Part 2, Chapter 1, “TIN HINAN”

(Chapter 1 of Tin Hinan is long, so I am going to cut it up into three pieces.  There is a lot of information about customs and traditions of the Berbers in this section, so shorter I think is better right now.

Lady Nyo)

(Tin Hinan lived in the 5th century.  She was able to consolidate the Berber tribes into a  ‘nation’.  Before that, they raided each other when they weren’t raiding the hated Arabs. The Roman influence in Morocco and what is now Algeria had dissolved, and the Arabs were conducting the spice, gold and cloth routes.  The Berbers were great raiders and continued to raid both Arabs (which they are not) and other Berber tribes all over north and central Africa, in spite of the influence of Tin Hinan.  They are still raiding in the Sahara, but now from Toyota 4 wheelers) The liver is where the soul and emotions reside, according to the Berbers, as in “My liver pines for you.” )


Part 2, Chapter 1, TIN HINAN

Though the wedding was months off,  the first thing to do was to take a piece of my Mother’s tent and sew it into one of my own.  All the woman of the tribe gathered at my Mother’s tent one morning and with singing and playing of the bendir, a frame drum, we cut out a large piece in the back of her tent and started stitching the heavy cloth woven from goat hair.  It was long and tedious work, but we ate dates and millet puddings and drank mint tea and told stories.  For a fortnight we worked on my marriage tent.  The east side would be for Hasim, and the west side for me.  I would have our marriage bed and our stores, musical instruments and rugs in my side.  The marriage bed would be a day couch for my children, me and women visitors..  Hasim would fill the west side with his weapons and saddles.  By tradition, after the marriage, Hasim would sleep outside, part of the guard men protecting our settlement from raiders across the mountain and from the desert. By tradition, the tent, the bed and everything else, except the weapons and saddles, would be my property.

It was good to be a Berber woman!

Our settlement was in a large oasis, nestled at the foot of a mountain range.  It was lush and shaded in parts by woods and orchards and streams running through the land. We tilled the fertile earth, made so by the runoff of soil from the mountain, and fed by the snows of winter that washed down from those same mountains.  It was a beautiful site for our nomadic people, and we defended it fiercely from others who would drive us away. I walked to a little plot of land with my father and decided this would be the place for my tent.  It was shaded by the date trees planted many years ago by our tribe.  There was a little spring that hardly bubbled out of the earth, but with some digging could be made easier to access the precious water.  As beautiful as this small piece of land was, I still was pulled to the end of the oasis where the desert stretched out in all its mystery, meeting the starry night as it had from the beginning of time.

There was much more to do, but the next task was to build my marriage bed.  This was to be the most important piece of furniture a woman could have, and each was done differently according to the skills and imagination of the carver.  My father hired the best carpenter and carver around to build it.  It would be big and wide and would not be too high off the carpets paving the floor of the tent.  My father went with the carpenter to pick the wood, and he obtained some beautiful, scented cedar to make the bed.  When it was carved and doweled together, it took six men to carry and place in the tent.  It was so beautiful, but of course, I was not allowed to lie down on it, or even to sit upon its frame.  I would have to wait for the wedding night with Hasim before I was allowed even to touch it.  But I did peek in the doorway before the divider between sides was hung and saw the beautiful symbols of fertility and good fortune carved along with flowers and palm trees.  In the middle of the back of the bed, was a large and flowing palm tree, with its roots extending outward towards the side posts. Little pigeons and doves were being chased by two hawks and some of the doves were hiding in the tree.

Next, I joined  in the sewing of the mattress.  My mother and her kinswomen sheared sheep and stuffed the thick wool into two large sheets of thick and coarse wool.  Then we spread it out on a carpet and during the night, my kinswomen, young girls to elderly women, my cousins and great aunts, would sit around the heavy mattress and we would all take up our bone needles and stitch carefully across and down the mattress.  This would be laid upon the woven ropes that were stretched from one side of the bed frame to another, and woven back and forth until there was a tight foundation for the mattress.  Our tradition said that a tightly woven bed frame augured well for a marriage.  Loose or slack weaving would let the attentions of the husband sag and the wife would stray in her affections.

As the wedding approached, I was bundle of nerves.  I had not seen Hasim, except from a distance.  We were watched very closely, for there was to be no contact before the wedding day.  I was not allowed to venture to the river without another woman with me, and I believe Hasim was told he could not approach me when his tribe came with herds of goats or to discuss shared pasturing with our men.

All seemed to be going according to plan, when the demons of Death took matters into their own claws.  I say Death  for nothing but that could have caused such a reverse of fortune and happiness in my life. We Berbers believe strongly in malicious spirits, and they seemed to hold their own festival with my wedding plans.

One day, very close to the time of the wedding, when already there were preparations for the five days of celebration, I heard some women in my mothers tent crying and went to see what had happened.  Suddenly, as I approached her tent, two of my favorite Aunties  ran out and threw themselves upon me.

“Aicha, Aicha,”  (for I do now, in relating this story, remember my name at the time).“You must prepare yourself!  You must be strong and comfort your parents!”

“What? What? What has happened that I am to be ‘strong’ as you say?”  I started to run towards her tent, and since I am tall, my legs were long, and my Aunties fat old women, well, they  could not keep up with me.  I heard them wailing behind me, yet I did not heed their cries.

I made it to my mother’s tent and entered her western side, where I found both my parents in her quarters.  My father looked somber, and my mother was rocking back and forth, like she was in grief.

“What has happened, oh my parents?  Has something happened to Hasim?  Tell me, oh tell me now!”

My mother was beside herself, and had thrown a cloth over her head as we do when a kinsman dies.  This is to blot out the sight of any happiness and is one of our forms of our mourning.  I was white faced with fear and was sure that Hasim was dead!

“My daughter, my daughter,” began my father, with tears in his eyes.  “Our family has been tricked, we have all been betrayed. Even though our gifts were returned this morning, it is not to be borne.  Hasim has contracted to marry another and has left to go to her tent.”

I was told I stared like a dead person, my eyes empty, my mouth open without sound. Then, one long wail came out of my throat before I collapsed on the carpet  at my father’s feet.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

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One Response to “Part 2, Chapter 1, “TIN HINAN””

  1. Part 2, Chapter 1, “TIN HINAN” « Lady Nyo's Weblog | africantribes Says:

    […] Read more: Part 2, Chapter 1, “TIN HINAN” « Lady Nyo's Weblog […]

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