The wedding for Albanians is a big family event with a lot of preparations. Marriage is a big burden on the family economy. Many families could not recover for years because of the huge expenses. No matter how poor the bride’s family is, her dowry must be full.
The customs of the Chams allow a kind of immersion in the world of this community. They carry with them the spirit and specifics of a population, bearer of a culture close to, but at the same time different from, the Albanian culture.
This article is reviewing the traditional Cham wedding, as the wedding is one of the most important events in human life, associated with the increase of the family and the continuation of human life. As a process from ancient times with its many and varied rituals and ceremonies, it carries elements of different origins and ethnographic significance. This includes the familiar rites of betrothal, taking the bride away from her father’s house, sending her out of her home, receiving her into the groom’s house, and many other ceremonies that are performed on this occasion.
The wedding begins a week before the bride was taken. If the bride was taken on a Sunday, the wedding will have begun on the Sunday before it. If it starts on a Thursday, then it had begun on the Thursday before it. The wedding on a Thursday is influenced by the Islamic religion.
The bride’s dowry must be prepared by her father. The groom’s family does not contribute to it. The dowry consists of clothes, which are usually: 8-10 dresses, 8-10 pairs of shalwars, 10-12 shirts, 10-12 vests, 15-20 towels (for hands), 2-3 belts, bracelets, necklaces (golden), some families also prepared a wristwatch; two drawers and a cupboard where clothes were kept; 4 quilts, 4 mattresses, 10 copper bowls with lids, 10 soup plates, 1 tray, 1 jug, 2-3 casseroles, 1 basin, and 1 kettle.
From the first day of the wedding, visits from relatives and neighbors were starting. Throughout the week, the women and girls of the family were on their feet, collecting the necessary utensils and dishes, cleaning the rice, preparing the bread, the dishes, the sweets, etc. The first days of the wedding have no certain ceremonies.
The day of Armagans(gifts) is the penultimate day of the wedding. On this day, the boy’s side sent the bride armagans: walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, dried figs, Turkish delight, candies, etc. Along with the armagans, the groom’s possessions were also sent, which generally consisted of the following items: an outer garment, a coat (jacket), a pair of shalwars, a velvet or satin dress, a pair of boots, a pair of shoes (preferably polished), a pair of slippers embroidered with a kersaf (golden thread) and a chain (necklace) of gold, which consisted of 5-10 pieces. In one of the shoes, they put a silver coin. In the evening of the same day, the chest was opened and the armagans of the bride were shown to those present. The children and all the guests were given something to eat by the Armagans.
The henna day is on Saturday, one of the most important days of the wedding ceremony at the bride’s house. On this day, the women and girls of the village gathered to participate in this ceremony and perform the whole night with songs and dances. The bride was forced to apply henna. She, according to custom, tried to escape from the women who held her and cried loudly. The cry of the bride mingled with the songs of the women who sang around. The hands and fingers of the bride’s hands and feet were decorated with henna. The young women and girls present at the ceremony were also painted with henna. In the late hours of Saturday, the bride has dressed in the clothes that the bridegroom sent her, which she took off when she left for the bridegroom’s house. No important ceremony was performed in the bridegroom’s house on that day. The guests spent the night singing and dancing.
Bride pickup day is on Sunday. The bride going to the groom’s house is the most important phase of the wedding. He manifested himself in various rituals and ceremonies. From early morning, the wedding party, dressed in their best clothes, once adorned and armed, were ready to participate in the day’s ceremonies.
The departure of the wedding guests marks one of the most important phases of the wedding ritual. The number of wedding attendants who went to fetch the bride was undetermined, and there was no fixed rule for their selection. The wedding guests left the house, rode horses, and when the wedding took place inside the village, they also went on foot. At the head of the party of the wedding guests stood the imam. After him was the bride’s horse, whose saddle was covered with a new cloth and skin, and in lilac/purple/ they hung a scarf, which was called “the bridegroom’s cloth”. Then, according to age, the rest of the wedding guests lined up. The departure of the wedding party on horseback and the firing of rifles during the journey are reminiscent of the bride-stealing ritual. As they approached the bride’s house, the groom’s wedding party fired a rifle and sang. And on the bride’s side, they respond with gunshots and songs. The bridegroom’s wedding guests are received with great honors at the bride’s house. They are served with sherbet, baklava, and coffee.
During the stay of the wedding party in the bride’s house, several ceremonies took place. First, the dowry was handed over to the bride. Both the groom’s and the bride’s wedding guests participated in this ceremony. In the beginning, the dowry was consecrated by the imam. The wedding guests were once again entertained with sherbet and after wishing the new couple heirs, they prepared for the road. After that, the bride’s brother and uncle took the girl out into the yard. The moment of the girl saying goodbye to her parents and relatives is one of the most touching. The girl’s cry mingled with the songs of the wedding guests.
The bride was mounted on a horse, held by her brother and uncle’s hands. All the way, the girl cried and stood facing away. They covered her with a red garment, which had poles at the four ends to be held by four men, relatives of the girl. The bride was escorted to the groom’s house by her relatives.
According to custom, wedding guests were never to return the same way they came. This was done, according to folklore, to protect them from evil eyes and magic. This is also a remnant of the tradition of stealing the bride. When the bride approached the house, the women went out into the yard and sang.
The coming of the bride to the groom’s house was accompanied by various ceremonies.
Two or three elderly women were waiting for her at the door of the house, who, together with her two attendants, took her to the room. When the bride entered the courtyard of the house, rice, sugar, candies, and coins were thrown. This was done as a wish for luck and wealth. A gold and silver chain was placed on the threshold of the door, which the bride had to jump over with her right foot in order to walk with ease. The attendants, after taking the bride to the room, handed her over to the groom’s mother “as a testament”/teslim and amanet/. A little boy, not an orphan, would take off the bride’s shoes and take the coins that were inside.
After the bride rested for an hour or two, one of the women in her house would put on the clothes given to her by the groom and make her a dress. A strange make-up was put on the bride. Both sides were smeared with lipstick in the shape of round daisies, and thin silver wire and flecks were placed on the forehead. The flecks were placed all over the face in an asymmetrical fashion. When the bride was “ironed out” the room filled.
Most of the day the bride was on her feet and with her eyes closed. From time to time, the so-called nanny/woman who takes care of the bride during the wedding dresses her and escorts her/makes her sit down to rest. The so-called nanny, who accompanied the bride from her house, stood on the right side of the bride. She, during the whole week, that she stayed at the bridegroom’s house, would do all the household chores that a bride should do.
Two hours before staying alone with the bride, the groom went to the barber. The wedding guests sang and danced around him. After the groom shaved, he dressed in his wedding clothes. On this occasion, the wedding guests sang.
In the evening, the ceremony took place when the groom entered the bride’s room. When the imam finished the consecration, the groom kissed the hands of the elderly people present. A friend or cousin of the groom, his age, would bring him into the room where the boy’s mother was and several other women. The bridegroom, with his head, bowed in shame, kissed the hands of the old men, and, after standing for a while, went outside.
Late in the evening, when the bride and groom went to sleep, they would find the mattresses in the middle of the room. The mattresses were put there by two men, who had tucked in a small boy (aged 5-7) for the young family to have a son, who would carry their blood and inherit the family’s wealth. A basin and a kettle were placed in the bride’s room for her to wash. During the first night, the two men stood guard over the bridegroom until morning. This was done to protect them from spells.
The next day, all the wedding guests came to see the bride. The bride would kiss their hand and treat them to coffee. The “bride’s coffee” was taken out by the grandmother. In this case, the wedding guests, after drinking the coffee, donated. The visits to see the bride lasted a week.
On the fifth or ninth day after the wedding, the bride’s parents came to the groom’s house. There was a custom to bring a casserole with baklava with them. It is also the day when the bride had to start the housework by kneading the dough for a pita.
The bride’s parents, before leaving, locked themselves in her room and talked to their daughter. The nanny stayed with them. The pan in which they brought the baklava was returned and filled. It was not nice to return the pan empty.
After the wedding ceremony cycle was over, the bride started the housework and could already be called a member of her new family. All family members did not call the bride by her name, but “nuse”(bride). Her husband would call her by the name of someone in the family or by using pronouns: “you”, “this”, “she”, etc. The bride acted in the same way toward her husband. (The issue of euphemisms in addressing one’s wife by the pronoun is widespread and is mentioned as characteristic of Albanian in Ekaterina Turpomanova’s dissertation “Pronouns in Balkan Languages”.)
The husband had great power over his wife. The woman could not do anything without permission from her husband. The bride also followed the rules of her father-in-law and mother-in-law. She was the first to get up in the morning and the last to go to bed. She cooked, cleaned, washed, and sent her husband’s parents off when they went to sleep. She stood on her feet until she was allowed to leave.
A wedding, as one of the most important rituals in human life, allows us to get to know the Cham traditions, psychology, and worldview. The presented material can be useful in comparative studies in ethnography and ethnolinguistics.
This article was originally published in Balkans in-site on November 2, 2022.
- Elsie, Robert, A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture, London, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2001
- Jonuzi, Afërdita, “Ethnographic phenomenon of the Chameria region”
- Dojaka, Abaz, Dasma çame, Studime historike, Nr.2, UT, Tirana, 1966
- Personal archive