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Marriage in Al-Baha: Past and present

Last updated: Saturday, July 14, 2012 12:44 AM
Guests watch as men perform the traditional Ardha dance during a wedding in Al-Baha. — SPA photo


AL-BAHA - It’s commonly said in Al-Baha that people agree to marriage traditions but differ over marriage costs. As marriage costs have spiraled out of control, residents of this southwestern mountainous region say simple traditions are being pushed aside to make room for the lavish and costly modern Saudi wedding.

“In the past, marriages were held in homes or outdoors. Just arranging the venue was very difficult as it required several days just to erect tents. Nowadays, marriage halls have solved that problem and although marriages are no longer a community event, it has become easier for families to hold weddings and accommodate a large number of guests. Relatives can fly in from all corners of the Kingdom,” said Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, a longtime resident of the region.

The people of Al-Baha, not yet influenced by big city life, are still encouraged to hold on to their traditions and ceremonies. In principle, they stick to these traditions which start with an engagement party and end with the the wedding ceremony. However, one cannot help but notice that even though traditions of the past are still valued, they have undergone an extreme, modern makeover.

71-year-old resident Muhammad Al-Zahrani lamented one of the most treasured aspects of a traditional wedding: Precise timings.

“We used to have simple ceremonies that started right after Asr prayer (beginning of sunset) and finished by Isha (end of sunset). A few friends and close relatives were invited and people went home early and slept. These days, weddings continue well into the early morning hours as people mill around wedding halls eating and talking.”

Saeed Al-Zahrani remembers a time when group participation was key at weddings - from traditional dances to poetry recitation, all guests took part in the ceremony.

“Weddings began around Asr prayers when the groom’s family, relatives and friends received guests and bride’s family. The reception varied but the Ardha Dance (a type of folklore dance performed by Bedouin tribes in which men carry swords and sway to the sound of drums and spoken verse) and poetry recitations were common,” said Saeed.

On women’s customs, Najma Al-Zahrani said, “The elder women in the bride’s received members of the groom’s family and this was market by ululation, drum beats and recitation of welcoming poems. The food served at weddings was called ‘hospitality dishes’ and comprised of traditional confectioneries, meals, coffee, dates and pastries,” Najma said while adding that although many women wear extravagant and often-revealing clothes to weddings these days, many tribal women still prefer to wear traditional clothes that are adorned with silver ornaments.

Another major difference that many people spoke about is the value of dowry given to the bride. In the past, anything from SR5,000 to SR10,000 was acceptable. These days, dowries range from SR35,000 to SR100,000, which puts a huge burden on the groom and his family as they are also responsible for covering the costs of renting marriage halls and paying for all related expenses.

“We used to give a few thousand riyals to the bride, slaughter a few goats and everyone went home happy. These days, girls aren’t happy when they receive tens of thousands of riyals, not to mentions the dozens of goats and camels that are sacrificed to feed guests on the day of the wedding. Guests are even served fruits and sweets, something that was rare during my day,” added Najma. — SG

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