Mixed dancing at the marriage party
Joining a guest list of thousands at a four-day revolutionary
wedding celebration in Iran
By Sharmilla Devi
Financial Times (London)
June 10, 2000, Saturday
The Iranian women crowded around me, fingering the silk drapes of my
sari. "Where are you from? Are you married? Do you like Iran?"
Echoing around us were the reverberating sounds of the drum and flute music.
The women urged me to dance, dragging me before the musicians where wedding
guests of both sexes had looped their fingers together to form concentric
circles of movement.
Not since before the 1979 revolution had the people of Loristan seen
such a scene. Men and women dancing together, on the streets, head scarves
falling awry. The Basiji volunteer militia, which used to be vigorous in
upholding Islamic, modest modes of behaviour, would have been furious.
Upstairs in the house where the main wedding celebrations were taking
place, at least on this particular day, a handful of men were huddled together
for the ritualistic manoeuvres involved in the burning and inhaling of
opium. Beer and vodka were also available.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended the wedding of my Iranian friends,
spread out over four days of hard partying in the mountains of this western
province, towards the Iraqi border, where the people are a mixture of Persians,
Kurds, Laks and Lors.
The food was of gargantuan proportions: 60 sheep (many of which were
slaughtered before my eyes), 500 chickens, half a tonne of rice, 200kg
of sweets, 200kg of fruit, 60 litres of vodka (homemade) and seven cases
of beer (smuggled from Turkey) - all in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
"We have more freedom here than you do in the west," the bridegroom
told me proudly. At that moment, on the third day of celebrations, it was
hard to dispute this. We were in a huge convoy of at least 70 vehicles
making our way from the bride's home to the bridegroom's village, set high
in the snow-capped Zagros mountains.
The convoy had stopped on the border between the terrain of rival tribes
after a perilous journey on steep, winding roads. But the break was also
to enable the groom to greet members of his tribe who came to meet us on
horseback, firing Kalashnikov rifles into the air.
The men, women, children and musicians who had been packed into the
assortment of vans and cars poured out and up the hills for a deeply moving
and impromptu dance. The musicians took up their beat again and women ululated.
I was urged up on to a horse with only a blanket as a saddle, the men
refusing to acknowledge my lack of horsemanship. I promptly fell off.
Eventually, we set off again and arrived in the village of about a dozen
houses in a small valley of green wheatfields and apple orchards set among
the mountains. The bride rushed off for at least her third change of outfit
so far. She shed her white, satin bridal gown for a traditional, Lori outfit
- a glittering long green dress and waistcoat of silver coins with an abundance
of hair toppling from the headscarf that was wrapped around, not over,
She and her new husband posed for countless photographs, clutching a
Kalashnikov rifle, which I later fired for myself in a valley already echoing
Women were at the forefront throughout the celebration, chador or no
chador. They urged on the dancing, particularly the flirting, and distributed
the food. As my headscarf toppled off repeatedly, the women took pity on
me and allowed me to dispense with it altogether.
It was only later that I was able to gain any sense of the fierce anti-western
sentiment that was unleashed by the 1979 Islamic revolution. In Tehran,
the walls of the old US embassy, which had once housed 52 hostages for
more than a year, are still covered with fantastic murals depicting fanciful
images of the "Great Satan", including a picture of the Statue
of Liberty with a skull for a face.
Such views are also to be found in the newspapers and, of course, among
the mullahs. But people told me that reforms led by President Mohammad
Khatami would surely win out.
Back in the village, we sat around as the groom finally relaxed after
having narrowly averted a mini riot at lunchtime because of the lateness
of the food. Sitting with us was his sister and her husband. The husband
told us how, 30 years earlier, she had been offered to him as a wife in
settlement of a family feud in which his father had been shot in the leg.
And had this long-married couple enjoyed the wedding? Very much, they
said. Only last night they had made love, she said, at which point the
husband grasped his wife to him for a great, slobbering kiss.