In the past, marriages were completely arranged by parents. Early marriages for young girls, bride-prices, and religious ceremonies were all part of the marriage-wedding process. The boy's family had to present betrothal gifts to the girl's family and cover the cost of wedding feasts. According to traditional Uzbek customs, the younger sister should not get married until her elder brother get married, and the younger brother should not marry anyone until his elder sister gets married.

In the old days, when a boy came of age, his relatives, neighbors and friends began looking for a bride for him. Selecting a girl, aunts of the groom, or mother at least, came to the house of a bride under some pretext to get to know about the girl, her parents, asked neighbors about the family of the girl. If this information satisfied the relatives of the groom, soon they sent matchmakers to the bride. Today, love matches, in which young people choose their own marriage partners, are common though the custom of arranged marriages, where parents make the choices, lives on, especially in rural areas of Uzbekistan. [Source:]

Traditional Uzbek dresses are often given as wedding presents. After the wedding they are often hung on walls of the house of the bride or her family so guests can drop by and admire them. Weddings in Bukhara feature a procession with women in fine clothes and men blowing stwo-meter-long horns. During a feast with all kinds of food and drink. Boys sometimes do a dance on stilts.

Uzbek Engagement Process and Fatikha-Tui

According to Uzbek tradition, before the man and woman are engaged, the man's family needs to go the woman's house to propose the marriage several times. After the woman's family approves the proposal, both families invite relatives and friends for dinner to discuss and decide on the date of the wedding. Before two people get married, the man's family sends gifts such as cloth, food, and daily essentials to the woman's family during festivals. [Source:]

In Uzbek families a wedding is preceded by the ceremony of engagement, Fatikha-Tui. The engagement is performed with the permission of parents of a bride and groom. Matchmakers state the purpose of their visit and if parents of the bride agree, they make the ceremony of “Non sindirish” (bread breaking) after which the girl is deemed to be engaged. The wedding day is appointed and relatives of the bride give gifts to the matchmakers for the relatives of the groom. The ceremony itself is strictly observed today. Sovchi (matchmaker) appoint a day when guests would come in the house of the bride. [Source:]

Several days before the wedding day, the man's family sends some more gifts to the woman's family. On the day prior to the wedding day, both of the parents of the bridegroom go the bride's home to confirm the name list of the guests to be invited to the wedding. Then, they will send out invitation cards. All of the costs on the wedding day are paid for by the bridegroom's family. \=/

Uzbek Wedding

Traditionally, Uzbek weddings have been large events with many, many guests. Distant relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers are invited to the main Nikokh-Tui wedding ceremony along with close family members and friends. Uzbeks consider the 7th, 17th and 27th days of a month to be auspicious and lucky days to get married.

The wedding ceremony has traditionally been held at the bride's home. The bride's parents treat guests to fried rice and sweets during the day. The newlyweds go to the groom's home in the evening after an Islamic ceremony is held. Sometimes, relatives and friends of the bride "carry the bride off" after the wedding ceremony, and the groom has to offer gifts to "redeem" her. When the "carried-away" bride is "redeemed," she has to make a circle round a fire in the courtyard before entering the house.

A traditional Uzbek wedding lasts for four days with different events each day. The first day is the wedding ceremony, mainly staged at the bride’s' home. In the morning, the bride is fussed over and dressed in a florid wedding dress, accompanied by girl friends and matrons of honor. They gather in a neighbor's home, singing and dancing, while they wait for the bridegroom marriage procession. While all this is happening bridegroom and his mates are singing and feasting at his home with his friends, waiting for the time to meet the bride. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China ~]

Uzbek Wedding Presents

Some Uzbek crafts — namely embroidered tapestry covers (“suzani”) and bridal coverlets and bed spreads (“ruijo”) — are associated with Uzbek weddings and given as gifts during the wedding the engagement process.

Suzanis have traditionally been given as gifts, Certain patterns are associated with certain occasions. There are certain patterns, for example, associated with the suzanis exchanged between families that are negotiating a marriage. A design with large red circles surrounded by black ivylike patterns with white spaces embellished with tiny pearls has traditionally been given by a young man to his future in-laws.

“Rujio “were used to hide the bride during the wedding ceremony to prevent her from being possessed by spirits. After the ceremony they were used as bedspreads. The women who made them hoped help bring prosperity and health to the bride by using auspicious motifs such as red circles and pomegranates to bring many children. Some times they look like applique work but are fastidiously hand-embroidered. Sometimes pieces are purposely left undone because a perfect pieces is regard as an invitation for bad luck.

There is an old story about a weaver named Atlas who tried to win the heart of princess with his work. After working so hard his hands were bloodied, and repeatedly being rejected, he decided to drown himself in a river, As he put his bloodied hands into the river a beautiful pattern emerged, with gold from the setting sun, green from the trees, blue from the reflected sky and red from the blood on his hands. Atlas decided to make this patten in his cloth. The princess saw the work and realized how much he loved her and married him.

Morning Wedding Festivities

The festivities begin in the early morning with a wedding pilaf. In the old days it was prepared in the houses of the groom and bride. Today the morning pilaf is more frequently prepared in cafes or tea houses: that way it is more comfortable and less troublesome for the hosts. [Source:]

After the morning pilaf the groom with friends and relatives, musicians and dancers come to the house of the bride. The bride in the wedding clothes, today usually in the European white dress, is waiting in the special room, where only mullahs (priests) can come in. They ask her marital consent and then read the prayer – “nikokh”, which effects a marriage.

Invited guests gather at a party at the bride’s home hosted by parents of both sides. In the morning, male guests are entertained with a simple party. In the afternoon, female guests are served better fare in a more exuberant atmosphere. In the afternoon, the wedding procession led by the bridegroom heads for the bride's home singing and dancing as they go. When they arrive at the gate of the bride’s home, some people grab them and smear flour all over them.

Different from male guests, female guests are expected to bring gifts with them. Honored guests are welcomed with a piece of white cloth called the "Bayandazhi" spread before the gate of the bride’s' home. When the bridegroom steps on the "Bayandazhi" cloth into the house, people rush forward for a piece of "Bayandazhi" as a souvenir.

Evening Wedding Festivities

The second part of the wedding ceremony is the farewell with parents and the home. Friends of the groom ship the bride’s dowry and the bride say goodbye to her parents and leaves the house accompanied with her friends and relatives, who sing farewell songs.

In the husband’s house women welcome the bride, singing traditional wedding songs. In front of the door there is the white track, payandoz, by which the bride enters the house. She stops before the door and makes “ostona salom”, the bow to the new house. Women strew her with flowers, sweets, money wishing her beautiful and rich life. [Source:]

After the matchmaker and parents of both sides agree on the "divorce fee" (money paid to the wife should her husband file for divorce), the wedding ceremony presided over by an imam starts. The imam recites scripture and asks if bride and bridegroom want to marry. The bridegroom answers for himself while bride’s father answers for her. After both sides agree, The imam presents two flour cakes dipped in salt water to the bride and bridegroom, which means the bride and bridegroom are like the relation of salt and cake— they combine together forever. ~

After the Wedding Ceremony

At the end of the wedding ceremony, the bride puts on a wedding dress prepared by the bridegroom with veils. Before leaving for the bridegroom’s home, the bride must embrace her mother, weeping. She then departs accompanied by her sisters or female friends. Young girls and boys beat tambourines, play musical instruments, and sing wedding songs with laughter and good cheer. On the way may they encounter a "blockage" of young men in the village. They stop the procession of the bride. These people must be flattered and given candies and handkerchiefs to allow the procession to proceed. ~

According to tradition, a bonfire is made before the gate of the bridegroom's home. When the bride gets down from her cart, she must walk around the fire three times and then salutes her father-in-law and mother-in-law , accompanied by her bridesmaids. Afterwards, the bride steps on the "Bayandazhi" and goes to the bridal chamber. There she is met by yanga, her relative or close friend. She changes bride’s clothes.

At this point, marriage songs are robustly sung by women guests. Upon hearing the songs, the bridegroom must go in room and “pays a ransom” for the bride to yanga. An old woman enters the room and hold a mirror before the newlyweds and asks them what they see. The bride must say "sun" while the bridegroom answers "moon". Afterwards an old couple that has been married only once—and for a long time—lie on the marriage bed for a while. Then then they greet the newlyweds and wish for them to be together forever just like them. After a noisy celebration in the bridal chamber, the first day ceremony comes to an end and then the newlyweds are left alone to be with each other

On the morning of the second day, the bride's family send a breakfast called "Yisilike" to the newlyweds, and a party called "Hujirkepai" begins. In the afternoon is the exposing ceremony in which the bride's veil is removed. Female friends from both the bride and groom’s sides attend. After the evening feast, the bride and her bridesmaids come to a hall and a piece of flour-cloth is spread before them. Then, the bride' mother places flour and rice on her daughter's hands three times, which means that the bride is expected to be a diligent women. All people then shout for the bride to remove her veil, When she does a roar of excitement flies from the room. ~

On the third day, the parents of the bride host a thank you feast called "Qialilake" (or Kelin salom, speech of welcome of the bride) in their home with the bridegroom, his parents and friends invited. Guests present them with gifts. Young wife should welcome every guest, bowing from the waist to everyone, and guests should give her gifts and greetings. On the fourth day, a "Qialilake" feast is held by the parents of the bridegroom. They invite the bride's family and return gifts to show their appreciation. When this over, all the wedding events are officially finished. ~

Early Marriages in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The minimum legal age for marriage is 17 for women and 18 for men, although a district mayor may lower the age by one year in exceptional cases. The Women’s Committee and mahalla (neighborhood) representatives conducted systematic awareness-raising campaigns among the population about the harm caused by child marriage and early births. The Women’s Committee regularly held public meetings with community representatives and girls in schools to raise awareness of the importance of education, self-reliance, financial independence, and the right to free choice. Child marriage had a prevalence rate of 7.2 percent. In some rural areas, girls as young as 15 occasionally were married in religious ceremonies not officially recognized by the state.” [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

The Registan reported: “Early marriages are nothing unusual for Uzbeks. According to the UNDP, the average age of female marriage in Uzbekistan is 20, with 60 percent of women marrying between the ages of 20 and 24. Of women over the age of 16, 65 percent are married. The legal age of marriage for women is younger than men – 17 versus 18 - with special exceptions granted for even younger marriages. [Source: The Registan, May 8, 2014 ]

“It is necessary to point out that getting married and starting a family is the same for Uzbeks. A first baby is expected to arrive within a year after the wedding. A bride who fails to deliver on this expectation is likely to experience intimidation from her husband and mother-in-law as well as other relatives and neighbors. A woman considers contraception only after having a first child.

“The practice of teen marriages is wide-spread among ethnic Uzbeks in countries other than Uzbekistan. Shohruh Saipov, a journalist from an Uzbek-populated Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, wrote to me via Facebook, that Uzbek girls marry at the age of 16, earlier than their Kyrgyz peers. My friends from Kazakhstan also said Uzbeks marry off their daughters earlier than ethnic Kazakhs. As we see, even some Uzbeks living in the U.S. still adhere to the tradition. In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the official age for marriage is 18 for both sexes. Also, Kyrgyzstan is the only state in the CIS that signed the 1962 UN Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages in 1997.”

History of Early Marriages in Uzbekistan

The Registan reported: “Early marriages are nothing unusual for Uzbeks. According to the UNDP, the average age of female marriage in Uzbekistan is 20, with 60 percent of women marrying between the ages of 20 and 24. Of women over the age of 16, 65 percent are married. The legal age of marriage for women is younger than men – 17 versus 18 - with special exceptions granted for even younger marriages. [Source: The Registan, May 8, 2014 ]

“Under the Soviet rule, Uzbekistan was one of two republics where the official marriage was 17 for girls and 18 for boys, whereas the rest of the Soviet Union allowed marriages starting from 18 and 19, respectively for girls and boys. When the Soviet rulers made that exception for Uzbekistan, they referred to local traditions and customs before the Uzbek SSR was formed, when Uzbeks married their daughters off even at earlier age.”

“Before the Soviet era, “ethnic Uzbeks used to marry their daughters even earlier. According to some sources, however, the practice started after the mass Russian colonization of the region in late 1800s. As a Jadidist Uzbek writer Abdulla Qodiriy (Kadiri) wrote in his renowned novel “Days Gone By” (“O’tkan kunlar”), Uzbeks were afraid of Russian conquerors raping young girls and therefore started marrying their daughters off as soon as they reached puberty. Before that, he wrote, “neighbors and acquaintances would start inquiring about a girl [for potential marriage] after she turned 18”.

“During the Soviet times, the tendency changed slightly with educated urban girls wedding in their mid- to late 20s, while teen marriages were still prevalent among less educated and rural population. In the last 25 years, the process reversed once again. Nowadays, even the parents of college and university students try to arrange the daughter’s marriage before she reaches the age of 21-22. For example, in medical schools where female students are seen as the most desirable wives and daughters-in-law, most girls are married by the third academic year and some have a child or two before graduation, although it takes at least seven years to complete the studies.”

Negative Consequences of Teen Marriages

The Registan reported: “In Uzbekistan, the statistics on the correlation are difficult to find. There have been discussions between state officials, UN agencies and the mahalla (neighborhood) councils about raising an official age for marriage to 18, but no change has been made yet. However, there are efforts to raise awareness on negative effects of teen marriages. reported recently that following more than 180 marriages of female college students (aged 15-18) in 2012-2013 school year in the Syrdarya region, groups of female activists, including elderly women who have children and grandchildren, teachers, doctors, psychologists, writers and journalists, have organized meetings with the youth to talk about bad consequences of early marriages. [Source: The Registan, May 8, 2014 ]

“A school teacher from Tashkent and a recipient of many state awards for her teaching, Ozoda Sharipova, tells me on the phone from Tashkent that in schools, the administration and teachers oppose students’ marriages and “do not let them happen”. “We would talk to both parents. We would get the district and city departments of education involved, if necessary. I would say: “She is young. Physically, she is not ready to have children. And she is not ready emotionally. She is not ready in terms of education because a mother must be informed and preferably educated in order to raise smart children”, says Sharipova.

Many doctors also seem to oppose the practice of teen marriages. A gynecologist from Tashkent Dilfuza Karimova says: “A few years ago, I used to talk to mothers who brought their teen daughters for a check-up before the wedding, about cons of starting a family at such an early age. I don’t do that anymore because they don’t listen. They go their own way”, she says. “Although most young women have miscarriages these days,” she continues. “And almost 100 percent of young mothers-to-be are taken to hospital at least once during pregnancy because the well-being of a mother and a baby is threatened due to weak health”.

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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.

Last updated April 2016

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