Our Tuareg Wedding...Festival Au Desert...Timbuktu, Mali

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June 10th 2011
Published: June 10th 2011
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Guy looked like "Lawrence of Arabia in sunglasses" as he raised his camel whip...whoosh...sway of the layers of his white bou bou. Then with flourish addressed the crowd and the sand dunes dotted with Tuaregs on camels.

"I give you...my one time daughter...to cherish with your life".

I grasped my sword hilt to not hit anyone...stepped forward...raised my camel whip and declared "I will protect her till the camels come home."

Someone whispered "Thank you for remembering the camels."

The Tuaregs trilled and the crowd cheered "Bizzou...bizzou.... kiss...kiss."

So how did four Aussies...having gone to Mali to attend the Festival au Desert score a full scale Tuareg wedding?

It was an idea that I watered and like a desert flower it bloomed and was glorious.

On an amazing, all times spectacular trip through Mali, the "Wedding" that was not originally part of the itinerary...was my No. 1 highlight. And considering I was the lucky groom...I presume no one would begrudge me that.

As 2011 was to be our 30th year of marriage, in my planning of our Mali/Ethiopia aventure, I planned to pass some US dollars to a priest at the Timket Festival at Lalibela, Ethiopia and ask him to recommit our marriage.

Well that was the idea...but with all good ideas...there is often something around the corner that is much better...and so it was when we did Mali before Ethiopia...wow... talk about serendipity...wow!

We were trekking through Dogon Country...bright, clear, magical landscapes...chatting to our guide, Hamma...when he mentioned the Tuaregs sometimes get married at the Festival in the Desert...ping...brain engaged.

"Denise & I are in our 30th year of marriage...do you think there could be any chance we might be able to get on the coat-tails of a Tuareg wedding & recommit our marriage? Maybe the priest could say say a few words for us as well."

"Maybe...I think it could be arranged...I'll ask Guy" he replied.

I dreamed on. If I can make this happen...it would be really cool...!

Days passed...it is dark...we are travelling up the Niger River in a pinasse...sitting around a fire on the riverbank where we are camped for the night...chatting over G&Ts...rowdy as always...our group got on so well...ping...brain engaged. So I mentioned to Guy what Hamma had told me and my idea.

"I proposed to Joannah on a sand dune at last year's Festival...maybe we could do something like that...my Tuareg family will be there," he mused.

The idea took off...all our group was enthused. Mike will be Best Man, Ros Matron of Honour, Tanya and Julia our Bridesmaids, Sam insisted as she was the youngest, Flowergirl. Guy will give the Bride away, Joannah definitely the Wedding Planner, Hamma will organize traditional outfits in Timbuktu, Guy will organize the camels. And I will make sure... it actually happens!!!

We are in Timbuktu...Mike had his hair & beard trimmed and came back chuffed...encourages me to do likewise "You have to look presentable for the wedding" ...fair call...just a beard trim. Around the corner...man in white coat "HFM Coiffure" embroidered on the pocket...sits me on a plastic chair ... my knees against a wall...produces doctors bag...opens and his haircutting tools of trade inside...people gathering to watch...non electric clippers. "Hey only the beard"...too late...looks like I'm getting a haircut anyway. Mmm nice job. I've just had a haircut in Timbuktu!!!

Hamma then leads Den, Ros, Mike, Sam & I through dusty, sandy streets to a tin shed."You can pick the material and the tailor will measure you up...the outfits will be ready tomorrow before we go to the Festival in the Desert. He's already made mine...I rang ahead...I will look like a prince...and you all will look...fantastic."

Back at our hotel...the buzz preceding the Festival...VIPs arriving...musicians aplenty...one of the overseas acts offers to attend and perform at our wedding.

Meet the other two 'From Here 2 Timbuktu' groups & Aly's group...all looking forward to the wedding. Skee will be our wedding photographer with my camera & Ashley our videographer with my handycam...looking good.

Day 2 of the Festival...my wedding day. Crawl out of my sleeping bag. Guy calls me to meet the Tuareg Chief who wants to go through the arrangements with me...into the communal goatskin tent. Meet Mamayti the Chief, an older Tuareg & his wife. Guy, Joannah & me...Mamayti is running the show...Joannah folding her lists up in resignation.

"We will lend you special Tuareg ornaments to make it authentic...you will ride out on camels after the heat of the day...say 4.30pm...and come back at 5pm for the wedding ceremony."

Mamayti advises the price for the Tuaregs for our festivities...OK we all benefit...I pay the price.

Immediately Tuaregs start clearing our encampment...laying benches...mats...expectation building.

A man walks into our encampment..."Excuse me ...Are you David Hooper?" Blow me over with a feather...its Peter Jensen...a classmate from high school in Sydney 40 years ago. So...of course...I invited him to our wedding!

At 4pm I'm out of our tent & getting dressed...into my cerulean bou bou...Tuaregs gather around in their finery...one does my royal blue turban...another the traditional headpiece...another a sword...camel whip...the women dressing Denise...no mirrors...but I think we're ready.

Ros & Sam looking magnificent in their African dresses and headpieces grinning from ear to ear take one arm each and lead me to my bride...Denise stunning in her electric violet blue dress with headpiece...with Guy in full white bou bou...Hamma in his princely outfit...Mike in the bou bou he bought in Djenne & turban from Timbuktu...Julia in her finery...the rest of our encampment group...heaps of Tuaregs...and the Tuareg women start drumming and trilling...sword-dancers...Skee & Ashley filming the lot...foreign press...others...wow this is quite a show!

Four camels await...for Den, Guy, Mamayti & me...through a tunnel of swords...mount & ride off into the desert to the sound of the band & cheering ringing.

A Tuareg running beside my camel trying to make a sale...you are kidding..."Not now...this is not an appropriate time... I'm too busy getting married." He backs off disappointed...he'll be back!!!

This is surreal...I've pulled this off...its actually happening. Dreams can become reality...time to go with the flow and enjoy.

Half an hour later we return. A large crowd has gathered...the word has got around...I have never seen so many smiling faces...time to party.

Den's headpiece was falling off...want to redo it...we are just swept by the tide...no time...pity as she thinks she looks like a pirate in the photos we saw later.

Guy, an English actor of stage and screen...in his finest performance...without him this would not be happening.

Dancing, dancing & more dancing. What a hoot. Then Guy calls the crowd in...exotic faces...masses of colour...masses of turbans...masses of cameras...masses of good vibes...wedding party assembles beside us...Aly is our maribou...our priest from Timbuktu...he has trained as such when younger.

Guy gives Denise away with flourish. I place the Tuareg wedding pendant around Den's neck...more dancing. Den places the large Tuareg cross I had bought a few days previous around my neck..."bizzou bizzou...kiss..kiss"...and we did...much to the titillation of the Tuareg women...shocked at the length of our pash...but why not...we

Sam, Julia, Ros & Mike
are having the time of our life!

Dancing, dancing & more dancing...Den & I strut our stuff...sword dancers...Guy & Hamma with their cloaks flying around them.

Time for the rings. A Mauritanian ebony ring is passed down the line...from Sam to Julia to Ros to Mike to me.

I raise my camel whip and declare to all & sundry,"I thee recommit for another 30 years to the woman who has been my lover, mate, friend & wife for 30 years...& the only woman in the World who would do so"...and place the ring on her ring finger...trilling...cheers.

A Dogon turtle ring is passed down the line...from Sam to Julia to Mike to Ros to Den.

Denise forever smiling raises her voice "David..I have cherished & loved you for over 30 years & I plan to do so for another 30 years...to love & care for you"...and places the ring on my finger...trilling... cheers.

"Bizzou bizzou...kiss..kiss"...and we did...just like before.

Many hands & hugs congratulating us...everyone smiling or crying...moved by the emotion of the occasion.

Aly explains that the Tuareg women will now take Denise away & educate her how to be a good Tuareg wife & the Tuareg men will educate me how to be a good Tuareg husband.

Ashley with the video has gone with Den, Ros & Sam...so I do not have a recording of the instruction to me. But Ashley was back when Aly approached me and said:

"The Tuareg women are sending you a message...they will not release Denise...they have hidden her...until you come to collect her with a camel...or a sheep...or the money to buy one."

This was definitely a surprise...I had paid the price (which was not insubstantial)."Was this the final sting?" I thought.

"What is expected?" I asked.

"Enough for a camel, a goat or maybe a sheep."

In one ear Aly whispered, "It's a joke. Offer something."

So I dropped my guard and called out, "I offer 3 camels."

Hamma whispered in my other ear, "This is serious. If you say 3 camels you have to buy 3 camels. Can you afford 3 camels?"

Alarm bells ringing...yikes!

"How about a sheep?"

"OK, offer a sheep."

I saw Peter Jensen's face in the crowd & pointed at him & said "He's a sheep. I offer him."

Peter was grabbed from the crowd & seated next to me where we had a good laugh.

What's going to happen next?

I was encouraged to pay some money. I protested I had already paid for the wedding but made a token offer.

Mamayti disappeared and returned... "Your offer is not acceptable"...yikes...

Seeing I was feeling cornered they changed tack.

"Where is the Best Man? Bring the Best Man."

Mike was told " As you are the friend of David in our culture the friend of David needs to raise some money & bargain with the women to get the wife back."

Mike looked perplexed...I tried to call out & signal to him but he was surrounded by Tuaregs and for the negotiations was on his own.

"How much do I need?"

"You need the money for one sheep....50,000cfa" (about 100 Aussie dollars)

Mike offerred 10,000cfa...the offer was put...Mamayti returned..."Your offer is rejected"....yikes.

Then after a lengthy pause "They say they will not give him a hard time to keep the wife from him...10,000cfa is too small...but better than nothing. They will accept it to give you your wife back."

Sounds of trilling & cheering as the Tuareg women with Denise approaching...Skee & Ashley running before them like sports photographers...waving a 10,000cfa note as if it is a prize...don't advertise it...making me feel "tight" for paying so little to get my wife back...

Hamma presents us with our Tuareg names...Denise is "Laila" & I am "Tabala".

Time to conclude the festivities...one last speech...

"On behalf of the Government of Australia, the Socceroos & all Aussies abroad, I thank our Tuareg friends..and Guy 'From Here 2 Timbuktu'...and the President of Mali" ...as a light plane circles our encampment a number of times..."and to our guide who has led us to this adventure, my second son Hamma"...hugs.."and all those adventurers who have come to Timbuktu for the Festival in the Desert...I congratulate & thank you all."

Mike steps forward itching to speak "As the Best Man I would like to thank the women of this tribe for accepting our meagre offer so David can have his wife back...as we otherwise would have had to have shared the same house with him...so......thank you to the ladies."

Many hugs...many to thank...some are crying "Thank you for allowing us to share this with you...it is the best gift you could have given us" and another more poignant "It is wonderful to hear after 30 years of marriage you have such nice things to say about each other".

...well thanks everyone... it was a hoot.

I'm knackered... I need a beer...so I spend the next hour drinking Tuareg tea until it was dark while my new Tuareg family tries their hardest to sell me a camel for 500 Euros...

"We will look after it for you...and when you come back you can spend time with it."

Sounds like a bargain to me...

Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave (who danced at his wedding...at the Festival in the Desert outside Timbuktu)

P.S. A special thank you to Skee & Kevin for the fabulous photos & Ashley for the superb videos of this unique event during which I was otherwise engaged...& Guy "From Here 2 Timbuktu" ...thanks guys.

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Additional photos below
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Sam & Ros looking magnificent

10th June 2011

What a fantastic experience!
19th June 2011

Thank you Shane for your feedback...I thought this blog that all my Mali blogs were leading to...had disappeared into the ether & not been seen...but I am now revived...I still laugh I pulled it off...dare to dream...then to do it..!
22nd June 2011

JUST INCREADIBLE WEDDING, Amazing experience I do agree it should be a highlight of the trip, what a wedding in the middle of desert I love it. Thank you & God bless you. Ermias Footprints Ethiopia Tours.
22nd June 2011

Thanks for the memories
Hi Dave and Denise. Lovely to hear your version of the spectacular events around your re-marriage at the festival. It was a pleasure to behold in reality and you have recaptured the excitement and the thrill of it once more. Fabulous, and moving and funny. Thank you. With love, Wren X
23rd June 2011

Fantastic, super, smashing, lovely!
Wow you guys - what an amazing experience (and so funny too). Congratulations and continue to enjoy each other. Love to you both from the Jacksons - hope to see you soon! xx
28th June 2011

Hey guys, what a hoot! Can not even begin to imagine the amazing experience you both have gone( still going?) through. I'm afraid you are not the same people we've met a while ago after this. LOVE the wedding, the colours ,the dance, the people! and so relieved to see Denise being released. Much love Paty & Norman
25th July 2011

As only you two could do.
When I listened to you tell us about your wedding ceremony one bushcare morning tea my mind went to a far off place way beyond my ken... but Dave the photos are even better. Denise and Dave what a life you two lead!
10th October 2011

YEP! That WAS a hoot!
thanks for sharing your Tuareg wedding! I was in Mali in 2007; loved it; going back soon. Again, thanks, made my day.
20th December 2011

This blog is a 2011 TravelBlog favourite!
Check this out, and feel free to add some 2011 TravelBlog favourite anythings of your own. :) http://www.travelblog.org/Topics/30521-1.html
9th January 2012

Married in more ways than 1.
This by far is my favourite photo! Lovely picture. Thanks for sharing.
9th January 2012

Yep...magic photo...magic locale...only gives a taste of how amazing Our Tuareg Wedding was...one of the best things I have done in my life...and it actually happened..!
19th January 2012

Thoroughly enjoyed
I thoroughly enjoyed your photos, I can tell you have such a quest for humanity. Also glad you liked Krakatau and Java.
20th January 2012

Mali was the wedding...Ethiopia the honeymoon...Java the after party. Watch this space..!
14th April 2012

If your 30th wedding anniversary/wedding is this fantastic. I\'m drooling with anticipation for your next anniversary. I\'m still convinced that you, not the guy in white, is Lawrence of Arabia.
14th April 2012

Our Tuareg Wedding...what a hoot...don't think we can out-do this one...the lovers...Tabala & Laila...glad you have met the happy couple.
4th May 2012

"Dreams can become reality"
So, so true! I laughed when I read the bit about the Tuareg trying to sell you something, remembering you re-enacting it at the TB party in KL :-) Warmest wishes to you both for the next 30 years of adventure!
5th May 2012

Seems like yesterday...it was an idea I watered...and like a desert flower...it bloomed and was glorious...yes...dreams can become reality...and oh so wonderful when they do.
14th May 2012

What a wonderful celebration!
What a wonderful celebration for you and Denise! So unique an experience for everyone. I should love to visit there one day .. and ride camels .. and dance in the sand : ) David, you look like you are bracing yourself for another trial when the "A ransom is required" stage occurred .. I could have been a robust discussion!! Well done and congratulations to you both. Best wishes, Michelle and Stewart. PS. Where is the next trip to be?
14th May 2012

And at Timbuktu...now you know why I disappear each Christmas...thanks Michelle & Stewart...to the couple that honeymooned in the Carribean...just click on my photo & you can access all my blogs...may inspire you for your next adventure...and may your dreams also come true..!!! Next trip...TBA.
18th December 2013

I think...
...you just elevated to the position of my hero! :-)
13th May 2014

Magic everywhere!
Magical photo, magical experience, magical life--well done!
15th January 2019

What are you going to do for your 50th?
I just came across this. This is amazing!
16th January 2019

What are you going to do for your 50th?
What a hoot, Tommy, what an adventure...no way we can top that! Still in touch with Guy & Mamayti. What to do for our 50th? Having just read this blog again with the memories flooding back I sit and wonder. Denise promises something special for our 40th sometime off. Gotta be something special...exciting...unique...never a dull moment with Denise...looking back.

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