The Etiquette of Chechen Marriage Customs
The traditional Chechen marriage ceremony, like their other folk customs has always been in its secretive cohesion. It included sing-songs, dance, music, pantomime and narration, which altogether produced a whole spectacle.
The elements of the Chechen nuptial ceremony, including horse-riding, bridal introduction into the groom’s home, acquaintance with the bride, her movement to a river, a visit of the future groom to the bride’s relatives and others represent the main features of the Chechen folk theatrics, which manifest a mass creativity, originality, multi-faceted national forms, breadth, and depth of popular fantasy.
In general, the playful element spectacle and facial expressions are well developed in the images of a Chechen marriage. This is evident from the very notion of the Chechen marriage known as ‘lovzar’ which means –‘play’.
Nuptial ceremonies among Chechens and Ingushis have some differences. With Ingushis it is considered a calamity that s girl gets married without the parents’ blessing, while Chechens see nothing wrong in that. Sometimes, her relatives go this way in order to avoid extra expenses involved in marriage ceremonies.
At the appointed time, a groom with friends would go to an appropriate place (the exit spot for the bride) and take away the girl and this is considered to be getting married (marie yakhar) or nuptials (zuda yalor). The bride is taken to the home of a friend, or brother-in-law or a groom’s relative (zuda yossar – the bride’s sojourn) to settle certain formalities. It is necessary to dispatch a man (stag vakhiitar) in order to inform her relatives about her voluntary decision to get married, reconciliation (tam bar), redemption payment (yoikhana or kyovlam) to the girl’s relatives, preparation of the bride for her nuptials (nuskal kechdar) when the parents send her clothing, sow or buy whatever she needs. This lasts for a week or sometimes longer. And all this time the marriage (lovzar)is being prepared.
A retinue (zamuoi) is sent for the bride on the marriage day, including the groom’s friends (nevzan nakyosk or best men).
On the way to the bride and back the nuptial procession throw up a merry-making. They play harmonica, fire guns and previously Chechen equestrians displayed their shooting prowess, fencing and equestrian skills.
While on the way, the bride’s relatives or her fellow villagers can halt the procession by a burka (shipskin overcoat) or a rope strung across the street and demand a redemption fee. The fee is demanded on the bride’s exit from her parents’ home (Ney lazar – meaning to hold a door).
The bride is taken to the groom’s home and is placed fully dressed in a nuptial costume in an honorary spot in a room, usually in the opposite corner from the entry near a window covered in a nuptial curtain (kirkhya).
Subsequently the bride is handed a child (usually the first son of honorary relatives) with the blessing that she herself bears only sons. After cosseting the boy, the bride gives him a present or money.
After the bride enters the house a besom covered in a felt carpet is placed in front of her and the bride needs to tidy up the threshold and put money on the spot. According to Vainakhs, if the bride is stupid she will walk over the money, if she is clever she will remove it. Previously a burka was thrown to the bride’s feet.
After all these ceremonies, the nuptials begin, with relatives and fellow-villagers attending. With Chechens all those willing to come are welcome.
The master of ceremonies at the marriage is usually an elected general – inard. The marriage is accompanied by dancing, harmonica-players, drummers and zurna-players (pondarcha, votancha and zurmancha) are invited.
Previously, clowns (zhukhargs) were invited to entertain the guests. They put on masks (tuytm ayazhig).
Guests usually arrive with gifts. Women bring along, as a rule, cloth, carpets, chicken, sweets, sometime money, while men bring along money or sheep. Men frequently pass on their gifts directly to the bride at the nuptial ceremony (mottbastitar) (loosening the tongue). The ceremony goes like this: the guests attending the marriage, after they have eaten, are presented to the bride who is asked to give them water so that she gets to talking drinking water with them for good health. The bride is joked with and both positive and negative remarks are made about her looks and character and about her groom. Finally she drops one or two phrases because garrulity is a sign of stupidity and immodesty and she offers to drink water to good health. The guests thank her and wish her the best of success, happiness in her future family, children, relatives and she is presented with gifts.
There is also a ritual – zuda guchyakkhar, which means showing off the bride, when the master of ceremonies (anarl) seated with his aides, calls for collecting money for the newly-weds announcing all those present, who brought gifts and money.
After the passage of three days, the newly-wed was taken to water accompanied by music, dancing, and shooting (previously this was a must). A piece of bread (chiepalgish- baked and stuffed cake) was thrown into the water, which was shot at and after taking some water the girl comes back home. This custom is rooted in ancient times: the girl must daily go to get water. On her way to the water she could be surprised by a water-sprite who could get her into a whirlpool. In order to safeguard the bride, the marriage ceremony’s guests thus entice the water-sprite by throwing bread or a cake into the water and shoot and kill the sprite. On that same evening the marriage registration takes place (makhyar), which is attended by the bride’s father or brother, or uncle and the groom himself. Usually a mullah represents the wife’s relatives, who on behalf of the father (in his absence – brother or uncle) give his consent to the marriage of the sister or niece. On the next morning the bride becomes a young mistress in the house. During the nuptials and the exit ceremony to the water, the groom is usually absent, frequently having a good time with friends.
After a month’s time, sometimes after 2 or 3 months, the daughter-in-law goes back home with gifts for her parents and relatives accompanied by a close relative of her husband (zakhaluo), who presents her donation gifts to the parents (dzagia). The lady accompanying the daughter-in-law immediately returns with gifs of cloth or a carpet. The young bride stays at her parental home usually for a month, but sometimes less than that depending on her wish. At home she prepares bed sheets and some other of her dowry and the returns to her husband’s home with gifts for her mother and father-in-laws, her brother and sister-in-laws. She usually brings bed sheets (mottgyeiba) for her father-in-law and to all the rest – other gifts depending on her abilities.
Vainakhs usually held marriages after bringing in crops or before harvest time.