In the five months since Islamists have taken over the city of Gao in northern Mali, its residents have learned to live under Sharia law, which at times clashes with the locals’ customs. One of our Observers filmed a wedding during which, in order to avoid trouble, the bride and groom skipped the customary elaborate festivities and held only a religious ceremony.
Since they took control of the region, the Islamists in northern Mali have made it clear that they would not tolerate unwed couples. On June 12, in Timbuktu, Islamists punished a couple they accused of having sexual relations outside of marriage by whipping them. That very evening, they proudly announced that the couple had married, and that this union had been presided over by the same man who had meted their punishment. A month later, in the city of Aguelhok, an unwed couple was stoned to death.
Traditionally, weddings in Mali last for several days. In some communities, festivities can even take up to a week. Following the religious ceremony, which is presided over by a marabout (a person believed to have supernatural powers), the couple and their guests sing, dance, and play music late into the night. Most of the time, the party takes place outdoors, in front of a house. Then, the newlyweds spend a week in a house lent by friends or family, where more celebrations are held, this time including gifts. Finally, they go back to the husband’s house and begin their life together.
However, since the Islamists took over, much has been banned in northern Mali, including television, secular music, football, alcohol, and tobacco. These days, those getting married plan rather austere weddings.
This footage was filmed by an Observer in Gao in early August and sent to us by Boubakar Alkouraichi, our Observer in Bamako. They show several stages of a wedding, from the marabout's prayers to a meal prepared by women. There was no music or dancing. The bride's face is covered by a veil, as is customary.
“Before the Islamists took over, people at weddings would dance to loud music for hours on end”
Mahamadou Diya, 28, lives in Gao where he works as a teacher. He got married on July 27.
When I chose my wedding date, in June, I knew that I would have to avoid all the things the Islamists don’t like – noise, big gatherings, music, etc. So we decided to just do the religious ceremony, and skip the party, which traditionally lasts for several days.We were married, as is the custom, in my wife’s family’s house. [Editor’s note: Weddings can also take place in mosques]. A marabout recited prayers from the Koran. Then, I went to my house, and the guests accompanied my bride to the house separately, also according to custom. As is usually the case, they made this trip by motorcycle, which creates some commotion. One of my friends who was there told me that Islamists stopped them, thinking they were taking part in some sort of protest. So my friend explained that a couple was getting married. This apparently satisfied the Islamists. They even escorted my bride and the guests to my house. To them, marriage is a great thing. When they see young men and women walking together in the street, they always ask them if they’re married. If they’re not, they’ll definitely get whipped."They could have showed up at any moment with their AK-47s, and have forced everyone to leave"Once everyone had arrived at my house, we ate a meal prepared by the women in my family. Then, for about 15 minutes, some of the guests clapped their hands to a beat, just for fun, but without any music to accompany them. That was pretty much the extent of the fun. Before the Islamists took over, people would bring loudspeakers and musical instruments. They would dance the Takamba [a local dance] to loud music for hours on end. But now, that’s impossible. I had to warn guests standing outside my house not to smoke or stand next to people of the opposite sex so that we wouldn’t attract the Islamists’ attention. They could have showed up at any moment with their AK-47s, and have forced everyone to leave.
Sonrai Super 11 is a famous band from Gao. In this video, they play the "Takamba."
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.