Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! In Wolof, jabar means ‘wife’ and jekker means ‘husband’. Typically the first question I get asked by any new person I meet after “How are you?” and “How’s your family” is Am nga jekker? or, “Do you have a husband?” Marriage is incredibly important to Senegalese life and culture, and the wedding can be quite the party. Yesterday I had the honor of spending the day preparing for and participating in the wedding of my host brother, Cheikh, and his wife, Laura! I thought I’d make this week’s post talking about the festivities that went down. This post is mostly photos, so excuse the length!
I woke up to the comforting sounds vegetables being chopped, rice being stirred, and the ladies of my family chattering excitedly in Wolof. The biggest pot I have ever seen was being used to make a giant batch of ceebu yapp, a delicious dish of spicy rice with diced vegetables and mutton.
I stuck to my room for most of the morning, finishing my final papers for school. Guests started arriving at the house in the early afternoon to chat and wait for lunch. All the while, my mom and my aunties, who came to Dakar for the wedding from all over Senegal, were laughing and singing in the kitchen, enjoying the opportunity to all be together at the same time.
At long last, Laura made her first appearance! Being escorted into the house by her best friend, she was greeted with cries of excitement, applause, and flashing iPhone cameras from the guests. Typically, modern Senegalese brides wear a white dress for their wedding. However, since Laura’s going to have a 2nd, more traditionally American wedding in the U.S. with a white dress, she wanted to wear something more traditionally Senegalese. Cheikh, in his traditional bubu, and Laura went outside to pose for photos with all the guests. What do you all think of these Senegalese outfits?
Finally, lunch was ready! The guests filed into giant tents set up outside the house to eat and enjoy the company.
At 5pm, all the men went to the Mosque for the traditional Muslim marriage ceremony, which typically includes the fathers of both Laura and Cheikh who agree to marry their children to each other. The women are not allowed at this part of the ceremony, including Laura. Around 6pm, the men had returned and Laura made a re-appearance in her evening gown.
For the rest of the night, everyone danced, talked, and ate the hand-made snacks that came with goody bags handed out to each of the guests.
After most of the guests had left and the dancing had quieted down, the final part of the ceremonies took place. I was about to fall asleep, and I’m so glad I got up to check out the hubbub outside my door! For this tradition (that not all Senegalese people do at their weddings, but Cheikh and Laura decided they wanted to do), the wife and husband are escorted to the husband’s bedroom by a griot, an important community member that tells stories through song and sometimes accompanies traditional ceremonies (griots do a lot more, but it’s hard to go into completely). The couple are given a bowl of lakh, a dish made of sweet yogurt with millet, almost like a tapioca pudding. The couple feed each other the lakh, and in doing so try to get some on the other’s face. As tradition has it, whoever gets the lakh on the other’s face first get’s to be ‘in control’ of the relationship for the rest of their marriage. Who do you think won? 🙂
Typically, this tradition isn’t as competitive as Laura made it, but everyone loved it anyways.
Other marriage facts:
- People in Senegal tend to marry young, and it is still normal for families to occasionally arrange marriages for their kids
- After a couple gets married, the wife is supposed to move in with the husband’s family. It is completely normal for there to be multiple generations in one house! In my house, the grandparents, parents, and little kiddos all live together
- In Senegal, polygamy is legal and widely practiced (in contrast to monogamy in the United States). This means that husbands can have more than one legal wife. Sometimes the wives live in different places, but often they live all together in the same house. The husband is culturally obligated to spend the same amount of time, money, and attention to each of his wives. Wives, however, are not allowed to have more than one husband.
What do you think of Cheikh and Laura’s wedding, and about marriage in Senegal in general? How is it different than in the U.S.? Would you want to have a Senegalese wedding?
Ba beneen yoon, insh’allah!