Wedding Customs in Morocco - The Professional Matchmaker - Four Wives Allowed by Mohammedan Laws - The Bride Carried in a Box on the Back of a Mule - Moorish Brides Must Sit for Five Whole Days Without Speaking
A thin girl has little chance of marriage in Morocco, where stout women are more admired. But should a thin girl possess (in prospect) a large dowry she is sometimes chosen, the bridegroom's relatives stipulating that she shall be fattened before the marriage. The girl is then forced to take quantities of food, to drink quarts of milk and cream, to absorb oil with meats and vegetables, and to abstain from fruit, which is considered inimical to fat.
The bridegroom has to put down a sum of money as provision for his bride. Moslem law makes this compulsory, the lowest sum being equivalent to about one pound of our money. Moorish law allows four wives.
The signing of the contract, often accompanied by a banquet, precedes a long engagement, during which there is an interchange of presents. A long silken girdle is given by the bridegroom to the bride, and she bestows on him his wedding clothes. A list of the presents is drawn up by the family lawyers. A professional dressmaker is engaged, and she makes up the wedding and trousseau garments at the bride's house, to the accompaniment of music and singing.
Five days before that appointed for the wedding, the bride, attended by musicians and accompanied by friends, goes to the public baths at midnight. There she is bathed and perfumed. She then goes to bed, and stays there all the day, while feasting goes on in both families. Guns are fired and drums are beaten the while.
Next day a sheep or bullock, presented by the bridegroom's friends, is killed outside the bride's house. She, meanwhile, is having her hands and feet stained with henna, to the accompaniment of music. It is etiquette for her and her friends to lament and wail aloud in a manner meant to be heart-rending, the curiously inappropriate custom being to speak of departed friends and relatives, and recall the grief felt at the time of their death.
Feasting, gun-firing, drum-beating, and music go on throughout the four days, and at daybreak on the wedding morning the bridegroom visits the public bath, and afterwards, at his own home, his head is shaved, only his beard and moustache escaping the razor.
The bridal costume includes a head-dress of muslin, with a silk handkerchief over a closely plaited "tail" of hair, over all being thrown a thin silk haik. When she is dressed she has to recline all day upon a bed. In the evening the bridegroom's friends and relatives come to fetch her, and she is lifted by a negress (who attends her throughout the ceremony) and put into a large, square box covered with brightly tinted muslin, and topped by a steeple roof, ornamented by a handkerchief in cloth of gold. The box is lashed on the back of a donkey or mule, and the bride is lifted in, curtains being drawn on either side of her. The procession then starts, headed by the negress, who carries the bridal jewels and the marriage contract, with a list of the bride's possessions. A halt is made for prayer at different shrines, and there is gun-firing and drum-beating the whole way.
A maiden of Morocco. As slenderness in women is looked u'p6n with disfavour in Morocco, before her marriage is possible a girl must attain the desired degree of plumpness
The bridegroom awaits his bride at the door of his room with his hand or sword extended so that she may pass in beneath, in token of submission. In some parts of Morocco he fires a bullet over her head, taking care that it shall find its billet in some conspicuous spot, to remind her of her subjection to him. The procession then disperses, leaving the bride in charge of the negress, and soon after she, too, goes away.
The next morning is a critical one for the bride. Should harmony subsist, all is well, but should any. difficulty or disagreement have arisen, the husband is allowed by law to return the girl promptly to her family. But should all be well, the firing of guns announces that it is so. On the following day the bride assumes the garb of a married woman, and has her face disfigured with paint and stain and patches. A veil is thrown over her, and she sits for five whole days without speaking a word or opening her eyes, while the friends of both families feast in the same room with her, each in turn peeping at her under the veil and making observations aloud.
For the final day of this penance special invitations are sent out for the ceremony of assuming the girdle. This is the occasion on which the bride's mother visits her daughter for the first time. In the evening a platter is filled with eggs, almonds, dates, raisins, walnuts, and maize, and above this is a low stand on which the bride steps, when two little boys wind the girdle round her. The contents of the platter are then distributed among the guests. Then there is more drum-beating, and her friends walk round her new home, each woman carrying a candle. The ceremonies end after twelve days.
The bridegroom is bound by custom to remain indoors for a week after; the bride for a whole year. Women's rights are not in any stage of advancement in Morocco. The wife is in a condition of absolute submission to the husband.
It will be seen, then, that a Moorish maiden's marriage is a serious penance, from the moment that her family has arranged a husband for her until a year after the wedding has taken place. And the one thing is absent that would make it at all tolerable, that would give her courage and endurance to undergo so many disagreeable experiences, that supreme feeling which alone to our Western ideas consecrates the union, the passion of love.
The long engagement may or may not have inspired her with a sentiment of devotion for her bridegroom, but previous to that she has not seen him, or only by a furtively passing glance.
The fattening process is far from agreeable, especially for a girl who is constitutionally thin. Quantities of oil, butter, milk, and cream have to be swallowed, in addition to all kinds of fattening foods. Hardly any exercise is permitted, lest it might interfere with the acquisition of adipose tissue. Health suffers in consequence, and a Moorish bride on her wedding-day, is an object of compassion. She can never feel sure, either, that she will escape the humiliation of being returned on the morrow to her parents, an ignominy that they will probably resent upon her.
Even when accepted by the new autocrat of her destiny, she has to endure the penances detailed above, embittered by the knowledge that she is rendered hideous by the smears of paint upon her face. What kind of punishment is awarded to criminals in Morocco, if they treat girl brides in this fashion?
A Moorish woman of the upper classes wearing the all-enveloping veil of thin silk