Afghan weddings: bigger, fatter and hard to tame
KABUL // With a burst of confetti, dancers clap and twirl around a garland-bedecked groom as Afghanistan’s wedding season kicks into high gear, but lawmakers pushing for austerity are bent on taming out-of-control guest lists.
Kabul wedding halls with Las Vegas-style razzle dazzle are busy as Afghans rush to get hitched before next month’s Ramadan fasting begins, in a colourful contrast to the Taliban era when musical revelry and dancing were banned.
Hundreds of people typically attend celebrations in these halls segregated by gender, with a bulging guest list seen both as a social obligation and a totem of affluence.
“In Afghanistan you invite the whole village, the whole tribe, everyone who ever invited you to their wedding – and they bring their own guests,” Akbar Sabawoon said over the din of drumbeats in Qasr-e-Paris (Paris Palace), a neon-spangled hall with a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower in the forecourt.
“If you invite 1,000 people, be ready to entertain 1,500,” the cousin of the bride said as a traditional Attan folk dance erupted behind him.
But in a hugely contentious move, lawmakers recently passed a bill aimed at taming Afghanistan’s Wild West wedding culture, limiting the number of guests to 500 and capping the catering bill per head at 400 Afghanis (Dh25).
The bill seeks to relieve the huge financial strain weddings pose on grooms, who usually pay for everything from the banquet feast to bride price.
Thousands of dollars are typically splurged on weddings, a small fortune in a country wracked by poverty and war, driving families into massive debts and forcing young men to delay marriage, lawmakers say.
But the bill, awaiting presidential approval, has sparked protest from wedding hall owners who worry the move could devastate their flourishing business – a rare bright spot in a nose-diving economy as international aid fast evaporates after 13 years of war.
“Narrow-minded MPs are picking on this issue to distract attention from real problems such as worsening security,” said Hajji Ghulam Siddique, the owner of Uranus, one of the biggest of more than 30 wedding halls in Kabul.
Lavish weddings, a post-Taliban phenomenon, are not only entertainment but also a source of momentary escapism from a wrenching conflict, adding a splash of colour in the lives of war-weary Afghans.
Outside Kabul’s glitzy wedding halls is a city that appears on the verge of a nervous breakdown, awash with snipers, checkpoints, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Inside, over-the-top revelry offers a comforting illusion that the war is taking place in another realm.
“As is the case with most Afghan laws, no one will obey this new legislation,” said government employee Shoaib Khaksari as guests at Qasr-e-Paris.
“Marriages need to be lavish as they are a one-time event.”
But many Afghans concede some merit in the legislation.
When Khushal Nabizada, a 34-year-old doctor of internal medicine, got married three years ago he was forced to spend US$25,000 (Dh91,830) on the wedding party, eroding his hard-earned savings in a single night.
“I wanted smaller celebrations, fewer ceremonies but the bride’s family were unforgiving,” he said. “My wife and I now look back and think what an epic waste it was.”
Back in Qasr-e-Paris, the seven-member orchestra perched at the edge of the wooden partition separating the men from the women launched into a folk melody announcing the arrival of the bride.
“Walk slowly my shining moon,” the lyrics slurred in Dari as a hush of anticipation descended on the groom’s side.
“Walk slowly like a flower in full bloom.”
The lyrical feast grew louder as the groom arrived, with beads of sweat rolling off his forehead.
“He must be nervous about the wedding expenses,” a guest snorted.
“He should have waited until the wedding law,” another said, provoking a loud ripple of titters.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: May 25, 2015 04:00 AM