna-stained fingers are almost hidden with diamond rings, and she wears earrings and necklaces as magnificent as her position will admit.
A Barber of Importance
The master of the ceremonies is a barber, one of those who perform for the devout the religious ceremony of shaving the head. He gives the signal to a band of musicians stationed in the courtyard, and then the bride is led there by her prospective father-in-law. A gilt chair is placed ready on a table, and on this she is helped to take her seat. The barber places her feet on a cushion, and her hands on her knees in the position so familiar in the idols of India. The barber arranges the folds of her dress. The bridegroom then advances and takes up a position close to the table, holding a white scarf in his hand. The rabbis then sing or chant some verses, after which the lawyers produce the marriage contract and read it aloud.
This document describes the presents, their character, value, and weight, and also records the amount of indemnity previously arranged to be given the bride if the man should divorce her. Facilities for doing so are many.
This formality concluded, the barber takes from the bridegroom the white silk scarf he has been holding, and wraps it round both man and woman, while the rabbi murmurs a prayer. The bridegroom now takes a ring from his finger, and lifting the bride's right hand, slips it on one of the fingers. This action is the signal for a general shout of joy, which momentarily drowns the soft music played throughout the ceremony.
The barber now loosens the scarf uniting the couple and the bride unveils, the shouts of joy still continuing. The barber pours out a very large glass of wine, offers it first to the parents of the newly married couple, then to the rabbis, then to the lawyers, afterwards finishing the contents himself. He then flings the glass on the ground at the feet of the bride
(who has been helped down off her table) as a protection against the evil eye. Still standing, she receives the congratulations of her friends.
Meanwhile, the bridegroom goes to his home immediately after the conclusion of the ceremony, and receives there the congratulations of his relatives and friends, the barber accompanying him and holding a cap for the presents made to the bridegroom. These gifts are usually gold pieces.
In the procession to her future home the barber walks first, holding a cake and a jug of water. These provisions are for the bride, who is not allowed to eat or drink at table with her husband until next morning, and not then if he has decided to repudiate her.
Torchbearers accompany the procession, attendants carrying the presents and a man carrying an armchair; after him come more torchbearers, and, lastly, the bride herself, with a number of married women walking on either side of her. At frequent intervals the whole procession pauses, and the bride turns round and looks in the direction of her parents' home, thus showing that she is sorry to leave it.
" I Divorce Thee!"
On crossing the threshold of her new home, the bride is greeted with joyful shouts, and the barber breaks a jug at her feet. The bridegroom, arrayed in a dressing-gown of gold brocade, receives her and gently puts his foot on hers, to denote his authority over her in future. He then leads her to a chair of state to receive the congratulations of his own party. The festivities are kept up for another week, but are discontinued if the bridegroom should decide to divorce the bride.
To do so it is necessary to say to her, in the presence of two witnesses, "I divorce thee." The marriage is thereupon dissolved. The indemnity provided for in this contingency is paid, and she goes home to her parents.