A Village Remembered: The Armenians of Habousi - The Compatriotic Union of Habousi

Chapter 10:

Engagement and Wedding

The marriage age for men ranged from fifteen to twenty-five years old. Elder singles were subject to mockery and considered abnormal. For girls, the marriage age ranged between fourteen to twenty years of age. Girls over twenty were called doonmena, meaning left in the house.

It was common to engage boys and girls from the cradle with the consent of the parents of both sides. Thus families were considered khenami (in-laws) until the children were grown.

Another way was for the parents of a marriageable young man to choose the bride-to-be. Then, with or without a go-between, they would pay a social call on the parents of the girl. After some friendly talk they would offer to return for another visit in order to drink again of their delicious wine. A date would then be set.

During the second visit, after general conversation, the young man’s parents would ask for the hand of the host family’s daughter by saying, “We have come to ask you for an apple.” The girl’s parents at first would demur by saying that their daughter was too young yet. Then they would ask for time to think about the proposal.

The matter would be arranged on the third visit, when an engagement present, usually a gold piece on a gold chain, would be placed around the neck of the girl by the boy’s mother. The bride-to-be then would kiss the hands of the visitors. The girl’s mother would also give a present, saying, “Let this be also a token from us.”

The day of the wedding was decided upon by both sides. It usually took place in the winter. Wedding festivities lasted two or three days.

Music by daoul (drum) and zoorna (a simple wind instrument with a shrill) played an important part in the festivities. Richer people had more than one of each instrument play at their weddings. The guests gathered by the musicians, who first stopped in front of the gunkahayr’s (godfather’s) house. They waited for him and the gunkamayr (godmother) to come out and climb into an oxen-driven cart, decorated with rugs. The procession started at the gunkahayr’s house and progressed from there around the streets, gathering the other guests. People came in carts, on horseback, or on foot.

From the groom’s house wine, raisins, walnuts, basdegh and dried fish were given to the musicians and the crowds of guests and on-lookers accompanying them. The guests, after parading in the streets, entered the bridegroom’s house where long tables laden with wine and food awaited them. If the groom was Apostolic, the priest had to bless the table, and if Protestant, “Our Lord” was sung.

The merriment continued late into the night, when the gunkahayr began the ceremony of praising the bridegroom, while dressing him. While lavishing all sorts of praises on the groom, he dressed him in a new shirt, jacket, and colorful socks woven by the bride. During the ceremony the guests tried to kidnap the bridegroom, and it was the gunkahayr’s duty to defend him. The groom was supposed to remain motionless.

On the second day, the guests gathered again by the usual procession. This time the groom was with them and he carried a drawn sword. Several men danced at the head of the procession, and their friends stuck coins on their foreheads. The procession stopped in front of the bride’s house. The gunkahayr demanded that a rooster be sent to him from the house. He took the rooster, waved it several times in the air, then held out its neck to the groom to cut with his sword. The groom was supposed to cut the rooster’s neck on the first blow, but if not successful, he was allowed to try again. The gunkahayr threw the severed neck on the roof of the bride’s house.

The bride finally came out of the house, heavily veiled. A brother or a close relative lifted her up on horseback or placed her in a cart. The groom sat next to her, sword in hand. The procession then proceeded to the church.

The procession entered the church where a priest, or a minister if the groom was Protestant, conducted the marriage ceremony. Outside the church the people made merry as the daoul and zoorna played.

Once the ceremony was over, the bride and groom left the church with the crowd following them. They paraded down the streets until they reached the bridegroom’s house. There the bride was placed behind a curtain where only women were allowed to go. The groom, sword still in hand, sat on a chair in front of the curtain and watched the guests who sat at long tables eating the traditional herisa and other dishes. Wine flowed freely.

It was a custom to attempt to kidnap the groom at this stage. The gunkahayr was to be on watch against such an attempt. But if he left the groom’s side to attend to some important function, the groom would be led away by his cronies and hidden. The bridegroom was not supposed to show opposition, nor to sound a warning to the gunkahayr. When successful, the kidnappers won the right to a party by the groom.

The bride’s mother slept with her daughter the first night in her house while the groom was taken by the gunkahayr to his house. The festivities continued another day and the gunkahayr on the third day took the groom to the bride at the latter’s parents house and delivered him safely to her wifely care for life.