Shedding some light on shamadan and parties

So what’s with dancing with a candelabra on your head? Well, before electricity the bride would be led to her new husband’s home by a procession of friends and family who’d be carrying lanterns and candles to light the way. Young girls often carried huge lit candles and the candlelit procession was called a ‘zeffa’.  In the old days the zeffa would have been led by a dancer using zills (sagat, finger cymbals). With the candles and the zills, the people taking part could both see and hear where they were going and everyone in the local area would know what was happening.  While there’s the usual discussion about who did it first, Egyptian dancer Zouba el Klobatiyya (not her real name of course) is credited with being the first dancer to put a lantern on her head to lead a wedding procession. The lantern changed to a candelabra and candelabra/shamadan have became connected with weddings ever since. Nowadays, the shamadan dancer leads the bride and groom into the reception hall often accompanied by live music.  The bride and groom then sit on a raised stage on chairs that look like thrones while the reception goes on around them.  Family and friends come up onto the stage to wish the couple joy and to have their photos taken.    You’ll still, very occasionally, see the girls with the big candles standing either side of the bride and groom during the reception.  The candlelit procession to the groom’s house is a thing of the past in most places as weddings receptions now take place in function centres and the couple leave for their honeymoon from there.
Over here in the Gulf things are done differently and weddings are segregated; the women go to a women-only party while the men go to a men-only party.  A local lady told me many years ago, “The women’s parties are always the best” and now that I’ve been fortunate enough to go to lots of local weddings, I agree with her 100%!   Sometimes the two separate parties will be held on the same night at the same hotel or reception centre but in different rooms.  In Qatar huge tents are often erected for the wedding functions.  There are a couple under construction at the moment around the corner and one tent is so huge that they’ve bought in a crane to lift it.

So what will we see at the reception in the Gulf?  Here, the bride’s mother and sisters will receive the lady guests as they arrive and the ladies who are covered will have a cloak room to take off their abaya and sheyla.  Once in the main hall, there’ll be so much food, there’ll be music, bedu ladies will bring around perfume oil on a long stick that you put into the bottle to take some liquid and apply it to your skin.  The local bedu are often hired in to carry bukhour burners around so the guests can waft the fragrant smoke over themselves, The entertainers for the functions are flown in from overseas, particularly Lebanon, and I’ve seen an incredible range of Arabic female singers performing at weddings here. Meanwhile, the male musicians sit behind a screen on stage. The reason for this is that the majority of the lady guests will have removed their abayas and hijab on entering the reception hall.  The male musicians are screened so they can’t see the lady guests and while the female guests can’t see them, the musicians can still see the singer or dancers.  Once the abayas have been removed the lady guests will be wearing the most amazing array of exquisite evening gowns you’ve ever seen.  And the jewellery that’s on display, well, I’m not into jewellery but even I could see that some of the pieces must be very, very, valuable.  After attending a wedding in Dubai in the UAE I knew I had to seriously lift my game and I was at the gown shop pronto! Anyway, back to the party. The bride will make her big entrance and I mean BIG entrance.  I’ve seen one bride come up out of the floor seated on a revolving throne while another floated down from the roof in a silver egg.  And there’s always masses of dry ice!  The bride does a few laps of the crowd, stopping now and then for photos and then takes her place for the evening sitting on a throne or gilt sofa.  Family members and friends come up to greet the bride and have their photos taken.  Bear in mind that there are often several different photo albums prepared as the ladies are often ‘uncovered’ when they have their photos taken.

At the women’s’ party all the wait staff, camera crews and technical staff will be female.  Its often like a Hollywood production, there are boom cameras, separate sound systems with the huge microphones with the fluffy ends (sorry I don’t know the name for those) and the cameras that the operator has to wear so it can float up and down (don’t know the name for those either).  After the entertainer/s has performed, the band then plays music for general dancing and everyone hits the floor.  This is the time for the single girls of marriageable age to be seen.  They’ll get up to dance and the mothers of any prospective grooms can watch them and if they like what they see they can speak to an intermediary who knows both families. Its not unlike the debutante balls in the West of not that long ago and seems to serve almost the same purpose.  There will be an announcement late in the evening that the groom is coming to claim his bride and the lady guests will put their abayas and hijabs back on.  The groom along with his father, brothers and a few friends arrive to great fanfare. The groom sits up on the throne next to his bride, there are a few photos taken and then the couple and the groom’s companions all leave together. It usually doesn’t take too long at all.  Then, like Western weddings, once the bridal couple have gone, the party can *really* get started……

So what happens at the separate men’s party?  Here I have to rely on second-hand reports of course, but I’m reliably informed that it goes like this: the male guests arrive, they greet the groom and his male family members.  Everyone then sits around and talks football.  They eat dinner then the majority go home to sleep until they get a call from their mum/wife/sisters to come and pick them up from the ladies’ party which will have gone on waaaay longer LOL.

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