I recently had the opportunity to attend my first wedding in Oman. I had been hoping to go to one for quite some time after hearing what a big production and undertaking they are for the family. Although weddings here are quite frequent occurrences, with seemingly a new 2nd cousin 3 times removed getting engaged every week; they remain individually beautiful and quite elaborate. I now can add that they are incredibly fun and a great way to blow off some stress of exchange and celebrate as well.
It is true most people get married quite young. For the older generation, that might have meant as early as 14, but I would not say that is the norm any more nor is it culturally acceptable. Usually most women will get married in their early twenties. Often times families arrange the marriages, as dating does not have the same resonance and significance as in other countries. Traditionally, tribal members were not to marry outside the tribe so as to continue the bloodline. Though this sentiment has largely faded away, every once in a while you hear of those secret lovers whose families never wanted them to be. The marriage court does not necessitate parental consent, but there is a certain amount of familial pressure placed on kids to follow suit.
Some time after the engagement, the groom will bring a dowry of sorts usually directly to the bride, as per Islamic law. The dowry might be a hefty sum of money, or as my host family described to me, a large wooden chest filled with gold jewels and other home and beauty related gifts. The bride can keep the money in case of a divorce. In some cases more recently, brides have been known to spend dowry money on a car or even a home. In an April article in Muscat Daily, it was noted that the Sultan’s consultative counsel, the Majlis A’Shura, was proposing the creation of a marriage fund to help Omani men afford the costs of marriage.
The week before the wedding, the family arranges the Mulkah, which is the more formal Islamic sanctification of marriage. The Mulkah is usually limited to the groom, his male relatives, and close male friends and takes place at the mosque.
In some cultures, such as in the Boluchi tribe, weddings can last as long as a week where every day is designated for a different ceremonial preparation, including the engagement, dowry, and marriage contract ceremonies, and the henna application.
Finally, a large elaborate wedding is planned for the entire extended family and every friend, and friend of a friend you can think of due to Omanis’ large hospitality. The twist here my friends, is the celebration is not coed. Sorry guys, these parties are strictly reserved for women and take place in large rented out banquet halls.
When I arrived at the wedding, there were more than 200 women present. This is where people go all out. Women arrive in conservative abayas per usual, but once inside, these are torn off to reveal the most glittery, beautiful prom-type gowns you have ever seen! It is quite a sight.
Sometime around 9:00, the music started. Pretty much every DJ in Oman is male, and for that reason at every wedding you attend, there will be a windowless tent in a corner where the DJ does his business. As my family is Swahili, most of the music was really fun electric Afro pop. All the older women made for the dance floor and formed a massive conga line, while a few of them were even shimmying down the middle. I tried to join in on the fun, but I definitely stood out as the only person above 5ft 3in.
Omanis typically follow a European type schedule, and believe it or not dinner was not served until 12 midnight, very late for me! This party was in fact the most daring thing I’ve done since I’ve been here in Oman. There was a huge array of Swahili specialties, like the ghee slicked chapatti bread, beef mishkaki skewers with a tamarind chili sauce, fried potato, and fish cakes.
Finally the bride arrived at the party in the largest western style white wedding gown I have ever seen. She had a lot of makeup on with the fluid Arabian kajal (kohl) lining her eyes like a tiger and the dramatic penciled brows of a stage actress. The bride spent about an hour walking along the aisle taking pictures. Around that time, they announced the groom would be returning to the party, so all the women quickly got covered in their abayas again. The groom came in with a freshly creased dishdasha, a massar and a traditional sword or khanjar. It was quite a sight. The new couple went through all the western traditions before taking their leave to return back home to finish their business.