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All About Eritrean Traditional ‘Melsi’ Wedding Ceremony #Habesha

In Eritrea, weddings are usually very interesting and colourful. It’s a ceremony many young people and families look forward to.

The wedding ‘Melsi or Melse’ as it is called, is usually a two day ceremony with lots of fun and excitement. So let’s take a look at how it is done. Enjoy!

When a couple is ready to get married, the man informs his father about the girl he wants to marry. The father then goes with other immediate family members to the girl’s parents, to ask for her hand in marriage. If the family accepts them, they will greet the man’s family with traditional Eritrean food (injera, doro wot, tsebhi,) etc and drink to show that they are welcome, and that their daughter is valued.

After that, the woman’s family then asks the man’s family to pick a wedding date that day or they may give them some time. 

Once the wedding date is decided the families work together to prepare for the big day.

The families start making sewa and mese one month before the wedding. During the making of the sewa and mese, the women from both families gather daily to do all the necessary tasks. After cooking all day, the women sing and dance while having shots of Areke, a traditional Eritrean non-alcoholic drink.

Usually, the Thursday or Friday before the wedding day, there is a ceremony called the “Helefot.” This ceremony is at the brides family house. The groom and his family come to the brides family house to present the bride and her family with gifts such as jewelry, gold, clothes and other material things of value and it is watched by all family members. After this ceremony, the families enjoy dinner together and part ways to prepare for the big day.

Typically, the Eritrean wedding is separated into two ceremonial days – the first day is the church and a reception. And the second day a celebration of the traditional customs – melse.

Day One – On the morning of the first wedding day, the groom, his groomsmen and his family to the brides family house to get his bride. When the groom arrives, the brides family will be waiting at the door singing and dancing and the groom and his groomsmen will dance and sing in response as they enter the house.

After the groom gets his bride, they all head to the church for the church ceremony with the family, dressed in traditional Habesha clothes. 

At the reception, after the meal has been served, there are two traditional songs that must be sung. The first traditional song is called the Awelo. The song is sang in respect to both the bride and grooms family, and the singer is to call out each family members name. The following song is a traditional song about the food, mese and sawa. This is done in order to thank and show appreciation for all those who cooked and made the sewa for the reception. Then this is followed by all night dancing and celebration.

Day Two – The second day of an Eritrean and Ethiopian wedding, is known as Melsi or Melse, which is the traditional wedding ceremony.

Everything, from the bride’s hair, gold accessories, traditional habesha attire and the adornment of henna, is entirely different from Day one, which is the white wedding.

Melsi usually starts early in the morning for the girls in the bridal train, as they embark on a beautifying ritual of the bride; hair braiding and henna decoration. (henna is usually reserved for the bride alone as it symbolizes the woman’s beauty and joy as a bride). 

According to the Melsi tradition, the women at the wedding greet the bride and groom with various assorted Mes (wine) bottles, Kitcha (homemade flat bread), Corn, Mesob (handwoven baskets) and much more. These are considered to be gifts to the bride and groom on their wedding day. Because weddings are typically celebrated as a community, all of the women in the village and neighboring villages and cities will bring a gifts and sing and dance with it to show what they have brought.

All of this excitement is usually celebrated with close friends and family members, so the wedding guest list is usually not as massive as day one. It really is an intimate night of fun and games and a great time to reunite and catch up with visiting friends and family while enjoying the traditional boon ceremony and the traditional food; Injera and Tshebi.

The traditional dancing game with the bridal party, called T’hambele, is followed by the traditional vow made to the bride by a few of the groomsmen to protect her.

In the Eritrean culture, the Bride leaves her parent’s village to go and live in her husband’s village. There, she is destined to start a new life with her husband and his family. Because she is essentially alone when she arrives, not knowing anyone in the new village, the groom’s friends come into an ‘alliance’ with her as they vow to protect her, stand up for her and become mediators in her marriage when needed. 





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