Good Morning! With the 14th coming up fast on our heels, I thought it might be fun to have a look at Love and Marriage and many of the traditions of the American Indian of the past.
All tribes were different, of course. From customs to language, not all tribes did the same thing of even thought about things in the same way. But let’s have a look at a few of these traditions.
Many of the Western Plains tribes allowed for polygomy and the first wife was sometimes referred to as his “sits-beside-him-wife.” Often the husband married his first wife’s sister so as to make jealousy less. Sitting Bull had a problem concerning this, by the way, he had married his first wife and then married a younger, beautiful woman and brought her into his home. His first wife and this new wife could not get along and Sitting Bull found his life in constant strife. He ended up sending the second wife back to her parents — there was no stigma attached to this, by the way, for either him or her, just an interesting tidbit on polygomous marriage.
Bear with me — I’m going to try to fill this post with images of handsome, handsome, handsome native men, this being a day so close to Valentine’s Day. The Lakota had several different ceremonies that I have read about. One was tying the wrists of the groom and bride together, signfiying that the two people have become as one. Often, however, the bride and groom simply lived with one another and thereafter they were married.
There is a rumor that Native men “bought” their brides. Actually this was a misunderstanding perpetuated by traders and others who came into the West who didn’t bother to get their facts right. A man had to work had to get a woman. The girl’s father wasn’t going to let his daughter marry someone who was a slacker or lazy man who wouldn’t be able to take care his daughter. Therefore, it was up to the boy/man to show the father that he was worthy of his daughter’s hand in marriage. Thus he might present the father gifts to show that he was capable to taking care of the daughter. Whatever the case, the daughter had the right to say “no.”
Often parents tried to get their daughter to marry some distinguished man in the tribe. Sometimes she might consent in order to be a good daughter, but often, if she had her eye on some other man, she would refuse. Sometimes young couples took matters into their own hands and stole away by themselves, coming back to their tribe after several days. They were then married and each set of parents was expected to welcome them.
The Blackfeet had an interesting custom. Some parents were afraid of their daughter being stolen — in such cases they might “give” their daughter to an older respected man of the tribe as a “wife.” She was often very young (fourteen, fifteen) and he watched over her until the day came when she met and fell in love with some young buck. It was often so hard for the young men to win the favor of the parents that this was a satisfactory arrangement. The older gentleman would give the girl to the young man — sometimes, however, the marriages of the older man and younger girl lasted a lifetime.
The Cheyenne had an interesting custom of carrying the bride to the groom on a blanket, thus sealing the marriage. Also, a bride wasn’t expected to have relations with her new husband right away. Several days to even a week might pass where the couple got to know each other better, and the groom was expected to “sit it out.” Amongst the Cheyenne and the Lakota, where village life was often lived close to one another, a custom developed where the prospective groom placed his robe over the girl so that they could have a few words to each other in private. Sometimes, when a girl was beautiful and much desired, she might have a waiting line of suitors, and she would receive each beneath his robe. The rest of the tribe was supposed to ignore them and pretend that they weren’t there, thus giving them the needed privacy that is so essential in a romance.” On the eastern seaboard, love and marriage was a little different. Because these tribes were often run by the clan mothers, and women had complete and equal rights with the men, a man usually married only one woman.
Of course because a man was often gone from home so long on the hunt or at war or on diplomatic missions, he sometimes returned home to find that his wife had married another. In such a case, he was expected to let the matter go and to seek another wife elsewhere. And sometimes he found another wife on his many expeditions from home, and might come home, himself, with another wife, and just as he was supposed to let the matter go, his ex-wife was expected to do the same. However, there were many examples where the man and woman stayed married all their life.
You didn’t think I’d forget this picture, did you? Now one of the very interesting bits of information I’ve run across concerning love and marriage is amongst some of the southern Eastern Indians, where a woman was sometimes allowed more than one husband. Imagine… But this was definitely in the minority here in the Americas.
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this pictoral tour through Native America and love and marriage. Tell me, many of us have grandparents from other places and other countries. What customs do you know of concerning the boy and the girl — or perhaps I should say the man and the woman? So what do you say? Let’s share. Come on in.