Traditional Wedding

Bride veiled by her clothes and wraped in a sheet to protect her
Some months ago my husband informed me that a marriage had been contracted between one of our nieces and a cousin. They are both good people. The man is one of the first I met in Timbuktu, young good humoured, friendly, droll of wit and fair of face as well. The girl is a bit of a Cinderella case; her older sister has a princess complex and can't be counted on to put effort into anything but primping, her younger sister is a hoyden and is more likely to be scrapping in the street than helping with the housework, so most of the work falls on her shoulders, The other two squeaky wheels tend to get all the grease and when there are events requiring the distribution of gifts she gets no more than the others regardless of merit. I don't have a close personal relationship with her but she is over at our house many days and has helped out considerably with the chores the last couple of years. She deserves a husband who will be kind and reliable.

My husband further informed me that not one but both wanted me to assume the role of “aunt”, who in traditional marriages is counsellor to the bride or groom and first commander in much of the planing and realization of the event. I was a not a little surprised that they should want me when they have closer relations within the family who are local and thus ought to have a better idea than I of how to proceed. I also rather wondered at how the other potential aunts felt about being passed over. Such women, here, tend to jealously cling to their positions of importance. I felt a little daunted at the task but also a bit excited; it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn more intimately the details of how these events work. I have experienced many weddings but only as a spectator, a friend.

Time went by and I heard nothing more about it. The future groom was off working in Kayes and it would depend on when he came back. One day my husband informed me that the women had got together and decided that it was not fair to put the task of both sides of the family on my shoulders so I would only be required to be “aunt” to the bride, who was the more important role in any case and as we lived nearby it would be more practical. A certain woman was credited especially with pleading the case to save me much hassle and headache. This same woman was the one to replace me in the role for the groom, so I rather suspected her concern was less for my welfare than desire for the position for herself but I was not offended as I really didn't know how I would manage with one role let alone two.

Skip ahead several months during which time nothing happened except vague rumours that the groom was in Bamako where he'd most likely be purchasing the contents of the suitcase that is offered all first time brides, and similar. For one of the religious celebrations when every family slaughters a sheep, his female relatives came with a large ram, ostensibly for the bride. It was slaughtered a few days after the celebration, after we had used up the meat for our own sacrifice. The bride's mother and several other female relatives were present after the butchering and worked out how to divide it up. Then one called me over and showed me how they planned to share it. I said it sounded fine was given first pick of the share we wanted. I took our share and arbitrated the distribution of the other parts.

More time passed until earlier this month news came that the groom had arrived. There was still no word about the wedding. When I ran into him in town it is was greetings and where have you been and its been a long time. No talk of weddings.

One Monday morning we received a phone call that that afternoon the groom's representatives would be coming over to discuss the wedding. We went to the market to pick up powdered milk and dates to offer as refreshments. And that afternoon we made zrig and set out dates, roast peanuts and cakes on little tables setup on carpets in the shaded part of the yard surrounded by thick mattresses. As the time approached I got my son cleaned and dressed in nice clothes. Then I bathed and put on nice clothes as well. And here is where the disorganization starts.

The girl's mother and aunt were there on a set of mats out of view of the men's area. My husband received the men and seated them around the tables where they drank the refreshing milk drink and snacked on the other provisions. No one thought to inform me they had arrived and it was only expectation that made me put down a task and poke my head into the yard where I saw the business was in full swing. Shortly after I had seated myself next to the mother and aunt one of the men, a good friend of the family, came with a handful of money. This he gave to the aunt, telling her the wedding would be on Thursday. They wanted to give 5000 f cfa to the man who had brought over the money for his services, but he refused. Traditionally this sort of services is rendered by one or more griot, in wealthy families it will be the family's personal griot, for less fortunate they will hire one for the occasion. Such griots receive rich payment and gifts from both sides of the alliance. However here it is not a case of crossing the desert and spending days in negotiations then returning to bring back the results. He walked five paces and he was not a griot or family retainer just a good family friend who happened to be there.

After he returned to his group we counted it and it came to 400,000 f cfa. She called my husband over and showed him, he told her to give it into my keeping until we were ready to use it. It was confirmed that the wedding, that is the brief and unspectacular official part of the event where the imam comes and they give the fatwa, would be held here at our place on Thursday. I asked when and where would be the party for the girl. The mother and aunt discussed and decided Friday after the wedding night.

Dancing at the wedding party
The ladies turned to each other and entered into a long discussion of arrangements. I sat regarding the back of their heads trying to make out, with my limited Hassaniya, what they were deciding in hushed voices. Some of it revolved around the question of whether it was appropriate to have the party for the bride on Friday. When the man again came over to talk with them he agreed that it was an auspicious day to have it. The son of one came over and they discussed with him certain things. Not once did they address a remark or a look at me. I began to wonder if I was really the “aunt” or if that was just something my husband had made up to make me feel important.

There is a tradition in Islam to count days from dusk to dusk rather than midnight to midnight. The days in arabic which translate simply as first, second, third, forth, fifth, prayer, and seventh correspond to our week that begins with Sunday and ends on Saturday. They said fifth day, in the evening. But no one made any precisions. The people in our household assumed that the evening of the fifth-day meant after dusk of the fourth-day, or Wednesday evening, in just two day's time, as evening at the end of fifth day would actually be the sixth-day (prayer, Friday). When I was told this on Tuesday morning I asked, then, of the women did they mean for their party to be on the day of Friday or the evening of Thursday? It turned out the day of Friday as they had calculated the fifth-day as the Thursday and not Wednesday evening. Despite this discrepancy amongst ourselves no one thought to contact the other side of the alliance and ask for clarification.

I had just come in from a longs morning running around and it was hot. I told my sister-in-law that I needed a rest but after we could go to the market in the car to get whatever they needed. She'd already requisitioned 20,000 for some unspecified (to me) purchases the evening before. She said oh okay well they wouldn't need to do anything until the following day in any case. I still hadn't had a word from her or the mother's lips about the plans. What little I knew was what I had gleaned in overhearing bits of their talk and quizzing other's they'd talked to.

That evening she showed up asking for another 100,000 to buy stuff for the suitcase. I was confused. My husband translated and asked if I understood. I say no, I thought the purchase of the suitcase was the responsibility of the groom's family. His mother or sisters typically would make the purchases for him and on the day of the wedding bring it with all pomp to the bride's house. Nobody wanted to clarify much and my reticence was taken as reluctance to part with the money...didn't I know that this money would all be spent on the wedding that is what it is for. I said well then if all they want of me is to ask for another chunk of the money with no input on events I don't see why they need to bother leaving the money with me at all. Fine, they agreed, good idea and I counted out the money to show it was all there less the 20,000 they had already taken and handed it over.

I was disappointed and kind of offended. Don't ask me to be the “aunt” if you are not even going to talk to me about your plans. I had been looking forward to helping buy the suitcase but had given up on it when they told me I was not to be the groom's “aunt” as well, since it usually comes from his side of the family. Apparently they they decided to give the lump of money for everything and we were to take care of it all. But instead of involving me, whose role it should have been to take charge of things like that, they decided to give the 100,000 that they had allotted to that task to a couple of Haratins who, in their hereditary position of family retainers, though no longer indentured, would be sent to do it. No person from the actual family went along to monitor, or give input.

Wednesday morning I went and collected a couple of relatives to help with the preparations for that evening. While they got the butchered sheep cut up and started on the day's meals. I ran to the market again where we bought a case of ½ litre boxes of long-life milk, ice to cool it, a couple boxes of powdered milk for zrig, fancy Tunisian dates, assorted vegetables and other items for the evening's festivities. We ordered a large quantity of bread that would be baked fresh and delivered that evening to go with the stew. We sent over to the house of the bride a dozen mattresses, a large tent to make an awning in their yard against the heat and multiple other necessities.

I discussed the problem of lack of collaboration with a couple of the relatives helping us and they said they would try and play intermediary but that those women are known to be difficult to deal with and patience was required. In the afternoon when the ladies in question arrived it became clear that they were not interested in collaborating with anyone. All offers of aid were rebuffed or ignored. Not only did they not want one cousin to contact her friends/neighbours who do music for this sort of party they did not want any music for it. No one was really informed of what was going on and what little people knew was gleaned from listening in on chatter.

This was when I learned about them sending the random ladies to buy the suitcase. I made the comment that it seemed unwise: who knew what they would buy, if it would be in good taste, if they wouldn't fudge on the expenditure to have a bit extra for themselves (which is not a slander of the people in question simply a reality of the way people do things here based on my experience which the ladies present agreed with wholeheartedly) and judging from the fact that they were going to give 5000 f to the guy who walked a few steps to hand them money what kind of gratuity would they think it necessary to offer these women.

Bride with personal griot
As evening fell I went off to get ice for the beverages, the carpets and best mattresses and tables were set in fine style. Shortly after I returned with ice a youth of the family showed up with two sacks. One was the bread which we quickly removed and wrapped in a cloth so the bread would stay hot but not get soggy. The other sack turned out to be the contents of the suitcase. They had not managed to buy an actual suitcase because they had used up all the money without budgeting for it. We were shown the purchases and we all looked at each other thinking that we had been right. They had bought one supposedly silk meulf (traditional outfit) with glittery stuff on it for 50,000 f and one cotton one for 40,000 f with the rest the managed to buy three other regular meulf, two simple dresses one pair of shoes, one make-up compact, one bottle of lotion, one tub of hair pomade, one jar of incense and two cans of spray deodorant that they probably thought were perfume.

It was pathetic! I am not sure if the women were trying to cheat the family or simply used very bad judgement. Who in their right mind, when told to fill a suit case with clothes and accoutrements, spends 90% of it on two items that do not actually appear to be of superior quality or beauty. This is supposed to set the bride up in personal necessities for the beginning of her marriage up to a few years, or at the very least give the appropriate clothes and cosmetics to see her through the rest of the wedding. The suitcase does not exclude the possibility that her husband will give her more things as occasion demands, of course, but it is part of her dowry, how can they waste it that way. She will not have any occasion to wear the pseudo-silk thing and if she uses it for regular wear it will be destroyed in two days. As I said we all looked at each other and silently agreed that there was nothing to be said.

Evening had fallen. The guests from our side had arrived, many illustrious: the chief of Araouane, wealthy well known businessmen and nobles. The people from the groom's side had not shown up. Where were they? What was the delay? Finally there were some phone calls and it was discovered that they had meant tomorrow evening. When they said the evening of fifth-day they meant it in the western sense as opposed to the local one. Some how in the three or so hours their representatives had spent with us two evening previous they had not managed to make that clear. No one had double checked their assumptions no one had given a number date to go along with the weekday. No one had said, “So in two days?”

What to do? The meal and refreshments were prepared, the people invited present. This is for the religious ceremony which is the matter of one short prayer and the blessings of the Imam. The guys decided to come over and do it anyway and they would just do the wedding night stuff the next day as planned. While waiting on them we served supper to the current guests and found despite having purchase a huge quantity of bread there would not be enough so I went on a quick run for more. By the time we got back the ceremony was over. We were just in time to serve supper to the rest of the people.

Bride with two of her cousins after unveiling
As far as we could glean the following night would be the wedding night wherein we would prepare the girl and send her to a house where she would stay with her new husband. We had the use of a neighbour's house, which was vacant, for the purpose. The next day the bride would stay at our house while her parents home was used for preparing the meals and celebrating for the women friends and relations. On the other part of town the groom would spend the day with his friends. I dropped off some of our relations with plans to pick them up the next afternoon to help prepare the bride since it appeared doubtful the mother and her group were capable of assuring it.

Thursday again to the market we bought large quantities of tea and sugar and milk which we gave to the family to help with the event and saw that they still had done nothing about setting up the tent to provide shade in the yard for the guests and helpers. In the afternoon I collected and dropped off the women. With instruction that they should come see me when they knew when things would be happening. They showed up later in the afternoonro inspecting the house to be used. We found that they still had not rounded up any sort of suitcase to put the stuff in so we decided I would clean up my little luggage and use it so that the poor bride is not shamed by having her pitiful goods delivered in a plastic bag. They had to get back but would send a child to tell me when to come over with the suitcase.

I rinsed off and dressed in traditional clothes. When the call came I got the little case and went over. The first remark I got from the mother about the suitcase was not thanks for getting us out of a fix but, “didn't you put a lock on it?” I didn't have a lock. And for goodness sake can't you do even that much yourselves were my spoken and unspoken thoughts respectively. They loaded up the car with most of the mattresses we lent them a couple of mats and some sheets and blankets. We made a circuit to stop and get a carpet from someone else and went over to set up the house for the wedding night. Carpet and mattress in the yard for the accompanying crowd. Carpet two mattresses with new sheets , bedspread and two pillows in the house for the bride and groom, though with the heat that was just for show until the guests left, then we would move their bed out in the yard and fresh air.

The house that they had supposedly spent all day preparing still had large quantities of (thankfully dried) cow manure in front of the door from the neighbours cows that spent the night in the street. No one had filled the pottery jar that keeps drinking water cool. There was no electricity and no one had brought a lamp. We sent to our house for two battery operated lamps and a thermos for ice (which in the end they never managed to get before the guests had been and gone). Back at the house of the bride they were getting ready to wash her and it was discovered there was no soap. None had been included in the suitcase, of course and no one had any. How does it happen that a household has no soap in it? She was washed and dressed in one of the new dresses (the white one) over which was wrapped a while meulf. Keeping her covered they hurried her into the room where they did what ever making up and perfuming was necessary while they were preparing her the groom's party began to arrive amid much horn beeping revving of engines, ululations and general hubbub. The men were demanding that we hand over the bride right away. The number of children increased like mushrooms after a rain. They tried to crowd into the room where the bride was, peering through the windows, blocking the way and generally being obnoxious. This is typical behaviour and not to be gotten worked up over. It is also typical that the adults push, yell and try to beat them off but they circle and return like flies.

Someone had brought my son over when we were at the wedding night house and now he was with me amid this mess. He covered his ears and said, “too noisy,” said he didn't like it and wanted to go home. I promised him as soon as his cousin was ready we would go. Amid the confusion she was dragged out of the house and stuffed in a car. I got out and got in our car ,several of the relatives crammed in with us; there was pushing and shoving and several young girls trying to force their way in, refusing to back off so we would shut the door. I finally had to yell at one that it was my car and she bloody better get out. I set off and after getting a little past the press was told to stop and wait for the other cars to make a procession. We saw one car presumably that carrying the bride head off by another route and we took off, the ladies clapping and pounding rhythmically on the car chanting and throwing out those undulating cries.

We were the second car to arrive. As I waited for everyone to pile out the next in line came up and asked me to pull forward. I moved on bumping over heaps of half mixed clay for repairs to the neighbours house and through ditches carved out by other neighbours grey water drainage. I shut the car and carried my son back through the mess to the house. It was mass confusions with no organization I hung around at the edges then decided to brave the melay and go into the room with the bride. The men were trying to kick everybody out and the women were trying to force their way in. The children were just getting in everyone's way.

Bride after unveiling, in background the woman who took off her veil
I shoved some kids out of the way and pushed into the room. Brought my son around to the head of the bed where the bride was hidden covered in her voluminous outfit and then by a sheet that four women holding the corners flapped up and down just above her. They let my son peek under to see his cousin. He said she is sleeping. We made our way out at the same time the bride's sister who had been pitching various fits all evening was shouting and hollering about something. I pulled her out of the room as others tried to chase her away, telling her that my son wanted to see her. I got her out in the yard and gave her the boy to hold which distracted her for a while. But he was tired and overwhelmed by all the noise. I couldn't find the ladies I had come with except my sister-in-law so I told her I was going to take him home.

Away from the noise he was not ready to sleep and I ended up stuck until the two ladies who were staying the night showed up at our house. The people had cleared out, they had set up the bed in the yard and that was the end of it till morning. My sister-in-law, though, had gone back to the bride's house and we didn't think she'd make it back under her own steam. I went off in the car to collect her. She was giving instructions about how to keep the breakfast stew from spoiling in the night and how to heat it up first thing in the morning. How to go to the house at first light after the groom would have gone and collect the girl (check the sheets) and all those details.

At home the three ladies had supper and everybody talked late into the night. It was decided that I would go first thing to the bride's home to collect the wedding breakfast that the bride's family offers to the groom and his entourage. They had not purchased rice yet for the next day's meals when all the women would be over all day. My husband offered to purchase two cases of a sort of rizzoti pasta popular here that would be easier especially since they hadn't even managed to get the rice.

I slept on the roof top where if I had chosen I could have looked down into the yard at the new couple. I was woken in the morning by a soft voice speaking my name a single time. I am not a heavy sleeper. I got up and got ready. The bride and groom were both gone and we hadn't heard a single sound. The ladies coming to get the girl should have made lots of celebratory noise. We hurried to the bride's home and found that they had not yet even lit the fires to heat the breakfast stew and the bread had not shown up. The girl had been taken down the street to some other person's house which they just chose arbitrarily swearing up and down that no one had informed them she was supposed to stay at her uncle's who in this society has the role of her father as he is head of the ultimate household.

Since nothing was ready to do with breakfast we went to collect her and bring her to my house. When we fetched her the ladies along were yelling and clapping and chanting and wanted to show me “her bum” meaning the stains on the back of her clothes. We got her covered in the new sheet, since they had taken her off without knowing what they were doing they had been obliged to you any old thing, and bundled her into the car. Back to our house with as much noise as could be made, singing out a chant about how she was a woman now and now longer a child. “She has given up chewing-gum, she had given up lolly-pops.” Inside, they insisted on showing me the dull brownish stain on the back of her white meulf.

Back at the parent’s house they were bickering over how to divide up the bread. They did not have even a cloth to cover the tub of pita-like breads to be sent to the groom and while the sauce had been heated no one had bothered to find a large dish to put it in. Aren't these things that should have been prepared in advance, since it was known they would be needed? After much delay trying to find appropriate materials with the neighbours and being harangued by a constant deluge of cries and insulted and incoherence by the younger sister who was either jealous of all the attention given her sister or gravely insulted that they told her not to invite all and sundry to come and make a nuisance of themselves at our house, or other, I am not sure. People tried reasoning with her, threatening, ignoring, by the time we were ready to go I was ready to try gagging or maybe seeing if a good smack upside the head would shock her out of it like it is supposed to do for hysteria.

We had to ease our way very slowly through the rough streets and even more gently over speed bumps so as not to slosh the very large and very full basin of hot stew but we got to the street on which the groom lived. I let the several serving ladies out and they carried it and the bread up amid more cries and cheers. They were rewarded with a tip of 5000 f. Back at the house of the parents we found that the grooms family had sent over 100,000 f for the cost of a cow. The was much excitement and the money was given to me to keep hold of. Then they decided they must make a display of it at our house so they pilled in the car and one lady with a jug for a drum walked along beside very one chanting about the money for the cow had come. And drumming on anything and trilling cries in the backs of their throats and honking on the horn. At our house they drummed and danced in our yard for a bit, holding up the money and waving each bill aloft as they counted. There was only 90,000. They had given 10,000 to the griot who had brought it over.

They washed the girl and we got her fresh clothes out of the meagre supply in her suitcase. I stashed the gold ring, earrings, and pendant that had shown up for her and barely choked down a bit of bread for breakfast before heading out to get the promised pasta. Arriving at the parents house this time they asked me to go get the ice .I collected our two biggest coolers and set out with a nephew to the military camp where they have more regular electricity than elsewhere and are more likely to have a large quantity of truly frozen ice. We got half of what we were sent for which filled both thermoses, but had to go looking for change before they would give it to us. Drove around to a couple of other places before finding some more that was reasonably solid.

The rest of the day was pretty calm for me. The bride's friends came quietly to visit with her here. They had been threatened with dire consequences by my husband should they became to rowdy. The disorder and disorganization was apparently still underway over at her parents house but thankfully I had no responsibility. When the mid-day meal came it turned out to be rice after all, after we went out of our way to get them the other. The bride's girlfriends came back from a visit to the groom's where they extorted money. They managed to get 100,000 f which they gave to me to hold in safe keeping until they decided what they are going to do with it – have some sort of party.

As evening fell I drove over to the home of the bride and was prevailed upon to take a bunch of stuff back over to the house where she spent her wedding night. She would be spending the night there again. Mattresses that they had had to use during the day for all the guests, pitcher, cups, thermos of ice, milk powder and sugar among the ingredients. We dropped the stuff along with a few people to set it up. Then continued on to our house with a couple others to prepare the bride. She was washed and perfumed and dressed in fresh clothes. I went to fold the meulf she had worn that day and return it to her suitcase but found several stiff patches that upon closer inspection appeared to be dried blood. I discussed with a cousin if they hadn't done anything about that. There are roots with coagulant properties they put in the water and wash with that had been neglected and apparently so had the provision of any sort of absorbent material.

When she was ready they were going to walk her around to the house but I offered to drive her for the look of the thing. The conjugal bed was set up in the courtyard as were mats and mattresses for the accompanying guests, both those of us who kept the bride company and those who would bring the groom over. It is unseemly for him to be alone during this period. They made up zrig and gave the bride. We sat around talking quietly and occasionally making jokes and laughing. The two ladies that had set up the place tried to tease me into giving them gratuities, I told them that I too deserved a tip for my role as chauffeur. Suddenly the bride who had been laying on the bedding beneath a sheet as it custom, sat up, crawled tot he edge of the mats and vomited. We splashed some cool water on her neck and helped her rinse her mouth. The consensus was she had barely eaten and not taken enough liquids during the day then she just downed a large bowl of milk. She admitted to having a head ache so I went home to get some paracetamol. As I went out the men showed up on a trio of motor bikes.

Bride with one of her sister's in law
One of the women made the men zrig and shortly after the older women left. We admonished the two girls, the brides sister and the groom's sister, to leave as soon as the other men did and not make a nuisance of themselves. Then we left too. Back at the house we finally had a meal. We were finishing up when one of the girls showed up looking for tea things: charcoal burner, lit charcoal, tea and sugar, tea pot, glasses and serving tray. We gathered it together and sent it off. I guess the guys stayed around a while before leave the groom with his new bride.

The next morning the bride went to her parents' house. Some had wanted her to stay with us again but my husband vetoed the idea wanting peace back in his house. They spent the day doing intricate designs in henna on the bride's hands and feet in preparation for her departure to her husband's house. I stayed away and only vaguely heard about the difficulties in logistics of the day. Though the day was supposed to be a reprieve with few guests and little going on, they managed to use a whole case (12 kg) of pasta to feed all the people who showed up regardless. This was the third night and once again she was prepared and brought to the house once again the men came and our tea things were requested. Beyond that we stayed out of it. Later at night we heard noise from our terrace and Shindouk yelled at the sisters of the bride to leave already it was late enough.

Saturday the The bride's hair would be braided and ornamented with gold trinkets, the final preparation before sending her to her new home. After running out to the port for other errands and filling the car with a number of women and children walking into Timbuktu, I picked up a couple of the relatives living on the opposite side of town who were needed for the days festivities. When I dropped them off we discovered that no one had even purchased the meat yet for the morning meal that should have been served. We raced back to the market to buy a large quantity of meat from a butcher and search out bread. It was too late in the morning to find the good bread since they had not thought to order it in advance so we stopped at a kiosk selling the baguettes from the one electric oven bakery in town. It was the best we could do. I poked my head in to see how the bride was doing and found her face buried in her clothes with her hair a mass poofing out every which way as the hairdresser sectioned the back bits in the beginnings to the traditional pattern of the wedding style. I left the ladies to it with the promise to come by later when the braiding was done.

In the late afternoon just when I was preparing to head out to the port again to collect the people we had left there, the ladies came by to ask me to come look at the brides coiffeur. I threw on my not yet worn meulf with a fancy tie-die pattern and headed over. She had her meulf pulled up over her face and tucked behind her ears so that even though her head was uncovered her face still was. It is the tradition for the bride to remain veiled throughout the wedding festivities and is often heavily bundled as well. There is said to be some sort of light of joy in a new brides face that she should not look upon people with it directly save her husband until she is officially unveiled on the night she is taken to her new home, she is also considered especially susceptible to evil spirits at this time.

I took a couple photos of her in her veiled state as they change the makeshift covering of her clothes for a piece of gauze tied around her head. I had to hurry off to run my own errands. She would be made up and dressed in her best new clothes in preparation for the arrival of the groom's family and the unveiling. I got home just as the bride's sister arrived asking for the ring out of the gold jewellery I had been entrusted with. I got the container, grabbed my camera and we headed off.

The official unveiling
The bride was already seated under the tent in the yard. I handed over the ring. We waited around for a while then, as dusk fell, the ladies from the groom's family came in. The griot started drumming on a large overturned bowl while the newcomers danced around before gathering to one side of the bride. A man was led in by a male griot. He came and hunkered down in front of the bride and pushed back part of her meulf that covered her head. The old lady seated behind the bride untied the gauze and the man pulled it away. After viewing the bride's face he handed over a ten thousand franc bill to the woman. This was a tip intended for her and maybe to be shared with some of the other old women who had helped. The female griot who had been drumming reached out and snatched. The old woman held on and there was a brief struggle before she gave up and let the griot have it.

In the culture of the various nomad peoples around Timbuktu, even those who have become recently sedentary, there is a single artisan class instead of a whole set with its attendant hierarchies as exists among the black sedentary groups. They traditionally held a position in the social hierarchy somewhere between the vassals and the slaves, being neither indentured nor paying tribute; some even kept slaves themselves. This class was very necessary to the nomads as they had the skills to work metal, wood and leather. They made jewellery and tools, utensils, weapons, saddles, pillows, travel bags, water skins and many other essentials of life. They were also the griots, emissaries and lore keepers. They are somewhat mistrusted by those who depend upon them as they are considered to lack moral principles. It is interesting to note that in many of the local sedentary cultures griots are also held in ambivalent regard. They are always well received and well paid (to do otherwise is to risk being defamed far and wide). They are necessary to the traditional life style but they have a reputation of having no shame and are willing to engage in outrageous behaviour to elicit payment, if only to make them stop.

They and descendents of family retainers play a huge role in the wedding ceremony not only engaged to help with much of the domestic work such as preparing meals, washing up, arranging the wedding house but also as companion to the bride and groom, intermediary to bring gifts, money and other offerings from one family to the other. They are tipped heavily for each service performed on both ends and are constantly haranguing wedding guests for offerings. If they dance for you they want payment; if you dance to their drumming they want payment; if they sing your praises they want payment. Heck, if they come and sing about how generous you are because you gave them a big tip for the service they just rendered they want payment. Companions of the bride and groom in this capacity also receive the clothing and worn by them during these three days and are likely to swipe, as their due, any of the cosmetics used by them that are not hastily hidden by the family members present.

After the unveiling I took some photos of the bride with relatives and friends. Although she had been unveiled she was still advised to keep her head down, her eyes lowered and her meulf up over her head. It made taking pictures awkward. It is also tradition for the bride not to show pleasure at her wedding but rather sadness at being removed from her family. the grooms relations disappeared to eat the meal prepared for them in relative peace. Sporadic drumming and dancing took place, mostly by unmarried girls but most of the women put on at least a brief display to show their joy at the union. I was thus obliged to do my bit of dancing as well.

One woman came up to me and informed me that the bride's mother and other elders had decided (or perhaps the grooms party had tried to impose upon them) that the bride would be escorted to her new home only by the griot and her in-laws. I protested that that seamed hardly fair, if they didn't want a lot of noise they should at least send one actual relative with her. We had already had enough examples of the griots and such not doing the job we would have liked, and having your in-laws along is not the same as your own relations. She agreed, went off to discuss it and came back with the result that she and the bride's aunt would go along with the griot. In any case I figured I was out of it and had been asked to take home a couple of girls and an old lady who lived on the other side of town. We accompanied the bride outside and headed to my car when I was approached with the request to transport the bride in my car. Okay, but why? It turned out that there was no room in the car that had come to collect her. The groom's returning family members filled it. Humm. I thought it was maybe a poor sign of their consideration for her that they couldn't find a place for her in their car but it was probably just poor planning.

So we loaded my car up with the bride, her griot, her aunt, her father's cousin who would also accompany her, two of her sisters, the old lady and two girls (all also relatives) who I was to take home, and a member of the grooms family that had also not made it into their car, then we crammed into the cargo space two large matts, a small carpet, her small suitcase, and a bedspread as part of her wedding gifts that were to help set up her new home. We drove through the dark streets the girls singing and clapping the older women throwing in bits of traditional chants that would be taken up then swapped for others and the ululations interspersing everything. Arriving at the grooms home, the more exuberant were shushed as we pilled out, unloading the baggage as well.

Inside the bride sat with a couple of old women holding court in the entry way room. The married ladies stayed with her while the youths ran up stairs at the invitation of the children of the groom's relations already present. After a bit we were signalled to take her up. The griot on one side and cousin on the other we helped her up the stairs, while her shoes were impractical, this was mostly symbolic. Then we “helped” her into the living room where the groom's female relatives were arranged and set her on one of the thick mattresses. I sat on one side another relative on the other while her griot when off to check out the bedroom. After a bit they took her away to her room; shortly after the rest of us were signalled and we went in. I took some photos of her with any of the people present that wished to be included and we rolled out her carpet and arranged her new sheets on the bed. We were served soft-drinks.

Bride and relatives in new home
I gave a small bit of advice on managing in a marriage, something that I had been told was part of the role of “aunt”. Though I did not really have the opportunity to fulfil the role for this wedding I figured I could do that much for her. I told her patience was very important in a marriage. But that she should also not accept things that she found which really did not like or agree with. That her husband was a kind and reasonable man and if she told him when she disagreed they could come to a compromise. Only to be aware men's egos were fragile so she should not contradict him in front of his friends, rather keep the discussion private. She should not forget her friends and relations that she was leaving behind just because the were no longer nearby. They were still there for her and could be of support and assistance. If she was having troubles in her marriage they could help her come to terms with them or act as intermediary to help change things.

Shortly after we took our leave, I dropped the girls off, the griot, the aunt, the sister (the one we could find, the other had disappeared, we thought she was hiding out in the house hoping to spend the night with her sister but couldn't find her), then home where the last couple of women visited with my husband before we again reloaded to take them home.

Clean up at her parents house got underway. Reclaiming and returning of all the materials borrowed being a primary part. In the next few days the rest of any wedding gifts should be gathered and sent over to her. Her girlfriends are planning to use the money they got to throw a party over which the bride will reign and to which the female in-laws will be invited as guests of honour. Slowly life reverts to normal; her family will have to redistribute the chores and she will have to familiarize herself with managing a household and work out how she will fit in with her older female in-laws who may feel she should serve them.