Posted by: roamingolivia | August 2, 2010

Guest blog: Going to an Omani wedding (from Marissa)

Today, I interrupt my scheduled Greece programming to bring you a description of a wedding in Oman, from my sister. This is probably much more interesting, while also being educational, than whatever food post I was going to put up today. We resume Greece tomorrow.

And from Marissa:

So after the somewhat of a disaster that was my trip to Salalah (car accident, etc) this weekend was better and interesting in a completely different way. I was invited to a wedding by one of our peer facilitators, Leila, along with 2 of my suite-mates and another classmate. As it was the wedding of her niece, we would be part of the bridal party.

Essentially each wedding is divided into 4 separate parties: 1 held at the groom’s house with him and his family, and 1 held at the bride’s house with her and her family, within each of these groups the men and women are separated completely and their celebrations differ entirely, one being the Majlis al-Rijal and the other the Majlis al-Harem (meaning the men and women respectively) . So really I can only speak to the bride’s version of the harem party.

To begin the celebrations, we had to first go to Leila’s farm outside of Muscat and get henna on our hands on Tuesday after school. Practically every woman attending a wedding gets henna on their hands and feet (though we only got it on our hands), and the bride herself gets it all the way up her arms and on her feet. This entire process, for the 4 of us girls took about 2 to 3 hours and was really interesting because we got to talk to a local Omani family who was doing the henna for us at their house.

It was also interesting to see the difference between Omani and Jordanian henna, which was mostly that Omani was better because it is more complex and intricate designs.

Then, on Wednesday, immediately after school, we departed to the bride’s house to being the wedding celebrations. This night is called the “Henna Night” because it is when the bride gets henna done on her feet. Traditionally, she would have it all done during the party, but in this case she had most of her henna already done and she was just having more added to it.

Most of this evening was spent sitting with the extended family and all of their children and singing and dancing. Meaning that us Americans entertained the rest of the group because of our lack of dancing abilities. They also did our make up, which I think endeared us to them, but also resulted in some rather intense make up combinations, including whitening-foundation and blue/green eyeshadows and DARK cat eye eyeliner for myself. And red lipstick.

We also ate harees, a traditional Omani dish, which is wheat and water and meat ground up together to make some sort of porridge. Along with the traditional dates, fruit, and coffee. Notable throughout this process was the absence of the bride throughout most of the night. She is not allowed to show her face to anyone at this time, so she sat in a veiled ninja-like green outfit in a bedroom for most of the night. Even during the dinner time, she ate in the bedroom alone.

Finally, around 9:30, she came outside (where the party was being held) and sat on her throne which was really just a big comfortable chair covered in pink fabric and sparkles and received some gifts and was sprinkled with rose water, along with the rest of us, and more dancing ensued. Then the party was over and we went home.

(Note: there are no pictures because you are not allowed to take pictures of adult women; some women allow it but others do not in order to protect their honor and so the general policy is not to do it in such large groups of women).

On Thursday, the night of the official wedding celebration, we returned to the same house and did more of the same general dancing and eating mixture.  Chicken and rice for dinner! (Incidentally I spent this time perfecting my eating with my hands skills so really I am quite a master now) We again let them do our make up, and they dressed us up in traditional Omani clothing because we didn’t have anything appropriate to wear as it was a more traditional wedding and we couldn’t wear long dresses like at more modern weddings.

Leah getting her Omani dress put on

Also this was a rather interesting experience in terms of getting to see exactly how restricting traditional clothing is in the heat of Muscat, even at night. It was bad, but honestly not as bad as I thought. Though it certainly does restrict movement.

The theme of this night was similar, as the bride was notably absent again. However, she eventually arrived after being made up at the salon, and in her long white dress and again sat on her throne, which was inside the house this time. Everyone took pictures with her, including us (but I don’t have a copy) and we continued to dance.

Then it got more interesting (unfortunately at this point we were rather exhausted  and over heated in our outfits so we couldn’t fully enjoy the cultural aspects. Anyways, so at this point the women of the groom’s family arrive to the house of the bride singing their songs. The family of the bride continues to sing over them, back and forth.

As the groom’s family arrives at the door of the bride’s house, they begin chanting “Give us your bride” while the bride’s family replies “We don’t have a bride.” Back and forth until finally they admit that they do indeed have the bride.

Then everyone piles into the caravan of cars in order to escort the bride to her new husband’s house. Along this ride, each car is honking their horns and blasting music and clapping and singing. To be honest this was a bit much as we were all a bit exhausted at that point. Then after a seemingly long car ride, we arrived at the groom’s house where everyone is standing outside waiting.

We see the men standing outside of the Majlis al-Rijal with a goat. Also, they are all holding rifles. Then they begin to shoot their rifles. And seconds later, without us really noticing, we realize they had simultaneously slaughtered the goat. Then the bride’s car pulls up. Her family is chanting a different song, but I’m not sure what. And they all escort her inside her new husband’s house while holding the Quran over her head. And then the wedding is over. And we have a long ride back to Muscat and don’t get home til 2:30 and we are all exhausted.

The experience was really interesting in that it was entirely different than any other wedding I have seen or heard of before. And also it really exemplifies the different way that Omanis organize their society. I have never before been in a situation where there are so many women and ONLY women. The entire process for getting ready for the wedding was interesting too because they spent so much time putting on intense intricate make up and henna and clothes, etc. But not FOR any purpose other than to complete the process. Because no men are allowed, no one actually saw the final product other than the women in attendance. As soon as they leave the wedding, they again put on their traditional all black abayas.

It’s interesting when compared to the way American women think of make up and clothes which is primarily to be seen and paraded out in public. Adding to this concept is our obsession with pictures and documenting all aspects of our lives. And the complete lack of pictures in these events.

Also, I noticed that the main purpose of the wedding celebration was to provide exclusively female support for the bride at an important stage in her life. All of her friends and family were there just to be for her as she prepares to leave her home and move to her husband’s. I think one of the main things that is missing in American social organization in terms of gender division is a lack of a strong, institutionalized female support system. Very rarely do women family members spend so much time together meaning that young women are brought up without very few close female mentors. Indeed, much of young women’s time is spent trying on make up and clothes in order to attract the attention of the opposite sex. I am not arguing that one society is better than other, as both clearly have their problems. It was just interesting to compare to the American standard that I have grown up with.



  1. […] this article: Guest blog: Going to an Omani wedding (from Marissa) « Roaming in … Share and […]

  2. I thought it was interesting that you said you got all dressed up, put on make-up, etc for no reason. In reality the make-up and clothes they put on aren’t for the men but for the enjoyment of the process and being with other women! What a novel concept.

  3. What a fabulous experience to be a part of a traditional wedding in one of the most gentle and enchanting countries in the world. I can’t stop going to Oman. It is my relaxing, guilty pleasure that I escape to (child free) when London life becomes too hectic! The nicest peoe on earth are the true Omanis.

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