Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Changing Culture of Marriage in Uzbekistan

wedding party (before wedding) heading to photo opp
 Most marriages in Uzbekistan are still arranged by the couple’s parents.  Everyone in our generation and at least one generation younger said their marriages were arranged and that they expected to do the same for their children.  But, it’s not entirely like that anymore.

Uzbek couple out for photos in traditional dress
One Uzbek couple we talked to in Osh said their impending marriage was a “love story”, meaning, of course, that they had fallen in loved and decided to marry.  No doubt their families did some checking on each other before agreeing, but the couple had known each other for some time and made their own decision about getting married.

We talked to our guide in Khiva at length.  He is 29 years old and unmarried, very unusual in Uzbekistan where the groom is usually in his early 20’s and the bride perhaps as young as 16 or 17.  He said his parents had already found several girls for him to consider (they get to consider him as well) and that he would probably meet each of them briefly before agreeing to marry one of them.  If he’s lucky, he’ll have several chances to talk to the girl without too much supervision (as in sitting next to her with family around them).  He also said that if he met a girl and fell in love with her, it could be a problem for the girl and her family because she may already secretly have been promised to someone else.

All over Uzbekistan, we have seen betrothed couples posing for photos and videos.  In the Fergana Valley, they asked us to join them in a photo.  A very new tradition has started in which couples and their families are photographed and videotaped by famous monuments or mosques, sometimes traveling all over the country over a period of weeks to get all the photos their families think they should have in their albums.
wedding couple with paparazzi at the Registan, Samarkand

Our guide in Bukhara told us this was really disrupting their culture.  In the past, a couple might meet once or twice to evaluate each other, but at some distance and with family.  Now that the photos and videos are such an important part of getting married, the couples must spend a lot of time together before the wedding getting all these photos taken at all the right places.  We were fascinated by how quickly the technology of digital photography and video was changing a deeply rooted tradition.

Now, more couples are making their own decisions about marriage, she told us, with some considerable distress.  She would like to find a middle ground that still honors the tradition of arranged marriages but lets the couple do all the photo shoots they want before the wedding.  Not sure how all this will take place, particularly now that young people go to schools and universities together and work in the same places.
very sad young couple posing for photos
 But, clearly, most couples still do not choose their mates and many are unhappy about their impending marriages, as this very sad couple we saw posing for their pre-wedding photos at the Summer Palace in Bukhara.

bride and groom with attendants getting photographed
Incidentally, our Bukhara guide said both her sons picked their own wives.  She was extremely unhappy about that and fought both marriages bitterly, she said, despite her husband's warnings to drop the issue.  Both daughters-in-law live with her, one with 2 children, the other with a baby on the way.  She said she fought with her first daughter-in-law all the time when she first married her son, but has learned to let her make her own decisions and keep quiet.  She has had fewer problems with her second daughter-in-law, who is more compliant.  Our guide is a very highly educated woman who is also very religious, though she dresses in western clothes.  She said the changes in culture are hard for her, but she is learning to adapt because she has to.

bride (2nd from right) and sisters-in-law in Timur's tomb
It is also customary for new brides to go out with their sisters, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law and usually their husbands in a new glistening dress every day for 35 days after their weddings.  One new bride we met in Timur's tomb has lived in the U.S. for 6 years and said she was very uncomfortable in all her sequins and baubles.  She was used to jeans and T-shirts.  But, she looked beautiful even in her discomfort.

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