Parties and Rituals Before The Wedding in Sudan
While I was couchsurfing in Sudan I had an honour to be invited to typical Sudanese wedding by hosts relative. I was really excited since I never been to any non western wedding in my life before.
Like anywhere in the world, getting married in Sudan is a big thing, if not the greatest things for Sudanese women and accompanied with traditional rituals and celebration way before the wedding day. There are several celebrations always separated for groom and bride. I attended the brides side parties, while male relatives had their own celebrations. I can not write much about the grooms part but was told that they have similar parties.
Sudanese Pre Wedding Rituals and Celebrations
Dokhan – Scented Smoke Bath for Beauty
The bride to be was living with my hosts family. She intentionally moved to relatives because according to tradition it is not good for her that people see her before wedding at her home. Superstition says it brings bad luck. On general brides move away from home from one or up to three months and live with relatives in this time, preparing for wedding. One of major preparations, basically a part of beauty regime prior to wedding day, is the unique ritual called Dokhan, a kind of sauna where bride sits naked, covered in blanket on a dug hole in the ground, containing the burning embers of talih – a fragrant acacia wood that apparently gives the skin a glowy yellowish look, softness and alluring musty smell.
Our Sudanese bride to be was indulging rigorously in this smoke baths for a whole month, each day for about thirty minutes, following skin treatment with bleach cream. Somehow girls on general thrive to get the bright as possible shade of skin till wedding day.
Shila – Night of the Gifts
Shila was the first ritual /celebration. This is the night where female relatives from both bride and grooms side gather together and bring gifts for the bride. Looks like Christmas once all the gifts were presented in front of guests. Presents contain gifts bought from the groom for future wife – she got big suitcase full of dresses, shoes, cosmetics, lingerie, beautiful fabrics, basically all the things that will make the future wife beautiful and appealing to husband), lots of household supplies and practical things like coal for cooking, oil, etc…
Venue was simple and modest, right on the street in front of brides house. Chairs for guests, little stage for gifts and music. After the gifting ceremony women were singing and dancing. Like all parties held outside in Sudan, party closed down exactly at 11 PM. You can see short clip on my Youtube Channel.
Khmora – Perfume Making Ritual for the Bride
I somehow missed this event, I was away from town travelling. But I was told that each bride to be in Sudan gets custom made perfume made by close female relatives. It is unique in scent, like signature. Wearing perfume on general is reserved for married ladies only. In social cue means woman is married, therefore unmarried women by wearing perfume could send wrong signals:) Literally, if you smell a perfume on a woman in Sudan, means she is definitely married, taken. On this event usually two perfumes are mixed: dry perfume and liquid version where natural fragrances are used from sandalwood, musk, damask rose, Dufra, Mahlab, Alsuratiya, Almahlabiya and Magmoo (let me know if you know these ones, I have no idea what they are)!
El-hinna – Henna Party
I loved this gathering! Of course, another ladies only event in this case without the bride, at least in henna part. Hosted at brides house yard, ritual started in afternoon and ended with the party venue in the neighbourhood with live band and food snacks. Henna designs on the feet and hands may be a sign of a married woman here in Sudan, but unlike perfumes the tradition is not entirely off-limits to unmarried women. I got my first henna tattoo. Still, being single the henna painter strictly told me I can get painting only on one hand and one foot while married women get paining on both hands and feet. I was happy as long as there was at least some henna on my skin. I was admiring the painter thought the day till the evening, sipping dark Sudanese spice coffee. Once all the ladies had their henna tattoo, the group moved to the dancing venue where male audience was already waiting. Bride sat on a little stage, people came to congratulate her and then band started to play music.. On this celebration bride to be decided to honour her Darfur origins. She was dressed in mothers golden wedding dress, accessorised by typical ethnical jewellery from Darfur tribe along with symbolical scaring marks on the face. Tradition also requires bride to be to dance for the whole event. This evening bride was dancing for 4 hours without stopping for a minute.
Finally wedding day arrived. First part of the day was segregated again, but in the same neighbourhood. My host was assisting the bride with preparations on the other side of Khartoum and at around noon, I was taken to the wedding venue and left alone along hundred of women who couldn’t speak English. Without the bride didn’t feel a wedding at all, at least for my perspective. Women were sitting around, all dressed up in colourful fabrics, eating, chatting, singing, dancing while I was lurking around and took photos. My gift was photography, so I wanted to capture as much as possible. I was just in the middle of recording a video clip when I heard gun shots in the air, and got shit scared that my camera almost fell from my hands. Then suddenly I am told the couple is married. Everybody was singing and clapping and dancing but couple was nowhere around. This was the strangest part for me. In late afternoon, ladies moved to mens part of the venue, where band was already playing music, men were sitting and waiting and taking photos of surroundings. Slowly the floor filled with the most courageous dancers and the party began. Bride and groom still didn’t appear at their own wedding. The vivacious celebration was in full swing by the nightfall and finally at 10 PM, just one hour before the closing newlyweds finally arrived with car. Audience went crazy, surrounded the couple, camera flashes exploded from the phones. Couple, as custom tradition for weddings, sat on the wedding couch (small white stage with white couch) where they accepted congratulations from each guest and by the 11 Pm it was over. Cut. All in all, these events were interesting experience! It was pleasure to see people having fun without alcohol, which on the other hand in western tradition plays quite important part.