A new trend of modern Somali weddings is getting bolder every passing day in the Muslim dominated Northeastern Province of Kenya, replacing the old forms of traditional ceremonies that are now getting extinct.
Among the new Somali generations, marriage culminates into an expensive wedding day often characterized by a complete ceremonial mantra. Economic analysts here argue that Somali weddings are among the most expensive in the world.
The ambitious new generations are now discarding their old traditions — the way of their grandparents — moving into a full-fledged, Western-styled ceremonies that has made marrying so expensive, discouraging many of the youths who are surviving on the edge due to ravaging poverty.
Some decades ago, Somali weddings were symbolic of communal unity, where families of both the bride and the groom had distinct cultural roles to play. The once prevalent tradition is now hard to come by as modern civilization takes deeply entrenched roots in most parts of Africa.
"What we are seeing these days are a total diversion from our traditional practice; we can describe it as just mere escapism," argues aged Ahmed Abdille, a Somali traditionalist.
"And if the current trend of lifestyle is anything to go by, our rich tradition is getting extinct."Old vs. New
Many self-proclaimed traditionalists recall what they describe as a rich cultural set up that has enabled marriage among the youth to be a very cheap and simple practice during the good old days.
Resting on a mixture of Somali cultural and prevalent Islamic tradition, old Somalis say marriage customs have been adored in their time as it offered a chance of marriage for both the poor and the rich.
"Somali traditional wedding ceremonies were seen as a major communal activity where two families or even clans were emerging to make some form of unity, unlike these days when it has become to serve only two individuals," adds Mr. Abdille.
Traditional wedding ceremonies were elaborate, involving feasting and singing poems that lasted for few days. Apart from turning the youths from childhood to adulthood, the rituals carried a clear message of bonding families to share both problems and profits.
"For instance, weddings were conducted only when it was rainy season, even the poor youths could be assisted by families and relatives to enable them marry," notes a Somali traditionalist. Newlyweds follow a series of wedding customs, and attention was paid to social-cultural milieu of the large Muslim community.
"There were many communal rituals to be performed right from the nikah (tying of knot) to Gelbis (going home). All these rituals were symbolic, carrying clear messages meant for the newlyweds," observes Abdille.
"If you want to follow the good old weddings, it starts from the first meeting of the in-laws to exchanging customary gifts, as well as rituals to be followed leading up to the eve and on the wedding day," says Hassan Salat, who recalls his wedding day some three decades ago.
Much of the ceremony's paraphernalia that was practiced during those days were passed on down along the way, but now the trend is far from normal.
"All these put the Somali community on the frontline of global civilization, which for us is totally unaccepted," says Abdille.
But apart from simplicity, youths argue that it takes a lot of effort and planning for the traditional ceremonies, which may explain why they have to choose to do away with old customs. Here some traditionalists agree.
"I believe myself; traditional weddings were hard to categorize on religious basis, but I can argue that they were much better than the modern styles when it comes to its conformity to Islam," comments Farah Adan.
Now, modern wedding ceremonies with lavish colorful celebrations became the choice for many newlyweds. It became a concern for listless old Somalis, who are helplessly watching the extinction of a complete way of life.
"It is more about passing on a legacy, but it is continuity in the future is very unrealistic," observes a traditionalist. Modern self-styled wedding ceremonies serve to keep the old Somali customs at a distance.
Civilization has evolved over the past three decades with the cropping up of a modern society. "Many young Somalis have done away with old customs, such as wedding reception, changing to elegant and much expensive ceremonies," says Mohamed Hirsi one of the youths.
Now, the extent of exposure to other cultures, especially to Western countries is enormous, but the youth have a case to argue.
They say modern weddings are much shorter and do not involve all the rituals of the traditional ceremony.
"Nowadays, weddings are much expensive and sophisticated, especially with the new technology: Invitations are done through SMS, e-mail, and preprinted invitation cards; this makes planning much easier than the old styles," says newly married Mohamed Jamaa.
In classical Western and Hindu styles, ceremonies are organized in ballrooms and big halls where entry is vetted — a sharp contrast to previous ways where uninvited guest could attend at wish."Every activity of the wedding is organized and done by professionals from the furniture in the house, decorations at the venue, and to rolling cameras for recording every bit of the event. No traditional regalia used, and there is no waste of time," observes Jamaa.
But religious leaders are critical of the emergency of the new civilization in marriage and wedding routines, which they say is bent on discouraging African traditions.
They depreciate young people who are getting stronger by the day to nurture new practices.
"Both our Somali and Islamic traditions are very much rich. There is no need to imitate other cultures; it is indeed shameful," says Sheikh Abdiwahab Sheikh Osman, a member of Wajir town's Council of Imams and Preachers.
"Some of these things are shameful; you can imagine people gathering to dance, men and women alike. It is against our African tradition as well as Islam," he adds.
But the new transformations, whether good or bad, is here to stay, as long as many youths continue to embrace.
"We don't think we will go back to old customs; what we can work on is only to shape the current styles so that it conforms to Islamic traditions," says Halima Abdi a youthful girl.