Beni Amer Marriage custom
Sudan Notes and Records II, 1919.
The following note is intended to give some idea of
the marriage custom as practised by the Beni Amer tribe. It may be
mentioned that each section of the tribe regards itself as free to
modify or amplify the details here set down.
On the day appointed for the marriage ceremony to
commence the male and female relatives of the bridegroom leave him at
home and with singing and rejoicing proceed to erect the bridal hut. The
material for this hut are as follows, Seven pieces of white bursh.
The usual number of bent poles over which to stretch
Pieces of zaf, i. e. leaves of dom palm, wherewith to
tie the bursh to the poles.
An angareb or even simpler form of bed.
Some pieces of hugarit, the local name for a
hematite, which is found in Eritrea.
The above intentioned materials are put on a camel
and conveyed to the spot
arranged where they are all taken off and laid upon
The male relatives now lake the camel and go
themselves to the house of the bride's father. They are met with
derisive shouts by the female friends of the bride who seal the
testimony of. their regard by bespattering the visitors with dung.
(This form of play is indulged in by the bride's
female friends for the ensuing seven days.)
Nevertheless they return with the men, who load the
camel with an angareb or some form of couch and proceed singing to the
site of the new hut.
The bridal hut is now erected by the female relatives
only of the bride and bridegroom: The hut is partitioned into two
portions by fixing up light hangings.
Water is next poured over the pieces of hugarit and
the resulting solution is taken and
splashed over the poles supporting the hut and huge
rough crosses are made on the bursh above the entrance to the hut with
this same solution.
This ceremony is said to be carried out in
commemoration of the tragic murder of the father of the first of the
Nabtabs who was beheaded by the Christian King Bulo on the morning
following the first night after his marriage with the king's own
(This man is reputed to have been a "holy man" called
'Ali Belas, to whom the King Bulo
took such a fancy that he gave him his daughter in
marriage. On the morning after his first bridal night, he was, for a
slight breach of etiquette in the presence of the king, summarily
beheaded. His one night bride bore him a son, Mohammed Diglal ibn Mousa,
the first of the "Nabtabs".)
The ceremony completed, the bridegroom on horseback
appears upon the scene accompanied by horsemen and camelmen who encircle
the hut seven times. After the procession has completed the seventh
circle, the whole mounted body with a shout, gallop for about half mile
in a line due south of the hut. (The reason for going in a southerly
direction is because in ancient times the tribe prayed with faces turned
to the south.) After this has been done, the bridegroom is carried
bodily into the half of the hut reserved for him and his friends, and is
deposited on the angareb.
He is now anointed with water into which have been
poured a few whole grains of dura. He also changes his garment and decks
himself out with women's jewellery especially bracelets, and a piece of
camel dung is inserted in his amma. The jewellery includes a necklace of
alternate gold and other beads and a broad silver bracelet and is worn
by the bridegroom until the seventh day when it is given to the bride.
He is now ready for the bride who, in due course,
approaches with all the women in
attendance. She is carried on the back of a strong
slave seven times round the hut and is then brought in and deposited on
the angareb in her half of the hut. She is anointed in like manner as
As soon as the bride is anointed the women in their
half of the hut and the men in their half commence singing and
rejoicing. The men, however, soon go out and indulge in sports and
The marriage feast commences and is kept up for seven
days – the men entering and leaving their portion of the hut while the
women do the same in theirs. For seven days and seven nights, the bride
and bridegroom are surrounded, day and night, by their friends. Only
once during that period does the bridegroom enter the bride's chamber.
In the silent watches of the first night, he, accompanied by a friend,
by stealth approaches the couch of the supposed-to-be-sleeping bride. He
strokes her face and neck and immediately retires again. This ceremony
is performed with the purpose of preventing the jinn from bearing her
way or changing her into another being.
At the end of the seven days, the male friends of the
bridegroom begin to leave him until by evening only one is left in
At night the bridegroom and his friend again enter
the bride's chamber. This is the signal for all the bride's attendants,
except two old women, to rush out of the hut. The bride tries to follow
and must be forcibely detained by the bridegroom. (She has allowed her
finger nails to grow long so that the scratches she makes on his wrist
may afterwards be shown to his friends.)
If he fails to retain her, so that she escapes to her
companions waiting outside, he is made the laughing stock of the
If he succeeds he throws her upon the ground and in
the presence of the two old women and his friend, he puts his foot upon
her neck and proclaims himself her lord and master.
The witnesses now leave: the partition is thrown
down: the hut is one.
Before the wife can speak to the husband, he must pay
her father the sum of £ 10 or give him the present of a camel.
At the end of ten days, the husband is required to
leave his wife. He goes away for the
purpose of earning the £ 10 or of securing a camel,
and quite often does not return for several months.
The purpose of silence seems to vary very much and
even though the bridegroom has
provided the necessary gift, the bride ought not to
speak to her husband for at least six months.
If he does not leave her village she yet may not
speak to him nor may be live continuously in her house and if he wishes
to see her face before the end of six months, he must remove her veil by
force. The period of silence may be extended to two years if the present
is not forthcoming. The reason given by the people for this "avoidance"
is that if the bride speaks it shows that she has known the bridegroom
previously and this is considered disgraceful.
G. J. Fleming