Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Omani Folk Tales: Why a donkey is used for the bride at the wedding
"Her father is a greedy man with no sense of good in him, my son," she advised him strongly against pursuing the match. "He will ask too much in way of dower to see her wed as he did for her elder sister before her, and she was not half so fair."
But the boy who had become a man had a mind only for the girl he had always loved, and so he went to speak to her father, poor as he was.
The girl's father could barely restrain himself from throwing the boy out of his home, since there was nothing he could offer the man surely.
"What would I have to do, to marry your daughter?" the poor village lad asked at last.
"You may marry her," the girl's father said, "when you give me 400 goats."
"I will do that," the poor lad promised surely, his eyes bright with hope. "I just need some time."
The very next morning he sold what pocessions his father had left him for a donkey and travelled many many months over land to the Shams, Iraq and Syria. There he did what trade he could, until laden with goods to sell, he made his way back to that little village below the mountains in Oman, where the girl he loved had grown then into a woman.
The poor lad arrived at her father's house, behind him a score of two hundred fine goats, so that the girl's father could not even complain of their condition.
"Would you have it said, that I might be the kind of man that could marry your daughter one day?" the young man smiled brightly at the girl's father, and the two were engaged, although no vows were exchanged.
The young man did not want to waste any time, so he did bid his bride-to-be and her father and his mother goodbye and returned to trade in Syria far far away to provide for the rest of the marriage portion.
With enough wealth to pay the father's bequest for his daughter, and have a fine wedding besides, the young man came just before Oman when a band of theives stole all he had made but the clothes on his back and the donkey he rode upon.
Rather than go to the girl's father with some manner of excuse, the young man hastened back to Syria to begin again as he had in the first, with hope in his eyes, and true patient love in his heart.
The time past and no one, not even the young man's mother knew what had become of him.
It was then a rich man came down from one of the tribe's in the mountain. He asked to marry the girl. He would give the father two hundred goats then and now, to have the marriage feast within the month.
Even though the girl's father had given his word of engagement to her betrothed, he was no good unfaultering man, and the girl was married before the new moon rose in the sky while the good man who loved her laboured in Syria. She went with her new husband from the wealth of her father's house, into the mountains.
While she was gone, her father squandered his wealth, and the source of water for his lands disapeared never to return, and for all that he had once had, he became a simple man of modest means. He decided to send his wife, the girl's mother, to visit their daughter with a wealthy husband in the mountains, to see what might be done about their situation.
When the mother arrived she saw that her daughter wore fine clothes, sat in a high place, and had fine food placed before her. Yet the light in her beautiful eyes had gone out. Her cheeks were pinched, her hair did not shine.
It was just by chance that the mother saw the marks around the girls ankles, as if made by a chain, for the girl had spoken nothing of her abuse.
When she had come to her new husband's tribe, it was to be laughed at and mocked, as the people in her valley had laughed at and mocked the tribes in the mountains. She was made to sit in a low place, and wear the worst of clothes while the sisters of her husband wore brocades, and to eat the worst of meals while others had roasted meat and milk and honey. Her husband never showed her a single kindness, and yet because of her beauty, was cruelly jealous. He never let her go out of the house, and when she had protested against this, he chained her.
Thus the marks around her ankles, and the longing for death in her eyes.
The mother, worried for her daughter's sanity, rushed to send for her father with news of their daughter so that he would speak to her husband on her behalf.
When he came to her husband's tribe to speak on her behalf in his poor state, they mocked him openly when he asked her husband who had no care of her to divorce her rather than treat her so wretchedly.
"What care is this woman of yours," the girl's wicked husband accused the greedy father who had lost all he had, "that you sold her to me? No, I will not divorce her, unless you pay me back what I had given you, for I see no reason to do so."
The girl's father did not have two hundred goats, he did not even have one. So it seemed his daughter would live in shame and misery all her days for what he had chosen, and he would have no son-in-law who would care at all for him as he grew old and grey.
It was to this, after years, the young man who loved the girl, returned to his mother's house, to learn his love had married, and her father sold all the goats he had given him already in payment of her dower injustly.
What sorrow and anger must have coursed through his mind... Until stories were made known to him, of how the once rich man who was the girl's father had gone begging to her husband in the mountain to divorce her for her own sorry sake.
It was all he had left in the world, all he had made after years of toil, but he paid it, to see the girl that he loved to be returned to her father's house, shamed, and not a woman any longer that men would seek for in marriage. A Sheikh's ransom in goats passed by like a golden sea to the shepherds of the Slave-Owner-of-husband, parted by the figure of the unchained girl who that poor boy had always loved who walked broken but free.
When she saw him there, with naught left but that old tired donkey, she knew who he was and what he had done for her. She wanted to thank him, but was too ashamed to speak. Words could not make right how her family had robbed him of wealth and days.
So it was he, who spoke instead.
"I do not have anything now,"he softly mumbled, as if ashamed of himself for ever having tried to touch a star.
She felt her throat constrict with guilt, and the world she had longed to see for the year she had been chained was heavy around her and burned too bright and she feared she would stumble and fall under the weight of regret at what had been done to him.
"I do not have anything left but this here donkey I began with," he told her. "But I would give him to you... If you would have me."
The girl rode away with him to be married on that donkey, leaving that mountain with its shining goats, and in the end, not even the horses of the Greatest Kings could have made her or her family prouder, than that she would be a wife to a good man who loved her.