Just like most other cultures, one’s wedding is a significant moment in Somali culture. From the religious rituals, to make-up and hair, every detail is crucial leading up to that experience. But before we even get to that point, let’s rewind to what should happen before the wedding, getting engaged!
Traditionally, the man should ask the father of his future bride or the head of the household, for their future bride’s hand in marriage. When the “soo doonis” occurs, it is cultural and not tied to religious obligations. It is an official proposal with witnesses and an agreement with both sides of the family. Men from the groom’s side come to the bride’s home. The most senior elder from the groom’s side asks for the bride on behalf of the groom and his family. Then if they agree, the man must pay a dowry or bride price. In the past, this was accepted in the form of camel, land, and gold. However, today cash is accepted as well. The senior elder on the bride’s side agrees to the arrangement and they agree to meet again on the wedding day.
Then once the engagement “mehr” is confirmed, a traditional Muslim ceremony called a “nikah” will occur. This ceremony is typically held in the home a few days before the wedding reception or the afternoon of the wedding reception. During the Nikah, the groom’s side asks again for the bride. The bride’s side agrees and gives her away symbolically. The real giving away is done between the Imam and the Maxram. It’s attended only by family members and close friends. This ritual is vital because this is when the couple’s union is officiated by an Imam, a mosque official. The Imam will then conclude the marriage and it will become official in Islam. Once the union is official, it’s followed by the women singing traditional songs, dancing, and food.
After the nikah, a wedding reception called an “aroos” in Somali soon follows. This reception is always held in the evening. Somali wedding attire varies on the family and personal preferences. Traditionally, Somali wedding attire includes a “guntino” or “dirac” for women and a suit for men. Nowadays, the bride will typically wear at least two dresses: a dirac or guntino, and a white dress. While the men wear a suit. Additional must haves for the bride are gold jewelry and henna designs.
During the wedding, when most of the guests have arrived, the bride will make her extravagant entrance into the reception. She walks in slowly accompanied by her bridal party. Then the groom follows a few hours later with either his own groom’s men or in between the bride’s outfit change and will then walk in with her. From there the night is filled with dancing and singing just like any other wedding.
Seven days after the wedding reception, an all-women’s party is held for the bride. The bride wears a dirac or guntino. Guests circle the bride singing and each lay a scarf on her head. This is a sign of respect due her new union and represents her becoming a married woman. The scarf is made of silky material and usually has many patterns and colors. Over the course of the party, guests provide treats in decorated containers and gifts for the married couple
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