History Project: Wedded to tradition when it came to marriage

When it came to marriage, a wife might be the last to know.

Raising the question of marriage takes Umm Mohammed back to stories of her past, when she was brought up in a strict family in the 1960s.

Families who wanted to marry off their daughters started with close relatives, such as cousins, and then considered close friends. A father would choose the suitor for a girl without consulting her.

“It was a shame to go against your father’s will. We didn’t dare to say ‘no’ to the partner chosen by our father,” says the mother of three from Abu Dhabi. “Usually the male cousins reserve the female cousins.”

Asking for a girl’s hand varied from one family to another. “Do you know how a man judged a woman in those days?” she asks. “In those days family [men] had their own ways of knowing whether the girl was suitable for his son or not.”

On the day of seeing the girl, the family – mostly the men – would visit the girl at the agreed time at her home. Upon arrival, a man would escort the guest to what was commonly known as the “men’s hall”. While the guest waited in the room for the father to arrive, they performed a peculiar experiment.

“What the family do is lift the rug in that room,” she says.

Why the rug?

“Dirt often gets accumulated under the rug and if the rug happened to be unclean underneath in the potential wife’s house, it is an indication that she is not suitable,” she says. In the past, the dowry was around 3,000 or 5,000 rupees, the currency of the Gulf in those days.

Wearing white wedding gowns was unheard of. The girl would wear traditional cloth and different types of gold to make herself more appealing to her partner.

In those days, weddings were usually held in the house. In some families, she says, even after marriage, the wife would not eat with her husband.

“I don’t know why, but that was the rule," says Umm Mohammed.

“It was best for her to eat with her husband after she gives birth to her first baby.”

After a long sigh, she adds: “My Lord, our families set many rules for us. We obeyed everything. It was very strict, but thank God.”

The idea of women eating outside the home or even chewing gum was frowned upon. The only book allowed was the Quran.

“We had a school next to our house. I cried a lot to go to school, but I wasn’t allowed.”

Once a girl reached the age of maturity, she was expected to know how to cook and clean while her mother took it easy. “There weren’t servants to rely on. We would wake up in the morning and do all the house chores. Our parents were dependent on us,” she says.

“My mother taught me every­thing when I was a little girl and I have passed on everything I know to my daughter.”

aalhameli@thenational.ae

Published: December 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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