Uncovering Veils of Honeymoons in Eritrea Part II

We are in busy season of marriages and honeymoons. Last Saturday was the opening night of the marriage season for those who had been eagerly waiting to tie the knot. In the last issue of the Eritrea Profile, I tried to detail the honeymoon procedures of the Saho, Bidawit (Hidareb), the Rashaida and the Nara group’s. For this edition, I offer you the enjoyment and more understanding on honeymoons of the other ethnic groups. I welcome you into the second part of uncovering the veils of these glorious post-marriage ceremonies.

-The Bilen’s with ‘Shiki’

The wedding period of this tribe is from December to February. Monday is the special wedding day. After the wedding, the bride is left alone or hidden inside the house. Even the couples don’t eat together. Instead, the groom spend his days with his friends; or the bride with the groom’s sister or the groom’s elder brother’s wife (if available).

On the third day, the tradition of Shiki is honored. Shiki refers to the time when the groom and his friends go to the river and the ladies, without their counterparts’ presence, enter the house to visit the bride bringing any two classified types of foods. The mother of the bride sends the food, organizing this for her daughter and the hamat (mother of the groom).

If the ladies are from a far-off village, then they can spend the night in the house. If not, they return after entertaining the bride. The Shiki ladies continuously perform this activity until the bride returns her home. The best men and friends stay with the groom for nine (typical) or eighteen days (maximum). When the nine days are over, the best man keeps his company with the groom for the next forty days.

The wife returns to her family just at around Easter holiday. Simultaneously, the bride offers the best men a Mendil with perfume on it (a piece of yarn), a bar of soap, a bed sheet and a carpet named Qilwet. The best man is the intermediary person who serves the newlywed couple with what they need. He is the trusted nominee. He manages to acquire whatever is necessary for the house from food to materials. He is the accountant. Meal times are done by announcements. The announcer, out loud, addresses the call, hitting the drums and disclosing the menu for the day. This person also tells who can attend the mealtime ceremonies. Only then are they allowed to eat.

The best man is obliged to feed three full spoons to the groom before anyone else touches the porridge. The habit of eating is fast, to the extent that the hotness of the meal is not felt by the people eating which makes it interesting to repeat the meal with same manner. The person who eats much is referred to as Doqam. Porridge is the highly selected meal with the best quality butter flowing over it.

When the best men are together with the groom, they walk the streets playing games with each seeking to acquire random materials in the process. They enter the stranger’s house and ask for food, even if the answer is ‘No’… they insist on helping the house so they can get something in their hands. They even volunteer to grind cereals for mothers.

The King, Queen, and Servants game goes through the forty days. Everyone who is in the house has a particular duty and a title, so they know what they are for in the house. Eshkle is a type of hit-or-miss game people play by hand. It is played by two people, one hitting and the other trying to make him miss his hand, normally played in the honeymoon days.

The best man’s job, before he leaves the couple, is to slaughter a goat. This is on the fortieth day where the groom drops his sword from his back. Plenty of drinks and foods are served during this period.

-Afar, the Peculiars

Guests from the groom’s side are called Weredi and those from the bride’s side are called Kenedi. Newlyweds, as we have seen in the other groups, are not allowed to interact during daytime. The groom is brought to the bride’s house, not the bride to his. If a mother has ten daughters, then ten of them bring their spouses with them. If she has ten sons, then all of them leave.

Inside the new home, the mother of the bride makes herself hidden to avoid fighting and hatred with the husband of her daughter. She expects Umhuy, shaking hands as a peace offering and then also offering money or animals as gifts. If not, she never reveals herself to them again.

After the marriage, the groom returns to his house. Three days later, they hold the Ibay dobah, which a ceremony of the grand return. This time, the groom brings new materials with him to the bride’s house. At this moment the Erena rule has already started. Anyone who fails to greet the bride or groom or anyone who mistakenly walks on the carpets of the house with shoes on suffers the penalty of a cash sum or if they are physically tied up.

For the next forty days (a length of time that common among some groups), the best man and made of honor stay to aid the couple separately. The groom is honored for these days only and gets back to ordinary life after. The bride, called an Ibna (meaning “new bride”), is has come of age and transitioned into a women.

The post-wedding games played in this ethnic group are vast, one of which calls on one sex to insult the other sex in altered voices. Another game, requires that the groom can’t have his wife without the consensus and approval of time limits from the best men and made of honors.

Interestingly, on the first day after the wedding, the bride is made to wear less jewels on her journey to visit him. On the second day, she is allowed to wear all the jewels she possesses.

-Kunama, the Workhorses

The Kunama bride spends her honeymoon days in her family’s house. The groom serves the family of his wife by herding as their sons do. During summertime, the whole community has a tradition named Elge Tada. One day is particularly selected for mass plowing of the newlywed’s field. Everyone brings seeds in a material named Tafara and sows their section of the field. On some days, the bride is engaged in the plowing activities while wearing her jewels. The groom devotedly and passionately works with everyone until the seeds bloom many months later.

The father of the bride, even if poor, cannot take from the grain silo of the couple but he can feed them both from his own supply. If the groom is approved by the family of the bride. Then he is allowed to stay in their house until three years. Afterwards, a house is built for him with the hand of everyone. The moment any shortages are witnessed, the mother of the bride fulfills it and friends and relatives provide them with plenty of gifts and supplies that can help them sustain on their own.

Anything related to dowry is compensated by the groom’s toil after the wedding so each side For the Kunama, the most of the challenges associated with the wedding come before the wedding rather than after. The days before marriage are hectic and time-consuming. The Kelete (elders) gather for a consensus whether to join the couple or not.

It takes much longer time if the houses of the couples are distant. Then Adara is a room that is erected right near the bride’s house. In this house, the hospitality to the groom’s guests is exceptional and, at times of marriage, the groom is made to sit with his best men on a white carpet called Jaba.

-The Tigre, the Firm

This is mine and I am proud to relate about it. The Tigre ethnic group’s honeymoons and other cultural activities differ as the people are stretched throughout the Gash Barka, Semhar and Sahl and maybe other areas.

In Gash Barka, the Tigre people’s procedures are straightforward and renowned for after the wedding vows whereby the groom and his family return home and don’t see the bride for an entire year. Thus, the honeymoon is celebrated one year later.

In the Semhar and Sahl areas it is a bit different. These areas count for most Tigre people. The tradition of honeymoon is for seven to forty five days. Honeymoon days are named as Dlalet. The only food prescribed by the tradition at these days is porridge. Discussions in the house focus on topics of culture and society.

In the meantime, a game committee is selected from the party. The game calls together a committee of everyone in the honeymooning group and the groom serves as the game judge.

The groom presides over issuing various fun task to others, who may break the rules and be penalized with new orders by the groom. If the participants, one-by-one, follow the judge’s orders well and good, they bring the requested stuffs, including goat, chewing gum etc. If anyone of them fails to comply, they are made to be tied-up outside, alone or with a donkey—a bit harsh I assume, to spend the entire night there. This happens inside the seven days, after that the bride’s relatives and friends come up with a bunch of gifts.

This day, the groom is made to get out of the house and spend the day with his friends.

In twenty-one days’ time, there is a second visit to the groom’s house by the ladies. This time, having gifts for the couple, they officially conclude their honeymoon visits. In some traditions of the Tigre ethnic group, the groom takes his wife and moves to a more distant place so that he can enjoy his privacy.

These summaries of honeymoon affairs, collected from representatives of different ethnic groups, only touches the surface of what actually takes place for each ethnic group. The details are endless. Rather than choosing to travel to fancy spots, which almost everyone seems to fancy nowadays, perhaps trying out more traditional honeymoon ceremonies may be an option for more brave and adventurous individuals.

Beyond this, every culture and ethnic member excitedly enjoys the moments of honeymoons since they hand them a sense of belongingness and identity. These days some of these cultures are changing due to modernization and urbanization, changing people’s mindsets and lifestyles. Still, many are practicing traditional practices today.