Poet Fadumo Ali talks about Somali wedding ceremonies


Fadumo Ali spends most of her time going about her house chores or leisurely talking to her neighbors. But sometimes she gets busy with something not new to her: compiling women’s poems for Somali wedding ceremonies known as Buraanbur in Somali. She started the practice of poem-writing a long time ago, when she was only 7 years old.

“The reason why [my parents] enlisted me in a Koran madrassa, and later in school, was to stop me from _Buraanbur._” Although this seemed to work for sometime, she reverted to poem-writing and singing later. She is now a professional poem-writer, but she accepts requests and occasional presents from her friends strictly for non-business purposes. In this Q&A, she talks about Somali weddings in general and those held in Minneapolis in particular.

by Fadumo Ali

[Beginning with] first and second halves of the holy Koran and its verses
We read the one hundred and fourteen chapters of the Koran for you
We read the tributes of the prophet for you
We are your maternal and paternal aunts, your next of kin
We have gathered here for the sake of your happiness
We have wishful prayers for you in mind and hope Allah will accept

Marriage is a union which needs good interactions
May your love and affection become fruitful
Children and wealth of your own [may follow]
May Allah give them to you as a gift
And may you enjoy life and be successful in general

Sweet words, smooth love and open hands
Beautiful behavior, sweetness and success
May Allah give them to you and make them your partners
And may luck be on your side and time help you out

Like the Nairus festival or a downpour in the Nugal [Valley]
Like the green pastures where the fat livestock is grazing
Good prospects, mercy of Allah and victory
The ease of prosperity, and expectations of good things
May Allah provide you with his kindness
May you stay in peace of mind all your lives

Clouds of prosperity, a full beaker and fortunate deeds
Wonderful kids without any shortcomings
The forefront parents of yours who were sought by all
[Be] like them a lighthouse not swaying aside
Good inheritance from your ancestors’ path
With wealth and general progress
Oh! Lord! give them your bounty and affluence.

— Translated from Somali by Said Mohammed

Said Mohamed: We know weddings are a happy occasion. In your Buraanbur poems what do you do to contribute to the wedding ceremony and upgrade the happy mood of the couple?

Fadumo Ali: First of all we pray for the couple to have a long lasting family. Secondly we give them some advice as to their culture and how to preserve it. Finally we praise the bride and bridegroom.

What difference is there between Somali wedding ceremonies and other weddings organized in other countries (like the USA)?

A: Every nation organizes weddings according to their culture, for example the Arabs play Raqs dance; in western countries they party, dance and sing for the bride. The Somalis arrange their wedding according to their cultural folklore dances such as the Buraanbur and Jaandheer, and finally they conclude with Somali songs played by Somali music bands.

Are there any changes in the way the Somali weddings are organized these days and in the past?

A: When I was young, women used to play Buraanbur dance and Jaandheer and the men escorted the bridegroom home with a Dikrisalaan (singing with praise for Prophet Muhammad). Now when the bridegroom arrives, music is played instead of the Dikrisalaan.

Are there any differences you can detect in weddings conducted inside Somalia and those for couples in the diaspora?

When I was in Somalia, I knew that after the lunch feast in the daytime the women always danced in the afternoon with Jandeer and Buraanbur as the two main cultural folklore dances. After 1992, when I came abroad, I saw the same procedure being followed with music bands singing Somali songs at night.

Some people complain about the economic cost of Somali weddings. They say that huge amounts of unnecessary expenses are incurred. This may lead to the new family being left with a big debt they can’t pay for a long time or sometimes they may be broke when they come out of the honey period.

A huge amount of money, which is not appropriate, is spent during the wedding ceremony. They rent a ballroom in a hotel or another hall for $1,500. Around $2,000 is spent on the food feast for the lunch in the daytime and reception at night. The music band will charge some money. Even the dancing women are paid. That is a big extravaganza. Some cannot afford all that. They may be compelled to use their credit cards for all these expenses.

We know some families opt for having their wedding ceremonies in the mosque while others economize and don’t have any ceremony at all. How do you see those options? Surprisingly the mosques are nowadays acting like hotel ballrooms for rent. Some mosques have halls which are separate for women dance after the lunch feast. The mosque receives rent of the order of $1,200–$1,300 for these services. However, there are some couples who watch their interests and just go home after the necessary marriage rituals. But it seems any girl who doesn’t have such expensive ceremonies is seen as backward. Every bride wants something to remember for her wedding. No cameraman is allowed to take pictures inside the women’s hall. Then the camera is given to a woman to photograph. So the mosque is part of the expenses. It is not for free.

So in your view, there is a controversy as to the suitability of the mosque for wedding dances and the like?

Really, in a way, the serving of the lunch feast in the mosque where the poor can eat is a blessed matter in my opinion; the congregation being provided with a meal after prayers is a good deed which Allah will reward for. But to play dance and Buraanbur in the mosque is not an idea appealing to me.

It is common knowledge that a woman has to change the dress, or dirac, she used to participate in any wedding event and wear a new dirac for each particular party. What can you tell us about that?

All their resources are exhausted for having a new dirac for each wedding. They don’t usually wear again the one they wore for a former event. To have a new one for every wedding ceremony is detrimental to their economy. Even if she can’t afford a lady has to borrow a new dirac from a shop or Somali woman vendor.

Let’s come to the Buraanbur and yourself. How long have you been doing buraanbur writing?

Uuuh! (laughing). I started compiling Buraanbur poems when I was so young. When I was only seven years old I was singing some Buraanbur. I was enlisted in school and Koran maddrassa so as to stop me from Buraanbur. Then I refrained from it until I finished school, but I reverted to it later. I compiled poems for my friends when they needed them.

Now it seems things are going out of hand. When you write a good Buraanbur poem for someone, you receive a flood of requests which are hard to decline. It is like ‘you have done such a good Buraanbur for such and such a wedding, why can’t you do it for me?’

Many people say they love your Buraanbur. Why do you think your poems are so popular?

Actually I think my poem literature is usually rich, my experience is extensive, and I don’t ask for a fee. My practice is strictly for non-business purposes. I may sometimes get presents from those I helped with my Buraanbur, and I accept them as a gesture of token but I never compel anyone to pay a price for my services. I consider a wedding ceremony a happy occasion that I shouldn’t spoil.

Is there any advice you are giving to new Somali families thinking of or planning their wedding ceremonies in the future, particularly those who live in the diaspora?

I don’t think such huge amounts of money should be spent in a wedding ceremony. Their people back home are in need; also many Somalis are in dire need of help. I don’t consider this entire extravaganza to be a good cause for all that expenditure.