afghanistan kids
Marjan's Wedding: A Time for Celebration
By Cassandra Nelson

Sohaila and her cousin dressed in their best clothes and jewelry before the wedding. (Photo: Cassandra Nelson)
Sohaila's home is a hive of activity. Women are busy cooking over open fires in the courtyard. Children chase the goats and sheep that have been brought in from the pasture to be slaughtered and cooked for the evening's feast. It is the day Sohaila's sister is getting married, and everyone is preparing.

"Family has come from Jalalabad and even as far away as Kabul for my sister Marjan's wedding celebration," says 13-year-old Sohaila, who is clearly excited about the evening's activities. "There are over 40 people staying in our home. Tonight we are slaughtering two sheep for a barbecue, and my uncle will play the ribab [a traditional Afghan stringed instrument]."

The family is the center of Afghan life, and marriages are a cause for great celebration. Like almost all marriages in Afghanistan, Marjan's is an arranged marriage.

"My mother and aunt were responsible for finding my husband," says Marjan. At age 16, Marjan is marrying her first cousin, a very common practice.

The process of finding a suitable mate starts very early in a young girl's life. Marriages are often agreed upon before a girl turns 10, but typically the wedding does not take place until a girl is 15 or 16 years old.

The women of the girl's family initiate the process. They meet with female friends and relatives to discuss possible marriage candidates.

Many factors are taken into consideration before making a selection: family status, financial security, and the personalities of the bride and prospective grooms. When Marjan's mother and aunt decided on a groom candidate, they presented their choice to Marjan's father and uncles for approval. The men, agreeing on the candidate, set to work to make the financial agreement with the groom's family.

According to local tradition, every marriage requires two exchanges:

  • A dowry brought by the bride to the husband's home. The dowry includes household items the couple will need for their future life together.

  • And the mahr, the price the groom's family must pay for the girl's hand in marriage. The mahr typically consists of livestock, property, and money.
At the evening celebration, the women all sit together inside the courtyard. The men are in the hujara, a large room with Afghan carpets and pillows on the floor. The hujara is traditionally where the men sit. In Afghanistan and other traditional Islamic cultures, it is customary to have men and women separated at social events.

A large meal of kababs (grilled meat on skewers), nan (Afghan bread that is flat and oval-shaped), subzi (stewed vegetables), and pilau (rice cooked with meat) is served to the guests first. As is dictated by the Pushtun tradition of hospitality, the hosts will not eat until after the guests have had their fill.

Finally, the music begins. Marjan is sitting with her sisters and cousins. She is beaming with happiness. "I am very grateful. They have chosen well for me," she says, referring to her family's choice of her husband. "And, inshallah [God willing], we will be blessed with a child soon."