For the uninitiated, a wedding feast for 20,000 people must be hard to fathom. Just figuring out the quantities of food required staggers the imagination. But this event actually takes place every year without a hitch – no pun intended – in Dammun, a suburb of the city of Tarim in Hadhramaut Governorate.
The tradition dates back to 2011, when a group of young Yemenis sent a written request to the region’s chieftains, asking for their support to hold a mass wedding that they believed would ease their individual financial burdens.
“That move provided the basis for a structure to arrange collective weddings in the district,” said Ali Khamis, deputy chair of Dammun’s Mass Wedding Committee, one of eight community initiatives in Tarim.
Every year on the ninth day of the month of Shawwal in the Islamic calendar, between 80 and 140 couples marry in a mass wedding ceremony to streamline formalities and cut expenses. The last one was held in May 2021. The Dammun district has witnessed 10 such weddings for up to one thousand brides and grooms over the past ten years.
Each groom pays a minimal sum of 370,000 rials (about US$300 last year); the bride pays the equivalent of US$200). Payments are made in instalments; the rest are covered by the Mass Wedding Committee through an appeal for financial and in-kind donations from all who are able to make contributions.
Abdullah Badubbah, 25, is an engineer who was one of the grooms at Dammun’s tenth mass gathering for couples to tie the knot. “These weddings have helped us spare expenses, especially in these terrible economic conditions,” he said.
Even families that can afford fancy wedding parties opt for the giant gathering on one condition: that no other event is held outside the framework of a collective celebration. The intention, Ali Khamis explained, is to bring everyone together, regardless of their social class.
Radhi Subaih, a journalist, sees another benefit to the practice besides reducing expenses.
“Having 150 weddings a year in the area on different days can disrupt people’s businesses,” he said. “All this congestion can be reduced to two days.”
Mass weddings have spared us high expenses.
The wedding organisers are grouped into 14 service committees, including more than 1,000 men and 500 women who live in the area. They volunteer in the slaughter of animals, cooking, painting, and medical assistance. The guests number about 20,000, all Dammun residents. Each groom is allotted 50 additional invitations for friends from out of town.
Logistics are always carried out with precision, said Ali Khamis. At every celebration, for example, more than 800 motorcycles are parked in an orderly way that allows each vehicle’s owner to come and go with ease.
“The accuracy of the organisation and the spirit of volunteer work are the most prominent factors that distinguish our marriage ceremonies,” Subaih said. “It’s not only young people who are eager to volunteer, but older people as well.”
The organisational role is not limited to wedding planning. Specialised trainers offer orientation sessions for newlyweds on the rights and responsibilities of spouses and parents, and what to expect when they raise a family.
The ceremonies begin in the afternoon with the procession of the brides and grooms, accompanied by traditional dances. A large crowd follows them to the stage at the main square for the festivities. Singing, ululating, and dancing continue until sunset, when all the marriage contracts are signed simultaneously before a banquet dinner begins.
The event lasts until late at night amid the singing of lyrical operettas and folk dancing.
Every year, volunteers do their best to make the wedding a mass success.
“I am so proud of the committees that represent our district so beautifully,” said Badubbah, who looks back on his anniversary with appreciation. “I felt very happy because the party was a joy for everyone in the area, not just relatives of the brides and grooms.”
In Hadhramaut, the mass wedding stands out as a festive symbol of cooperation and solidarity for everyone in Dammun.