10. The ‘Marinated’ Zanzibari Bride
During the days leading up to her wedding, a Zanzibari bride is pampered in ways that would befit a fairy princess. First, a special hut is prepared for her. She will spend about a month in seclusion in this hut, away from the prying eyes of any males. Qualified women usually stay with her in the hut, giving her advice and lessons on how to take care of her new husband and home. They make sure that she knows how to keep her home clean, cook for her husband, entertain him, and even how to behave with her in-laws.
Two weeks before the wedding, the qualified women prepare the bride’s body so that on the big day, everyone is fascinated by her beauty, especially her husband. She is given a daily body scrub, known locally as a singo. This is a natural scrub made from a concoction of spicy herbs and delicate flowers. The main flowers used are usually sweet-smelling jasmine, fragrant rose water, and Cananga odorata (commonly called ylang-ylang), a yellow flower used all over the the world to make perfume. The main spices used include the local sweet-smelling mpatchori (a violet-flowered, scented geranium), Tanzanian sandalwood, and green, sweet basil leaves. The flowers and spices are ground up in a large, wooden mortar with lots rose water to form a smooth paste. Sometimes, if the girl is from an affluent family, honey and milk are added. The concoction is then rubbed onto her whole body, except for her hair. It marinates and exfoliates her skin, giving it a fragrant, silken, glowing allure. This makes her irresistible to her husband on the wedding night. She is then given relaxing massages with coconut oil and doused with perfumed rose water. The hut is continually filled with incense smoke to perfume her body and hair.
Two days before the wedding, henna is used to draw intricate designs on her hands, legs, and sometimes her back. Finally, on the wedding day, she is dressed with colorful khangas or lessos, and she is ready to be presented to her husband. The ceremony normally takes place in the afternoon or at night and is mostly attended by women. Perhaps the bride would be too great of a temptation for the men.