Very elegant and very decorative, the cage of Sidi Bou Said can be offered as a gift to the bride, the groom or both on the day of their wedding. The white cage symbolizes a sweet home not a prison since you can see through, with windows and door easy to open, yet intimate, and a swing for the couple to balance and rest! It can also serve the wedding planner in the sense that he/she can insert in it various small items for the guests!
It is a typical and unique Tunisian handmade product composed of wrought iron windows (Zlabiya) usually combined with olive wood, adorning the facades of houses in the Medina (old town) and Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia, North Africa. It has a very stylish exotic design all in curves, also typical of the south Mediterranean shore.
The two curved protruding parts of the bird’s cage, reflect the lovely traditional Tunisian house Windows. One can open them to let the bird in. It looks like a kind of “pregnant window” if one may say so!
It usually has one dome, one door (the pregnant window) and one perch. The white bird’s cage is called after Sidi Bou Said exotic village. It is well-known, close to Carthage, with typical white houses and blue windows (in the shape of the bird’s cage), closed inside by wooden louver shutters. Sidi Bou Said is in fact a tourist attraction and is known for its extensive use of blue and white.
By the way, talking about weddings, tradition-rich weddings in Tunisia are worth the presentation!
Customs vary by region, origins and personal tastes. Each region has its own peculiarities and rituals that make it unique. Although the current modernity has changed many traditions, some people remain attached to their ancestral traditions and their heritage and cultural identity.
Tunisian weddings always start with the engagement, when the groom and his family come to the family of his future wife to ask for her hand. The groom should always accompany his parents to meet the family of the girl, bringing gifts and pastries. If one parent is absent, he/she is replaced by a close family member. When the two families agree to the marriage, they usually recite al-Fatiha (beginning part of the Coran, to bless the couple), followed by zghareed (trills of joy) announcing the engagement. Both families then set a date for the wedding.
The bride begins to prepare the wedding, getting everything she needs in her new life, including objects to decorate her new home and kitchen utensils. Mothers begin to prepare their daughters’ dowry from childhood, also manufacturing blankets and sheets they would need after the wedding. Other products may be bought before the wedding such as cookware, new clothes, beauty products and fragrances. The purpose is to share some of the costs with the bridegroom. Men on the other hand are responsible for providing the house of the new family, with all its furniture. The bridegroom must provide the cost of the wedding preparations, including gifts for the bride, an engagement ring, gold jewelry and accessories.
Young men about to get married usually go in Tunis at the Souq El Berka, the largest market for gold jewelery in Tunisia. They have to bow to tradition and buy whatever is asked. Otherwise, mostly in conservative and rural areas, they cannot get married. This is a habit inherited from ancestors, they are preserved and are still followed in conservative regions.
In Tunisia, a whole day is devoted to the presentation of wedding supplies.
In the north, this day is called “hazan el farsh“, while in the south it is known as the “itriya.” It takes place four days before the wedding day and consists of moving the furniture, the cookware, the clothes, and all that pertains to the future couple to their new home. That day, the bride, accompanied by her friends and parents, shows what she has prepared for her new home, decorating objects with colored ribbons. This day is also celebrated with music – mainly Darbouka – zghareed, songs and meals.
The next day is reserved for the hammam (moorish type steam public bath). That day, the bride goes there to wash along with her friends, parents and neighbors, accompanied by songs, praise, applause, even music and zghareed. She walks in the middle of the group, covered with the safsari, a traditional Tunisian white veil for any passerby to see. The procession turns into a small celebration where different types of incense are used. She is waxed first, then washed, rinsed and incensed by the harza, a woman whose work is to wash people who ask for it. The hammam allows to relax, and also helps to soften the skin and hair.
The same evening, starts the Henna. It’s a dye prepared from the Lawsonia inermis plant. The English name “henna” comes from it. The henna has been used since antiquity to dye skin, hair and fingernails, as well as fabrics including silk, wool and leather. Historically, henna was used in the Arabian Peninsula, Indian Subcontinent, parts of Southeast Asia, Carthage, other parts of North Africa and the Horn of Africa. The name is used in other skin and hair dyes, such as black henna and neutral henna, neither of which is derived from the henna plant. On the henna evening, and according to regions, the bride wears a traditional embroidered red or white long dress and her head is covered with a red or White veil. A hennana is a woman specializing in henna painting. She paints the hands and feet of the bride.
The Harqouss can also be used. It’s a black color tattoo of Tunisian origin composed of henna, nails cloves, gall nuts and iron. One can also add incense. According to popular belief, Henna has great significance. It brings blessing and good life. Moreover, Tunisians see it as a source of optimism. Unaccompanied girls are especially eager because they believe the henna as a good omen.
The Henna celebration takes place three nights to dye the bride’s hands (and feet for those who want it) and is usually accompanied by popular dances and songs with Darbouka, in addition meals offered to guests and neighbors. Women also sing special songs for the occasion. In the coastal towns, the evening was marked by women’s groups, the Soulamia, singing hymns and Sufi for the occasion. The bride is offered gifts on that occasion.
The celebration after the Henna is called the Outiya (also called Alaga in the south). The Attarine market in Tunis old city is one of the largest in Tunisia. It specializes in the sale of products necessary for beauty Qoffa (basket) of the bride, for this very important day. There could be in the Qoffa, more than 50 different items, such as henna, different type of incense, louban (a natural ochre resin used like chewing gum), swek (a teeth cleaning twig made from the Salvadora persica tree, a traditional and natural alternative to the modern toothbrush, it has a long, well-documented history and is reputed for its medicinal benefits), kohl, a set of perfumes, a mirror and an assortment of nuts and almonds, pistachios from zbib (dried grapes), candy and cosmetics. The preparation of the koffa is a necessary and essential step of the wedding that cannot be ignored. It includes everything the bride needs to preserve both her beauty and makeup for her husband.
On the Outiya day in some regions, a procession leaves the groom’s home after the prayers of the afternoon to the sounds of Darbouka and flute, taking with it a sheep for sacrifice, perfumes, clothing and beauty products for the bride. Upon arrival, the women enter the bride’s house in a round of applause, and chants of Zaghareed and darbuka. The men remain outside to sacrifice the sheep. Other women prepare the meal, mainly a spicy Tunisian couscous. They also prepare a salad of cooked vegetables, tajine (a dish named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked), mint tea and other beverages and pastries.
Meanwhile, the Sdaq, the marriage contract, is signed in the presence of the Maadhoun (wedding planner) and religious figures. The bride wears a traditional caftan, often white, with a White light veil over the face for “Tanzeel al-ser“, that is to say, preserve her shyness and beauty for her wedding day.
The groom carries about him jebba (long and wide embroidered dress) and traditional Arab pants. After signing the Sdaq, the celebrations begin with the groom dancing with his bride to the sound of the Mezwed (kind of popular bagpipes), at the rhythm of the Darbouka (traditional drum).
The day of the wedding, known as Al-Merwah (the day the young couple go to their home), the Darbouka resonates in the morning. The groom goes to the hammam with a few friends, and then to the barber. Meanwhile, the bride goes to the beauty salon. The bride’s dress for the evening wedding is different in the north and the south.
In the north, it is a modern long white dress or a fouta and blouza with a traditional Tunisian appearance (the top and the skirt are separate). In the south, the bride wears a traditional Arab wedding dress, a Houli, mostly red and heavily decorated with gold and precious stones. It is not reserved only for weddings and can be used in other occasions and can also be transmitted to generations.
In the south, a procession of decorated camel, the Jehfa, accompanied by flutes and Darbouka, takes the bride to her husband’s home. This custom has disappeared, and the Jehfa is now used for decoration, as the girl goes to her new home in her husband’s car.
Weddings in the tribes of southern Tunisia are characterized by large meals such as couscous with lamb, horse riding shows, bedouin songs, and traditional clothing. In the north, weddings are usually held in large hotel rooms, where the bride is received by roses, candles, to the sounds of bands where excellent Tunisian pastries like baklawa, cakes, etc are served.