Marriage traditions among the Abgal
An Abgal tradition
When an Abgal boy wants to marry, the weddings of the Abgal are of two kinds;
An agreement is reached with the woman. You yourself reach an agreement with her. When you are in accord and she has said ‘I accept!’ you say: ‘Let us go away!’ You take her away. A dress is given to her, only one. Then she is taken to a seh (sheikh). He joins you, he marries you. When he has married you, you take her away. You take her home. She enters a hut. A lamb for the nuptial sacrifice is chosen and killed. What is the nuptial sacrifice? A head of livestock is slaughtered and you pray for the girl that she may bear children. A pot of durra is cooked. It is eaten. Then one is married. To her father nothing is due. ‘For your daughter, who is in agreement with someone, do you ask for money?’ It is a disgrace. ‘You keep the girl!’ She wanted him, this man.
“The nuptials are this way for the one; for the other, on the contrary, one goes to the father. ‘Give me the girl!’ one says. He says: ‘Bring me the “darab”! Bring me the “mäggälyo” and the nuptial sacrifice!’ The ‘darab’ is made up of four lambs and one lamb; [the bridegroom] pays these five. The livestock that is given the mother [of the bride] is this. The ‘mäggälyo’ are some cotton goods that are given the girl’s father. If you speak with the father, this money is necessary. When one goes to her father, he goes to her mother and speaks with her. ‘So-and-So has asked for your daughter and we shall give her to him. Know it!’ he says. If the mother refuses, she is forced; the girl is given. We are ashamed for the girl’s mother, when they are not married yet. When they marry, the bridegroom says: ‘Make the girl happy! Give her food! Buy an ox!’ Then the girl is taken. The people look at one another. Then the nuptial sacrifice is slaughtered. The bridegroom sacrifices it. He slaughters it in his house. The girl’s father does not go to the [nuptial] house. ‘I will not go to the house where my daughter marries. It is a shame for me,’ the father says. [Instead] the paternal uncle and her brother come. The mother does not come. The people related to her by marriage come. Something to eat is given to all. The food [of the banquet] is taken to her father; the paternal uncle of the bride takes it. The food [of the banquet] is taken to the mother; the paternal uncle of the bride takes it. Then there is dancing. Many dances are done. One enters the hut. The father is given a camel, the mother a lamb, two thalers belong to the paternal uncle of the girl, two thalers belong to the maternal uncle, and one thaler belongs to the paternal grandfather. A cow belongs to her brother. His cow is given to him. 304 One thaler belongs to her paternal cousins; one thaler belongs to the maternal aunt. One thaler belongs to the paternal aunt. Four thalers belong to the grandmother. A thaler is given to the oldest sister. Then one enters the house.
No less singular evidence of the ancient institutions is the custom of the work that the bridegroom performs for the bride’s family before the marriage: to wash their clothes, to take part in the rural tasks (the freed’ are agriculturalists). This recalls the ancient norm of the consuetudinary law of the Bantu already living on the Giuba /Juba/ before the arrival of the Galla and the Somalis, a norm that made possible the payment of the nuptial gift for the bride through the work of the bridegroom for her family, as is still documented in the “Libro degli Zengi’ /Book of the Zengi’’.
“When one marries a woman, a new house is built. It is necessary to do some boasting. If one marries tonight, tomorrow the man goes to draw water. He remains absent for three days. He returns with the water drawn. Then he enters the house with the woman. If he sleeps with the woman and there is no water, it is not possible for them to wash themselves. And he says: ‘I do not wish that one not be washed!’ First he draws the water. When they enter the house together, the following day one goes to the field. The woman, if she marries today, tomorrow her head is veiled. Her head is veiled with a black kerchief. She oils her head. This is the consuetudinary law of the Abgal (Harti).
The custom of the Habar Hintiró is different. The boy makes an agreement with the girl. He says: ‘I will take you!’ She says: ‘Bring fifty rupees!’ He says: ‘Reduce it somewhat for me!’ She answers: ‘Bring thirty thalers (Thirty thalers are equal to fifty rupees)
If she is a beautiful girl, she takes the thirty thalers. Then she is taken away. She is married, she is brought home. The nuptial sacrifice is slaughtered. One enters the hut. This is their wedding. If one goes to the girl’s father, he says: ‘Dearest, this man has asked for you, I bless you and I give you to him!’ She answers: ‘I approve. My sister So-and-So got so much; I also want as much. If he gives me that, I am for him too! Otherwise he is to go away!’ So she speaks. To the man it is said: ‘If you are able to give it to her, give it!’ Then he marries her. No money is given to the girl’s father. It cannot be foreseen whether the girl will accept or refuse. She is taken by the money. This money which is given the girl is called ‘gogol-ku-tâb’ (literally: ‘wrapped in the bed’). When the girl is taken away, a garment is unfolded. The money is put there. It is tied with fringes. The garment is put on the bed that is in the girl’s house and on which she used to sleep. It is wrapped in the bed. One goes to one’s own bride. The following day the mother comes to the bed. She calls: ‘O So-and-So! O So-and-So!’ She feigns that she is at home. ‘Oh! Last night somebody took the girl away. Oh! Here are her tracks! Oh! Up! I will look at her bed!’ When she looks, there is her garment. The money is tied in the garment. The mother takes the money and puts it in a place. She wears the garment. She puts the money in place. It is carried to the girl. When it is taken to her, she [the mother] says: ‘Here is your money. Buy household goods!’ She buys her household goods. The mother does not take a besa (A besa was a hundredth of a rupee)
“For the Abgâl women it is not by force [that they are married]. You take away the one with whom you are in accord. For the freed it is different. When a 305 freed wants to marry a woman, first one goes to the family of the girl with whom he is in love. [The bridegroom] gives cotton goods. He builds a hut. He makes a lean-to. He washes the garment of her mother. He washes the garment of the girl. He washes the garment of the girl’s father. He washes the garment of the boy born together with the bride. He works the field. Then two loads of durra are given. The ‘yardo’ is paid. When this yardo is paid, a hut with a lean-to is built. The hut is erected. Then his mother enters this house. She cleans it. She sets up the bed there. All the household goods are put there. Then the girl is kidnapped. She is kidnapped with violence. One enters the house. An ox is slaughtered. The girl’s mother takes seven gowns. She takes four stools and a bed to sleep on. She takes a pail and a plate on which food is eaten. She carries all these things there, then she goes away. She goes to her house. Today a woman gets married. Her hands are tied. A whip is taken. During the night she is beaten. The bridegroom beats her. When the bridegroom and the bride enter the house together, they stay there seven days. During these seven nights he does not abandon the whip. This is the custom of the freed.”
This text also comes from the Abgal ‘Abdallah Agon-yär (collected in September, 1919). The custom thus presented consequently recognizes two different nuptial contracts: the one stipulated with the bride, and the one, more solemn, stipulated with the father (or the guardian) of the bride. The two kinds of marriage are equal in juridical validity, the difference being only ceremonial, so to speak. Yet the nuptial contract stipulated directly with the woman does not involve gifts to the father, nor to others of the bride’s people, such as, on the contrary, the one stipulated with the father (or guardian) requires. Both types of nuptial contract are celebrated with the sacrifice of a head of livestock, a sacrifice that is meant to be propitiatory for the fecundity of the marriage. If we consider such a situation historically, we may perhaps believe that the marriage stipulated with the father or guardian of the bride (and with the gifts to her people) is an actual continuation of the ancient marriage formerly stipulated through an intergentilitial agreement. (Cf. above, p. 44/see 21: Cerulli in this file)
whereas the marriage stipulated with the bride is an evolution of the one by kindnapping: kidnapping that, as we see among other Somali tribes, has become more or less symbolic. In this sense only the violence — since accepted in the stylized form of the custom — interrupts the preponderance of the gentilitial bond and makes valid the agreement between the individuals instead of the agreement between the ethnic groups. The nuptial gifts in the marriage that we shall call intergentilitial are many and they include: the prenuptial ones to the father (maggalyo) and to the mother (darab) of the bride; the postnuptial ones, at the ‘entering 306 into the hut,’ constituting the new family per separatam oeconomiam: to the father and to the mother of the bride, to the paternal uncle and to the maternal uncle and to the paternal relatives.