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No More Big Fat Tajik Weddings? The Economics Of Traditional Nuptials

Marriage in Tajikistan, a Central Asian country of 8 million, is celebrated over days and far over budget. A new law tries to change ancient ways for the sake of modern economics.

A traditional Tajik wedding
A traditional Tajik wedding
Malgorzata Borowska

ARBOB — It’s windy in this former Soviet-era kolkhoz collective farm and historic site known as the place where the peace treaty in the Tajikistan civil war 1992-1997 was signed. The Arbob Cultural Palace happens to also be a popular photo set for newlyweds.

That's where I met Masuma, 19, and Husnidin, 20. They insisted they were getting married for love, “not like other Tajik people,” they say.

Beyond the motivation behind it, their choice will have a significant influence on the life of their respective families. In one month's time, Masuma’s father, who owns a gas station in the Russian city of Perm, will hire Husnidin’s brothers. Within a year, Musuma’s and Husnidin’s cousins plan to join forces to buy a few buses and start a transportation business. In 20 years time, Husnidin, already better off, will buy an apricot orchard for his parents and his parents-in-law, so that they can have an easy income after so many years are difficult labor.

No social security would do more for the two families.

Therefore, even if Tajik are among the poorest peoples of the region, all put money aside for dowries. The two families surpass each other in demonstration of their respective wealths.

For generations, a wedding could be considered the expense of a lifetime for a family. But now, the new Law on Tradition, Ceremonies and Celebrations of the Republic of Tajikistan is aimed to redirect the stream of family money.

1,001-guest wedding

Husajn Charimov, a young government inspector for religion, rites and tradition, is a wedding watchdog in this predominantly Muslim country. He appears at ceremonies and checks if everything done complies with the new law.

"Before the law was introduced, the preparations to the wedding started with the official engagement, followed by a council on the wedding,” he explains in his broken Russian. “Afterwards came gifts-exchange and mutual visits. More than 20 different rites extended over a period of one year. At least ten rams were slaughtered."

With his hand, Charimov mimes his throat being slit like the rams: "And I mean ten for each family!" The mutual exchange of gifts included diamond rings imported from Dubai.

"Like that!," suddenly, Hussein starts to wave his hands in the air, "That is how the dancing guests scattered money! As if they wanted to sow it, even if it can not grow," he says.

Hussein fixes his tubeteika, a traditional Central Asian cap, in a sign of respect. "That's why it has all been forbidden," he concludes.

The 10th article of the new law states the following: "The celebrations on the occasion of a wedding should last no longer than two days, including the banquet for up to 150 people. The costs of the ceremony are to be divided equally between both parties."

According to the introduction, the bill aims to "protect the real values of the national culture and the local traditions as well as improve the social and economical conditions of life of the citizen of the Republic of Tajikistan.”

The law was prepared by the President Emomali Rachmon, who prefers that Tajikistan citizens put money into bank accounts instead of spending it on sumptuous ceremonies that they can not afford.

Rachmon can be considered a wedding expert himself: He has already organized six of them. The video from the last one, of his son Rustam, however, leaked out onto Youtube and revealed many violations of his own new law. The opposition estimated that the ceremony lasted one week and cost half million dollars of public money. Ever since the scandal, Youtube has been blocked in Tajikistan.

2 for the price of 1

Madina has three children, a good job in a NGO and liberal views on marriage. In her notebook, she draws for me a traditional timetable of marriage-related ceremonies. Then, she crosses out two-thirds of them.

“This is not necessary … Neither is this … and those ceremonies after the wedding: useless,” she says. “Honestly, the new law was like a relief to me. I organized my daughter's wedding the way I wanted to, not like others did.”

She admits, though, that the wedding bill is not respected by everybody. “There are people who prefer to pay a fine,” she says; depending on the profession of the groom, it may be up to 9,000 somonis (about $1,700), the equivalent of one year and a half of a good local salary. “There are also ways to get around the law,” adds Madina. “For example, if you organize a circumcision and a wedding the same day, you gain 60 guests.”

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