Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pashtun Weddings

I love weddings. I'm always, like the annoying girls/aunties you might know, teasing my friends (some of whom are younger than me :D) about when they'll be getting married and all so I can have a wedding to attend. You see, what I find most fascinating is the diversity in weddings from all across the world. My favorite remains Pashtun weddings, though, and I don't know if it's because I'm myself a Pashtana or because the *traditional* Pashtun weddings I used to go to in Swat where I'm from, formed some of the most precious moments of my childhood. I think it's the latter reason. I haven't been to a traditional Swati Pashtun wedding ever since I've come to the U.S., though.

A favorite blogger of mine, LuckyFatima, asked me recently to talk about Pashtun weddings, and I'll try my best to explain here how they work. I think she meant it more like the relationship the daughter-in-law has with her sisters- and mothers-in-law, but I'll talk on that next time.

Okay, so, the thing is, there's no one or same way that Pashtun weddings take place. In Swat, they're one way; go less than 45 miles north or south or east or west of Swat, and the style changes so drastically that you have new ceremonies, rituals, customs, methods, etc.! And, while many Pashtuns claim that each *tribe* has it differently, I assert it's not even by tribe--because the Yusufzai tribe, the dominant tribe in Swat, is found also in Mardan, approximately 100 miles from Swat, but the weddings I've been to in Mardan are almost nothing like those in Swat. And it was Yusufzai wedding I went to in Mardan. So, my point, it varies from district to district, not necessarily tribe to tribe.

I'll talk first on the Mardani wedding 'cause that's the most memorable wedding I've ever been to. And then I'll talk on the Swati weddings. ((NOTE: For a recent Peshawari-style wedding, please click here - it has photos, too!)

So, here.
I'm sure you're aware that virtually all of our marriages "back home," and almost all in the west, too, are arranged. To understand the whole idea of arranged marriages, feel free to read this blog post of mine called Arranged Marriage 101. This, even today for some families, means the girl and guy have not met up prior to their wedding day. Of course, it's changing today, with new technology and all, so they most likely have talked, whether secretly or not (phone, Facebook, email, messenger, Skype, you-name-it) and know each other a little before their wedding night. But I'm talking here of the weddings/marriages of 10 years ago, so bear with me, k?

The ceremonies, from what I hear, have remained the same. Interestingly, many Pashtun weddings last up to 10 days! Me, I've never been to one that lasted that long, but when my uncles were getting married, we celebrated for a month before their wedding day. I suppose that's what people mean when they say they last that long. And, alllllways, the wedding is a lot of fun for the groom's side, especially for his parents and sisters and female cousins. For the girl's side, however, there are too many tears, too much fear, too much concern - the idea is that the the bride's parents are "losing" their daughter to another family. The groom's family has music, dances, parties, etc. for days and weeks, and only three days before the wedding does the actual thing begin.

Before I continue, bear in mind that all weddings that I've been to in Swat and Mardan observe gender segregation. Our houses are open-aired and have a huge courtyard in the middle, and almost all houses have what we call a dera or bekat (but a bekat is smaller, I think). So, all the males are in the dera/bekat, while all the females are inside the groom's house. And I don't know what kind of fun the poor guys might have, but we girls have a blast ;)

k, so, I don't know the names of the days too well right now, so I will name only the ones I'm fully sure of. 
There's the Shamo (candle) nights. I think Urdu-/Punjabi-speaking people call this the Mehndi night. The women/girls from the groom's side go over to the bride's side with lots and lots of candles, and they walk/dance in circles with the candles raised high in their hands. They sing themselves as well, although many now prefer to have "real" music playing and avoid doing the singing themselves.

The dress the bride wears on that night, and the dress that other females are to wear, has to be what we call prraqinda, or starry or bright-colored.

Um, I can't remember if that night is 2 days before the wedding or just a day before the wedding :S I'll check and get back to you soon on this! I went to a wedding here in the U.S. recently where the Shamo night was a day before the wedding, so . . .

For now, let's suppose the next day is the wedding, called da waada wraz in Pashto (literally, "the wedding day"). Ahhhhhhh!! The best of all days! Each family is different with the time they prefer to have the bride entering their house. From what I remember in Swat, I think it was around 1 or 2pm-ish. The bride is brought in to her new home and family in a decorated car; and if the house is far from the roads, then she is taken from the car to the house in a palanquin, carried by her brothers and other males. In Swat, nothing too special takes place, according to my observations, on this day, but in Mardan, DAMN!!! Way too much fun! A group of elder women with a LOT of sons (I KNOW! I am against this, too) braid the bride's hair and attach shna marchaki, green peppers, to the hair; it's supposed to be like a maize thingie that the bride's brother-in-law(s), the groom's brother(s), have to remove from the bride's hair while unbraiding it I don't know the significance of this as of now.

The entire day, the guy is not allowed to see the girl, or vice versa. On the night, there are still a lot of guests ('cause the wedding isn't over yet), so the bride sleeps in her room with her close friends and a sister or two. The other sisters, if she has more, went back to her parents' home to come tomorrow with their parents.

The dress the bride wears on the wedding day is usually red (among the Pashtuns of Afghanistan, it's green traditionally, but many families now wear white instead of green); it can also be burgundy or blue, though. I've seen green, red, and blue being worn on the first day.

The day after the wedding is called wama, which literally means the 7th, so I don't know we call it that. But on this day, the bride's mother and her whole side comes to the bride's side, bringing all of the jahez, or all the things they've gifted their daughter for her wedding day. The furniture, however, has already been brought in, a few days before the wedding, and it's displayed in her room. (I forgot to mention that her room is very, VERY decorated, especially the bed area.) For the girl's side, the wedding sorta ends with the wama, which concludes with a display or show-off of everything that she has received as gifts from both the parents' and the in-laws' sides. Around evening/late afternoon time, like 5 or 6pm-ish, a certain person, usually from the girl's side, I think, gets up and unpacks all of the girl's suitcases. All the guests gather, making a circle, and watch as this person--a woman, of course--shows off to them what all the bride got from everyone. (I should prolly mention here that we don't do gifts-gifts, like wrapped gifts, you know. The bride receives a tonnn of money from the women as each one comes to greet, congratulate, and wish her, but I don't remember seeing gifts. Maybe now they give gifts and not money so much, I don't know.) And among the stuff displayed are: all of bride's clothes, shoes, jewelries, make-up items, and gifts-gifts; the things her husband and parents- and sisters-in-law receive from her side; and the things her family receives from the groom's side. (P.S. When I was a little girl, I used to envy all brides, like all other little girls did/do, for all the jewelry AND the shoes and beautiful clothes AND all that make-up and everything that they got. Aww!)

And on this day, also, in Mardan, the bride and groom sit on a couch, and the groom's brothers and others lift them in the air :D It was quite a sight seeing that embarrassment on their faces, hahaha!

I'm not sure what the color of the bride's dress is on the second day of the wedding--but then again, it depends on which color she wore the first day. If she wore red, then the next day might be green, for instance.

For the next few days, the bride is not to help out with housework (her husband's married sisters remain at their parents' house for a good several days, if not a month or so; so they take care of much of the housework, if their mother will let them), and each day, she's to wear a new beautiful outfit and sit like a queen while guests come and go to see her and wish her and all. (Some families are cruel, though. I've heard of brides who had to do house work the 4th or 5th day of her wedding! But that's not the norm. She's to be treated exceptionally well during the first few (10 at least?) days into her new house.)

Exactly a week after the main wedding day, her side throws a party at her parents' house for the bride and her new family (not sure what this day is called). She's supposed to look more beautiful than all the other women.

The color of her dress on the party on the 7th day doesn't matter. She can wear whatever she wants.

Aaaaaaaaaaannn... I think that's all I can say about Pashtun weddings, at least for now.

Questions? Feel free to ask, especially if something I said isn't clear! I WILL write a blog post some time soon on the typical relationship between new brides and their in-laws.

Importantly: Our weddings are taken care of by our families, not by the bride herself. (I am completely against this idea that the bride should be stressing out over how her wedding day should be like. I find it miserably unfortunate that she has been given this role in some societies. And parents, or even the grooms, are rarely involved.)


  1. Thanks for sharing!!!!! Wait till you hear what kind of wedding I'm gonna have:P

  2. Interesting. Some parts of the Pashtun wedding you describe here is similar to the things done by the Malays of Arabic descent in my country.


    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Salaamz, thanks for the report. I asked a couple of people and got some very different answers. I guess it must be because of the diversity from place to place. Who pays for the various wedding parties, by the way? And is there the concept of jahez? The whole event of a Yusufzai Swati wedding sounds lovely! Thanks again :)

  4. WOW! You description of Pushtun weddings was very good! I could acutally imagine some of it. This sounds sooo much better than the traditional American way! The celebration is sooo enormous it seems. Is this because the value of marriage in that area is soo high? I guess I am comparing it to the American wedding and value of marriage.

  5. Wow excellent description! Some of the names (like Shamo) and traditions (like Wama) are what my husband has mentioned too and he's from Swat so I get it now! Our weddings are similar but we don't have a jahez, except where a family out of will wants to give certain comforts to their daughter if the husband doesn't/can't provide it. And shamo is called nakreezo shpa. And we give the groom and other close male members of the family bumps on a bed, not couch. Pretty much similar stuff ey! I've actually written up the details of my brothers wedding, just haven't posted it yet, i'll put it up so you'z all can read about a Peshawar wedding too!

  6. Thank you, everyone, for your responses! Very much appreciated.

    ~ Welcome to my blog, Snuze! I'm interested to hear about Malays weddings now. Wanna write a blog post one it? :D And which points did you find similar? Was the pepper one one of them? haha!

  7. @ LuckyFatima:

    Yep - it all varies so much, even in the same district (like Swat)! What I described must be practiced only by a few villages close to each other.

    Hina, whose comment you see above, is from Peshawar, which is also a Pashtun city located a little over 100 miles from Swat (~160km). But many of my Peshawari friends have never heard of what I've described above. So, Hinoooo, I can't wait to read your report :D Especially since it'll be based on a vvvvery recent wedding.

    And, LuckyFatima, as for the payment, well, since both the bride's and the groom's sides have the party at their places, both have to pay -- at least for their own parties. When the bride is taken to the groom's house, there are still people at her mother's place, you see. The second day is when I think there are no guests at the girl's side because they've all left to see the bride at her new home.

    I also know for a fact that the couple's not responsible for the payments, unless their parents are really, really old and unless the groom can afford all of it by himself. The bride, though, doesn't pay anything. At all.

    Yes, there's some concept of jahez, which I've described a little above. The girl gets a tonnnnnnn of things from both sides in jahez, and this can include furniture, personal gifts, jewelry, clothing, and so on.

    Hope that answers your question, sister (~imitating Zakir Naik's style~ :p).

  8. And, of course, the parties/receptions held in hotels, etc., may not be practiced like what I've described here. But I haven't seen those happening in Swat ('cause I haven't gone there in 12 years!), so who knows. I personally prefer the village styles described above.

    @ Anonymous: Thank you for your comment, and welcome to my blog :)

    You asked if it might be because of the value placed on marriage there ... I don't know. Maybe. But prolly so, 'cause we, especially females, get married only once in a lifetime. It's traditionally difficult for a female to re-marry, for whatever reasons, while quite a piece of cake for a male. That's not to mean it doesn't happen at all, of course. Many decent men will take a wife who's been divorced/widowed, but it's not as common as the society needs it to be. And the second time you (girl) get married isn't celebrated with this much tradition behind it. (Again, I'm sure there are exceptions.)

  9. @ Hina:

    I can't wait to read it!!! Hurry up with it! I was hoping you'd write this for me so I wouldn't have to do it, but too late now :@ But then again, it's all different, so it's good I did it, too. Looking forward to yours! And I still haven't gotten the videos :O

  10. Here ya go chuck x

  11. Ooooh I loved reading this description of weddings! Thank you for sharing!

  12. Congrats -- this entry is on the first page of Google's results for the search term 'Pashtun'! :D

  13. No worries, Becky! Glad you enjoyed it :)
    Whoa, Faizan!! Thanks for letting me know! That's exciting to hear :)


Dare to opine :)

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