A “Zaffeh” in Beirut


“Think about the town where you currently live: its local customs, traditions, and hangouts, its slang. What would be the strangest thing about this place for a first-time visitor?”

You’re quietly sitting in the corner of your couch watching the TV talk to you and you suddenly hear really loud repetitive bangs.




As your heart bounces out of your chest to dive back in, you bravely but cautiously step foot after foot out your door to get a better look at what’s going down.

Another line of Booms follow each other as you exit your realm of security to find six men, mostly bald, wearing long white cloaks and grey-ish twenty-centimeter-wide belts around their waists, in the middle of the street. At their hips, large drums attached with ropes and sticks slightly ticking at the back of the drums. The main man holds the biggest tambour in the middle but you can hear the fierce derbakkeh in the background practically holding the spectacle together. The trumpet man with his team of drum-men play their instruments as loud as they can at 7pm, waking up a street that is already awake and excited. Everyone who has ever seen you walk down the street for the past twenty-something years are all on their balconies, some dancing on the second floor, most gossiping about the bride and the pre-wedding preparations, but all watching as the show goes down, throwing un-wanted rice at the bride to signify good wishes and many children to her, others critical about a few fashion faux-pas seen on relatives and friends of the couple.

Little girls runway down the dirty street with the second most expensive little heeled shoes, and big red Spanish-like dresses chatting with their little friends about meaningful little things.

The “zaffeh” is a traditional pre-wedding ceremony in Lebanon where a group of “professional zaffeh people” accompany the groom to the bride’s parent’s home/and during the wedding, whilst drumming and doing the “dabké”, also a traditional linear dance enjoyed pretty much everywhere in Lebanon, with different variations to the steps depending on the area in the country.

So as all the brouhaha goes up and down, the bride walks down the stairs dressed in an overwhelmingly puffy white dress, dances a little in the middle of the street with her cousins, half-brothers and sisters, future in-laws and father’s friends’ kids.

Some of the women neighbors will be so taken by the big display of celebration on the streets that they decide to proceed in something called the “zalghouta”. It’s a mix of little screams and fast tongue movement, creating an eternal sound of lightning at night, and while the rest clap and throw even bigger grasps of rice, the bride squeezes her way into her white ride, followed by honking cars and laughter, down the path of ongoing gossip and three-cheek-kisses to relatives you’ve never seen/spoke to/heard of in your life but gathered around with, for this very Lebanese wedding.


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