Histories & Culture
Grand Marriage

A traditional wedding ceremony performed in Comoros. It involves an exchange of expensive gifts between the couple's families and feasts for an entire village and can cost as much as the equivalent of US$20,000. The gift giving has played an important role in the traditional economy. It was a way of redistributing goods and services to spread wealth more evenly among the people of the islands. It helps support local arts in silver- and goldsmithing, folk song, and folk dance.

Only by participating in the ceremony is a Comorian man entitled to participate in his village's assembly of notables and to wear the mharuma, a sash that entitles him to enter the mosque by a special door. The ritual is still used as a means of distinguishing Comorian society's future leader, and few candidates win election to the National Assembly without having had a grand marriage.

Critics see grand marriage as a means of excluding people who cannot provide their sons and daughters a grand marriage, from participating in the islands' political life.

A ban on the grand mariage was attempted by political reformers who saw it as a wasteful custom. President Ali Soilih took the almost unheard-of step of declining to participate in the ritual. The attempts to restrict the custom were not accepted and grand marriages still take preeminent place in Comorian society.

Reference: The Islands of the Moon. ARAMCO WORLD, July/August 1996. http://countrystudies.us/