MARRIAGE IN TAJIKISTAN
In rural areas, marriage and wedding tend to follow traditional customs. Many marriage are arranged and traditional wedding ceremonies and celebrations are held. Couples usually move in with the groom’s family until they get a house of their own. In urban areas, more Soviet-Russian style marriage and wedding customs are present. Couples often marry in a civil ceremony and have more say in their choice of a partner.
Bennigsen and Wimbush wrote in 1986: "Traditional customs such as the kalym (bride-price), the early marriage of girls, the levirate and sororate, preferences of marriage between cousins, sexual segregation, aksakalism (local rule by 'white beards') and even polygamy are observed by Tajiks more generally than by any other Muslim nationality of Central Asia."
According to Everyculture.com: “Building a family through a marriage sanctified by a religious ceremony is considered one of the most sacred aspects of life. It is also a way to develop a social structure with the blessings and support of the community. Often a matchmaker is involved in choosing a bride. A daughter will move to the home of her husband's family, and her parents want to be sure that she will be provided for. They pay close attention to the groom's education and lifestyle, and the economic situation of his family. [Source: Everyculture.com]
“Children may be promised in infancy, or a daughter may marry the son of her uncle. A marriage between the children of brothers is considered economically disadvantageous. Although illegal, polygyny has become common. These marriages are not officially recorded but may account for 20 percent of all marriages. After age 23, a young woman is considered unmarketable for marriage except as a second wife. Divorce is rare, and a first wife usually does not leave when her husband takes a second wife. Marriage to a non-Muslim is frowned upon.” [Ibid]
Motivation for Marriage amongst College Students, 1990: A) Mutual love: 100 percent among Russians; 64.7 percent among Tajiks; 80.9 percent among mixed couples; B) Commonality of spiritual interests: 22.2 percent among Russians; 9.8 percent among Tajiks; 28.6 percent among mixed couples; C) Desire to have a family: 11.1 percent among Russians; 17.6 percent among Tajiks; 19.0 percent among mixed couples; D) Parents’ will: 0 percent among Russians; 21.6 percent among Tajiks; 0 percent among mixed couples. [Source: Source: Vuzovskaia molodezh: mirovozzrencheskie i tsennostnye orientatsii (Vypusk I. Dushanbe: Ministerstvo narodnogo obrazovaniia TSSR, 1990), p. 108]
Tajiks intermarry more with Uzbeks and other Muslim groups than they do with Russians. In the past, the Tajiks in China seldom intermarried with other ethnic groups. Such marriages, if any, were confined to those with Uygurs and Kirgizs. Marriages were completely decided by the parents. Except for siblings, people could marry anyone regardless of seniority and kinship. Therefore marriages between cousins were very common. Usually the husband should be older than his wife. Among Tajik people, witnessing the whole course of their children’s marriage is a sacred duty for parents. Getting divorce, leaving the wife or the husband is shameful. Therefore, most of the Tajik couples are single-minded each other and remain a devoted couple to the end of their lives. [Source: China.org china.org *|*; Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Courtship and Engagement in Tajikistan
The courtship, engagement and wedding process among Tajiks is complicated, with processes of choosing the spouse, courtship, proposal, engagement and many other processes. In the old days, child marriages were common and some customs related to them endure.
In the old days, Tajik families frequently matched their young children and even newborn babies. There were two kinds of such matches, namely: govorabakhsh (gakhvorabakhsh, “cradle matchmaking", "cradle gift”) and domanchok ("young children matchmaking"). To seal a “domanchok" match, mothers of a boy and a girl broke a flatbread with a prayer, put the children side by side and connected the hems of their shirts and tore them slightly along the seams. Matches of girls and young men traditionally were made by their parents (according to their preference), or professional matchmakers (sovchi). After negotiations between the parents of the future groom and the bride, a courtship was arranged. [Source: advantour.com]
After courtship period of 10 days to a month, the courtship ritual was repeated: the young man was told who his bride was. Afterwards in the evening his mother went to the bride's house with the dish of a pilaw covered with freshly baked flatbreads. She was treated with tea while the hosts were cooking pilaw. Soon after that the bride's parents invited their relatives, neighbors, old men, and heads of clans to their home. All the guests were told that the girl had been married off. Before a meal someone who is very much respected broke flatbreads and prayed for the happiness of the groom and the bride. All rituals were accompanied by prayers. This ritual was called fotikha ("opening", "beginning") or nonshikanon - "breaking bread". After it was completed the the engagement was considered official.
No wedding could take place without the presentation of kalym (ransom for the bride) to the girl's parents. On the eve of the appointed kalym day the father of the bride had to go to the house of the groom for "takhta pas kunon" (“lowering of dough board"). Some women baked flatbreads (“lochira”) and sewed together wedding clothes. All this was accompanied by songs, prayers and rituals. On the following day in the groom’s parents house, the groom’s parents agreed upon a final kalym with the father of the bride. In the evening "takhta pas kunon" was observed. After refreshments and prayers for happiness, young girls were ordered to sift flour and knead dough for wedding flatbreads and elders examined the wedding gifts of the groom. One of the old women, while praying, cut clothe from fabric sent by the groom for a shirt for the bride which was sewn by younger women. A few days later, usually on a Thursday, another ritual called "latta buron" took place, when women in the bride's house cut clothes from the fabric presented by the groom's mother. [Source: advantour.com]
Tajiks have very unique wedding ceremonies. Most ethnic groups in Central Asia begin the wedding ceremony with the betrothal and arrangements made by the elders of the family, but a Tajik wedding is quite different. It lasts seven days! On the first day of the ceremony, the bride and the bridegroom proclaim their marriage and hold separate banquets with their own families, which continue for three days. Wedding have traditionally taken place in the autumn when the harvesting season was over. [Source: centralasiacultures.com]
On the fifth day, the bridegroom, accompanied by friends and relatives, goes to the bride's home. There, the newlyweds make their commitment before an in imam, after which they must drink a cup of water and eat a bit of meat, cake and salt. This seals the marriage, and only then are they allowed to be together.
After that, the grand celebration begins. People sing and dance until midnight. Then the newlyweds ride to the bridegroom's home on a single horse. On the sixth day, the bride's family members arrive at the bridegroom's home and spend the night there, marking the end of the wedding. The honeymoon period lasts 40 days spent. It is spent under the same roof as the husband’s parents in order to protect the bride and groom at the start of the married life.
On the third day after the wedding the young husband visited the bride's parents. This visit was called "domod salom"— "son-inlaw's bow". Fifteen days after the wedding the ritual of "looking at the brife's face" by her family took place. This ceremony was called “rubinon,” “rukushod,” or “rukushoi dukhtar.” It normally was observed in the evening before Thursday or Sunday. Twenty days after the wedding on an evening before Thursday, Friday or Monday, the young couple visited the house of the bride. This ritual was called khona tablon - "the invitation home".
Tajik Wedding Customs
According to Everyculture.com: The wedding feast or tui involves friends and relatives. The celebration includes music, dancing, and the recitation of poems. A representative of the bride brings an iron tray filled with burning herbs to chase away illness and the evil eye. The wedding bed is prepared ceremoniously for the first conjugal night. The next morning the purity of the bride must be proved to her mother-in-law. [Source: Everyculture.com]
The whole wedding ceremony is filled with singing and dancing. After the young couple was engaged, the boy's family had to present betrothal gifts such as gold, silver, animals and clothes to the girl's family. All relatives and friends were invited to the wedding ceremony. Accompanied by his friends, the groom went to the bride's home, where a religious priest presided over the nuptial ceremony. He first sprayed some flour on the groom and bride, and then asked them to exchange rings tied with strips of red and white cloth, eat some meat and pancake from the same bowl and drink water from the same cup, an indication that they would from that time on live together all their lives. The following day, escorted by a band, the newlyweds rode on horseback to the groom's home, where further celebrations were held. The festivities would last three days until the bride removed her veil. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
The suzane (a coverlet) has traditionally been the obligatory gift for a wedding. Tajiks believed that a properly woven coverlet would safeguard the newlywed couple from evil spirits and evil hexes. There were some rules which had to be observed. For example the fabric used for the coverlet was expected to be exclusively homespun, white cotton: only that fabric was considered ritually pure and favored by the Allah. In addition to ancient patterns with magic and symbolic meanings, skilled workers used other ways to increase the magic properties of the suzane. Before the wedding, in order to finish the dowry preparation on time, neighbors and relatives gathered at in the bride's house to help make the suzane and other wedding items. They read the Koran and chanted prayers while they worked. Sewing work was started by a respected mother with many children. [Source: advantour.com]
The suzane traditionally contained a slight flaw. For example, a pre-drawn pattern was not embroidered. This was done on purpose. According to traditional beliefs it was bad luck to create something that was perfect. Tajiks say: “Let the bad eye stumble over the flaw and the happiness of a newly-married couple never comes to an end. After the wedding the best suzane decorated the young couple’s room.
Tajik Wedding Day
A Tajik wedding day traditionally started very early with pilaw cooking and extending invitations to all neighbors or villagers. First men were fed, and then it was the turn of women with children. The bride and the groom (each in their own home) prepared for the wedding ceremony. As evening approached a mullah (Islamic “priest”) was sent for. The bride's friends and relatives invited women-neighbors for the wedding. They each gave the bride a cup of flour — the sign of happy wedding. [Source: advantour.com]
After refreshments and prayers for happiness of the groom and bride, the bride and her friends sat in the corner opposite the front door behind a curtain. There the bride was dressed and combed while prayers were said. Other women danced in front of the curtain. The witnesses then went to the women's part of the house to obtain the bride's consent to be reported to the mullah. He, in turn, carried out the akdi nikokh — the traditional Islamic wedding ceremony.
After the ritual the groom received congratulations and his friends who led him to the bride, illuminating his way with torches. Before entering the bride's house, the groom had to jump over burning flax straws (to purify and cleanse himself). The groom entered the house over a piece of spread fabric and stopped in front of the curtain, behind which the bride was waiting. When the groom left, the bride wearing a yashmak was led from behind the curtain to the door to say goodbye to her father. After the farewell ceremony the bride was taken to the house of the groom. The wedding procession was guided by burning torches to the groom's house.
In the yard of the groom’s house there was a big fire for the bride had to jump over before entering the groom’s house. Before entering, the bride had to stop at the door to wait until her father-in-law sacrifices a young goat at her feet. The bride entered the house walking on freshly spilled blood of the sacrificial animal and stepped onto the spread poiandoz (a fabric), the end of which were held by two old women. The bride was met with a low bow from the mother of the groom. When inside the bride was placed behind a curtain. The people who gathered in the house were treated with pilaw.
Pamiri Tajik Marriage
The Pamiri Tajiks traditionally married their first or second cousins. Girls especially tended to marry young, sometimes at 11 or 12, but more generally when they were in their teens. A mother’s brother was considered more closely related to a child than the father and he often played a role in setting up marriages. Marriage customs are in line with those of Islam. Traditionally no bride prices were paid but money and property was provided to make sure a new family was well provided for.
There is a big feast to celebrate the wedding. The Batangs conduct a ritual called “uncovering of the face.” The groom shoots three times with a bow and arrow into an opening in the ceiling of a house. On the first two times he hits his target he goes up to the bride twice with his bow and lifts up the handkerchief that covers her face. On the third time he goes up to her and throws the handkerchief off and then picks it up and keeps it and gives the bride a gift in return. The Rushans have a similar ritual using the branch of a fruit tree.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2016