Turkmen Wedding Rites, Popular Beliefs, and Wedding Songs



   Turkmen culture is rich in traditions, deeply rooted in ancient times.  These traditions, like any genre of folklore, have gone through a development and transformation process, some eventually disappearing because they are no longer relevant, others becoming an integral part of everyday life.  The traditions, which mostly concerned with family relations and events, such as wedding ceremonies, childbirth, and death, are linked to certain popular beliefs.  "This world is full of noise; beginning with the celebration of a new born child and ending with weeping at his death," wrote the 18" Century Turkmen poet, Maktymkuli.

   Of the many ceremonies observed in Turkmen culture, the most important is the wedding.  Turkmens attach great importance to the marriage of their children, and many of the old traditional customs, rites and beliefs associated with the matchmaking process and the wedding ceremony have lasted to the present day.

   Matchmaking is an important stage of the marriage process, since it is necessary to find a good bride for the son.  The parents of a young man usually make this decision after consultation with highly respected older men (aksakals), also taking into consideration the feelings and opinions of their son.  Careful attention is paid to social and ethical factors; the girl's family; her attitude to work; and, whether she has the qualities of modesty, chastity and seriousness.

   Attention is paid to the choice of day for the match-making.  According to ancient beliefs, there are certain ropitious days for the successful realisation of plans and dreams.  There are some popular Turkmen sayings which distinguish these days from the rest of the week.  "On Wednesday you may go and side." "Saturday is a day of success." These beliefs are peculiar to the Turkmens. The neighbouring Uzbeks consider other days to be lucky. In general, the 7th, 17th and 27th days of a month are considered to be successful days.

   The day of the wedding ceremony is fixed according to the advice of the aksakals, who ascertain the most favourable date, according to the location of certain stars and planets, and by the relation of the moon to the earth.  The direction from which the bride arrives to the groom's home is also determined by the position of the stars.  One particular star is considered very unlucky, and it is preferable to delay the wedding rather than have this star facing the place where the wedding will take place. In cases where this is not possible, the aksakal tries to "whitewash' by putting on the road, a needle with the thread pointing in the direction of the star, or by giving bread to people as a way of offering a sacrifice.  Though this belief may seem rather primitive, it is still held by Turkmen people today.

      The first stage of the match-making process is a visit by some of the young man's close relatives (his mother, aunts and uncles) to the family of the girl.  According to Turkmen tradition, the parents of the girl do not give imniediate consent to the marriage.
   Even if they approve, they will ask for time to consider.  There are a lot of traditions concerned with the beginning of the match-making process.  Some sweets and biscuits or cakes are presented to the family of the girl by the matchmakers, as a symbol of establishing sweet relations between the future relatives.  Receiving a piece of bread of a sweet from the girl's family is also considered a good omen for a successful outcome.

      When the talks are over and an agreement has been reached between the parents, a return visit is made by the relatives of the girl.  Her aunts and sisters-in-law try to learn more about the young man, to discuss some of the wedding plans, to establish good relations with the family, and to make sure that all bodes well for the future of their girl.  When the day of the marriage is fixed, the girl's family will sing a verse.

      We've seen our future son-in-law, / He doesn't look worse than our girl, yar-yar.
      We've tasted their dish, yar-yar, / It's better than grapes, yar-yar.

      The wedding traditions were accompanied by songs, called toi aydymlary.  Toi refers to any festive occasion, but in this context it refers specifically to a wedding celebration.  Aydymlary is the Turkmen word for songs.  Although these songs vary according to the part of the country where they are sung, they all share a common Turkmen view of the world.  Qualities such as patience and endurance, and a respect for national traditions are common themes.

      The traditional beliefs stem from ancient roots.  The Bride's first step into the house of her future husband, is of great significance and should always be made with the right foot.  If she takes the first step with her left foot, troubles, illness and quarrels will trouble her family, and she will be on bad terms with her new relations.  Also on the wedding day, the bride,  surrounded by guests, puts her hand into bowls of flour, oil and honey (Symbols of prosperity and well being).  This means she will be a good cook, that she will be as complaisant and obliging as oil, and that her life will be as sweet as honey.  Flour is brushed across her forehead, and the sacred herb yuzalik is burnt to protect her from being bewitched.

      Great attention is paid to the clothes of the bride.  Her national dress is decorated with traditional embroidery, and jewellery made of gold and silver.  The step of the bride is slow, measured, and rather staid.  This symbolises the change to serenity and maturity, and the parting from parents and home.  In the past, the young man wore the red oriental robe called gyrmuzy don with its decorated cummerbund, yellow boots, and the national fur hat the telpek.  Now the young men prefer modern suits and the relatives of the groom arrange a dozen or more cars for the ceremonial cortege, rather than the camels and horses which were used in the past.

      According to Paul Lafarg's statement, all weddings are reminiscent of a play.  These words accurately characterise the Turkmen wedding, with the staged ceremonies of match-making, the bride's cort@ge, the traditional welcoming of the bride, and the recognising of the bride as a woman, in the ceremony known as bash shalmak.

      A Turkmen wedding would not be complete without the popular songs of hagshis, and popular games.  Altyn gabak is when the players shoot at a small golden pumpkin.  Yaglyga towusmak is a game where people compete to see who can catch hold of a shawl or kerchief, suspended high in the air.  Horse racing, wrestling, dog and cock fights, camel fights were all done for the entertainment of the wedding guests.  Such games and traditions provided material for the wedding songs.

      A bay horse is galloped, yar-yar, / At a wedding party ydr-yar,
      The boy who fell in love with this / Will soon be recognised, yar-yar.

      The following song is sung by the girl's sister when the time comes for the bride to leave her parent's home.

      Chuval (a rug) is spread at home, / My house is left behind, yar-yar,
      With various dishes in it, / My share is left behind, yar-yar.

      A bride is sorrowful when the time comes t leave her parental home for ever.  Thus, toi idymlary, sung as a girl is about to embark on a new phase of her life, reflect the grief she feels in the knowledge that from now on, she will seldom see her family and girl friends.  The wedding songs embrace a wide range of themes from sad to comic.

      We'll treat you with long noodles, / Please, taste them our matchmakers,
      We'll give you a change to race an ant, / Please try to ride it, yar-yar.

      The most humorous songs are sung when the relatives of the groom come to escort the bride to the house of her future husband.  The relatives of the bride and groom make fun of each other in songs.

      It is normal to praise the yong man, yar-yar, / It is normal to turn out his family, yar-yar.

      Some of the songs are an expression of good wishes.

    May you be happy in your new family, / May you live long with your friend,
    May you never turn back in tears.

    The above song is one sung by the girl's relatives, who hope to see her happy and satisfied with her new life.  Although  marriage is one of the most important events in the life of any person, the attitude of the parents of boys is different from that of those with daughters.  Traditionally, each Turkmen family with a son dreams about his marriage from the day of his birth; of selecting a bride who is diligent and moral, of arranging a rich wedding party in accordance with the old traditions.  Turkmens usually greet any wedding cortege with a traditional gesture - lightly touching their foreheads with both hands three times and saying, "Let God glance at me too".  In so doing, they express their belief in a successful marriage.  The same gesture and words are repeated by the guests when the bride arrives at the house of the groom.  Her face is hidden from view by a thin pelerine, the guests try to see her, praying God, "Let God help my son, too".

    Muslim weddings are carried out by the mullah, in accordance with religious rites.  The sweet water offered to the bride and groom to seal their marriage is offered to all the guests, as a symbol of a sweet and happy life for them all.  Although the basic Turkmen wedding traditions are common to all traditions.  The Chowdurs???  For example, greet the bride with the following words:

    May you have a son in front of you, / May you have a daughter beside you,
    May your hand be dipped in oil, / May your hand be dipped in flour,
    May you not speak a lot, / May you not blame your mother-in-law,
    May you respect your elders, / May you yield to younger ones,
    May you be modest.

    There are certain quatrains recited by an old woman after the mullah has completed the nuptial rites.  She slaps the young man on the back and says:

    Let her not wear white or blue (Meaning bad clothes), / Let her not eat oat bread,
    Let her not be caught by anyone, / Let her not be kicked by hoofed animals,
    Let her be fruitful as a melon, / Let her bloom like tomatoes...

    This didactic verse underscores the responsibility of the young man to take care of his bride, to respect her and to protect her from evil.  In that the family is continued through its male descendants, the groom's parents dream of children, especially boys. Some Kerkuk Turkmen living in Irak greet the bride with the following words:

    This house is for you, / All these things are for you too.

    The bride should be grateful for this inheritance, for the confidence of her 1-iusband's parents, and should take care of them and the house.  All the young man's relatives share the joy of this significant event.  As an expression of their joy, they plan a party to introduce the bride to her new relatives so that she can establish close contact with them.  At this time, they present her with traditional gifts, such as a length of dress fabric or a shawl.  The neighbours also join in the tradition of honouring a new bride.
 In some Turkmen regions, for example Kazanjuk, the bride enters the house of her future neighbours when she first arrives at her new home.  This is a sign of mutual respect.

    The influence of Uzbek and Karakalpak traditions on Dashhowuz Turkmens is evident when the toast master or someone else recites verses on behalf of the bride.

    Our greetings to father-in-law, / Who plant the sweetest melons,
    And prepares stumps for firewood.

    Our greetings to mother-in-law, / Who wears boots without tops(Shoes),
    And never rests at home (Always busy).

    Our greetings to grandfather, / Who is proud of his grandson,
    And wears a new don (National Turkmen robe)

    Our greetings to our sisters-in-law, / N"o are better bred than the khar@s daughter,
    And wear dresses with pearl embroidery.

    After each verse, the bride bows from the waist, as a token of respect and a way of greeting everyone.  If she did not do this, the guests would feel hurt.  However this tradition is not observed by the majority of Turkmens.  The variety of rites in the different regions of the country are rooted in ancient traditions.

    Gurbanjemal lliyasova and Amangul Karrieva