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June 30, 2012



by Erin Wilkinson Hartung

The wedding industry in Tanzania is a BIG little business. It is almost time for Ramadan, the month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset as part of the Five Pillars of Islam. I saw four weddings today on my way home from the northern most point of Zanzibar. Every bus stop on my route was filled with island women in swirling colors of green, blue, purple, orange, yellow and black accessorized with a lot of glitz heading to wedding festivities. It is said that men search for wives at this time because after long days of fasting they can look forward to a home cooked meal and good company.

Swahili weddings are quite elaborate with ceremonies that can last several days for both men and women. During the season dressmakers, food vendors, henna painters, and traditional African massage therapists are in demand for both locals and tourists getting married. I spent time with a northern community discussing tourist options like staying in a local guest house and getting henna paintings similar to the traditional Swahili bride. Here I am having my ankle and wrist decorated with fanciful designs.

Speaking of Swahili bride, it just happened there was another wedding going on during my visit. I was invited by the henna painter to meet the bride as she was covered in special henna designs as part of the young lady’s pre-wedding rituals. The henna painter wanted me to see her more elaborate and custom work. As I entered the young bride’s home, there was a crowd of women dancing, singing and loud music everywhere. What I didn’t expect, to find the saddest bride ever with splashes of pink on the bed, door, window and in her gown. The henna beautiful, bride bittersweet, party makers jubilant and what I thought was an arranged marriage. I wish her the best of luck in her new life.

Young women and their families go through extensive wedding preparations in Swahili culture. A major part of this includes beauty treatments for the soon-to-be bribe involving natural scrubs, traditional oils rubbed into the skin, and incense to perfume herself before the big event. The more common incense burners are small clay pots with side vents. Charcoal is heated and the embers dropped in the burner with choice of flower, spice or other especially made wedding incense. The aromatic smells linger in the bride’s clothes and linens for days. She will then use the burner in her everyday married life sometimes to create a romantic setting for her husband, freshen the laundry or even make her new home more inviting for guests.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jun 30 2012

    What an amazing story of the weddings. Thank you for sharing. I have so little knowledge of the Swahili culture. Did you ever find out about the arrangement of the marriage? The poor bride…


    • Jun 30 2012

      It could have been the bride was just exhausted from several days of wedding festivities. It was suggested she was sad to leave her family but looking forward to her new home.


  2. Feb 13 2014

    nice story here check out this post i did on the same hope you enjoy it as much. lets spread the beauty of this culture



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