Sunday 21-27/10/2007 23 North Africa Times Life style
Marriage in Algeria
A Dream Full of Mystery
ne of the most famous rituals in Algeria is the essary that twelve men play the role of witnesses that
ceremony of marriage. An Algerian wedding the marriage has been legal and has the consent of both
not only celebrates the union of the couple parties.
and the families but also the richness of the Algerian Every step of the ceremonial of marriage in Algeria is
traditions, rituals and culture. The ceremony of mar- prepared with meticulous respect of the rituals and tra-
riage in Algeria is the fusion of many rituals where ditions that are centuries old and that constitute a great
the bride is the centre of attention. It is a dream full richness and pride for the country. Preparations for the
of mystery that accompanies little girls especially and wedding start right after the engagement. The long dis-
their families. cussions between the two newly united families allow
The ﬁrst step of marriage in Algeria is the engage- them to decide on the tasks each of them will be respon-
ment. Getting engaged in Algeria, like in other parts sible of. Traditionally, the more money is spent and gifts
of North Africa and Muslim countries, goes beyond an given during the wedding, the prouder are the families.
agreement between the couple. It is above all a matter The two families can decide on either having two
of family and religion. A man can go to see the par- ceremonies, each of them organizes one; or they share
ents of the woman he would like to marry without ever the responsibilities of organizing one single big cer-
talking to the latter. This is the traditional way. Nowa- emony. Before the big day, the groom buys gifts for his
days, although more and more couples get to know bride and her mother to show respect for them and their
each other before they inform their families and get family. Most preparations evolve around the bride and
engaged, the rituals of this ﬁrst step stay irreversible. her beauty: the hammam, the henna and the traditional
Before the couple can make their engagement public, outﬁt…
the groom has to go with his family to ask the hand of On the day of the wedding, the bride goes in the
the bride. Women cannot be forced to marry anyone morning to the “hammam”, the Turkish bath, with the
without their consent. However, the parents’ opinion closest women of her family. This ritual symbolizes pu-
stays very important and has its inﬂuence. rity and prosperity. The women help her bath while they
During this ﬁrst step of marriage, the two families are singing for her. After that, the bride goes to her par-
agree on the date of marriage and the other details of ents’ house, is dressed in a green traditional outﬁt ready
the wedding. Two main ceremonies are usually organ- for her hands and feet are decorated with Henna. The,
ized after the engagement. The bride’s family organ- she goes to the hairdresser with women from her family.
izes the ﬁrst - the signing of the contract of marriage. Traditional Algerian dress takes a lot of time to be pre-
On the other hand, the groom’s family organizes the pared as they are hand-made and hold a lot of broidery.
wedding after which the couple leaves for their own Usually, seven different dresses are prepared, including
home. During the engagement, the main themes of the one that represents the region from which the bride’s
discussions are the dowry, the costs of the two events, family is. Every dress is accompanied with heavy jew-
the guests and so on and so forth. elry that the parents buy some of it and borrow the rest.
The Koran is usually recited when the two families Once in the wedding room, she sits like a queen in her
accept the union of their respective children. After the big comfortable chair next to her groom. The families
engagement, the next ceremony is the actual signing and the guests dance for them to the rhythm of the live
of the contract of marriage, called “lehlal” in Algeria. music. The most common music used in wedding in Al-
A religious man prepares the contract and it is nec- Algerian bride geria is the popular “Chaabi” or Rai.
The Last Gasps of Reﬁnement
By Barburah Balkassim
he Algerian City of Masaad, 76 km south of the state affordable type worn by those on lower incomes. Traditional
of Jalfah, is famous for its agricultural produce such as hand sewn cloaks are always much more expensive and sought-
pomegranates and apricots. It is also renowned for its after than the machine sewn variety.
traditional handicrafts, many of which are not found elsewhere The burnoose goes through a series of processes before
in Algeria. becoming the ﬁnal product. The ﬁrst step involves the collec-
Masaad is the country’s only supplier of the camel hair bur- tion of camel hair, with an average of three months required
noose (a traditional long cloak). The highly prized Masaadi to extract the necessary amount to make a single garment. At
burnoose is often given as a unique gift to high-proﬁle visitors least four kilograms of hair are needed to make one kilogram
to Algeria. of reﬁned fur. The fur of young camels is preferred due to its
The town has a legacy of exclusive high quality craftsman- softness.
ship, and its people have been devoted to preserving this handi- After collection, the hair is woven between two parallel
craft. The skills and techniques involved in the traditional craft lengths of wood. After this the detailing and sewing takes place.
have been passed down from generation to generation since Sewing by hand is time consuming work, traditionally requir-
ancient times. ing ﬁne embroidery which can take up to a month to complete.
The ﬁne quality of Masaadi handiwork has attracted wider Though remaining the sole source of income for many
study and attention. Mohammed bin Darah, of the Algerian De- families in Masaad, the burnoose industry seems to be facing
velopment Institute and the Masaad Tourism Promotion Ofﬁce, an unfortunate decline. Slow traditional methods of manufac-
has played a key role in promoting the burnoose outside of Al- ture have been limiting, as has the scarcity of camel hair due
geria. He was the ﬁrst person to pitch its sale to the Arab Gulf to dwindling numbers of breeders. Factor in the high price
States during his participation in conferences in the UAE. The of manufacture, and a general unwillingness on the behalf of
burnoose is also in high demand in Tunisia and Morocco. young girls to learn the craft, and the days of the burnoose as a
High-quality burnooses are worn exclusively by the upper staple trade could well be numbered. These days it seems only
classes in Algerian society due to the prices they command. Za- elderly women practice the craft.
itut Jalul, chief of the Masaadi Burnoose Society and tailor of There is a complete lack of vocational training centres of-
burnoose, puts this cost into perspective, saying: “The Masaadi fering to teach the techniques involved. Recognising the prob-
burnoose is not too pricey, given the time and effort required lem, the Algerian Ministry of Small Enterprises and Traditional
in its manufacture. The process can take up to a year in some Crafts has pledged to provide just such a school in Masaad.
cases.”Camel hair burnooses are the most expensive. Other va- They will also increase support for camel breeding in order to
rieties are made from different colours of goats, with this more Masaai burnoose preserve this age-old tradition.