Navajo Weddings

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At the back of the fire a little to the north the groom is sitting. His relatives occupy a position near him north of the center and the rest of the space north of the fire is filled with women among whom we sit. The bride's relatives sit south of the center at the back of the hogan; men visitors occupy the rest of the southern semicircle. Soon the bride enters carrying a small bucket of sugar and a cup. Her close relatives, each bearing some kind of food in large quantity, follow her. The bride takes her place at the right of the groom; the food is placed before them. Then from a pail of water each of the betrothed dips a cup. The bride pours hers over the groom's hands. He washes them and pours water over hers. This continues alternately until both cups are empty. A basket of ceremonial gruel is now set before the young people. On it an old man of unimpeachable character has made a cross by sprinkling yellow pollen from east to west, south to north and around in a sunwise direction. Beside the basket is a dish of canned tomatoes which is a substitute for jam made of yucca fruit. After she washes her groom's hands, and he hers, the girl with her two first fingers takes a mouthful of the stiff mush from the east side of the basket, then two fingerfuls of the canned tomatoes. Her groom imitates her exactly as he does when she takes her next portions from the south, west, and north sides of the basket and finally from the center. After sampling it thus ceremonially the bridal pair eat all the mush in the basket and the relatives of both girl and boy fall to and feast on the many dishes of bread, mutton (boiled and roasted), tomatoes, and coffee. The feast is followed by several speeches.


From Spider Woman, A Story of Navajo Weavers and Chanters; By Gladys Reichard (Pgs. 134, 135)

When the wedding day arrived, we were late in getting started and so we missed the early morning rites when the hogan was blessed and the prayers for long life, happiness, and fertility had been sung over the young couple. There were the rites and prayers to banish all evil influences that might cause them trouble. Then they returned to the mother's hogan where the main part of the ceremony would take place. We arrived at midmorning and entered the hogan to find the young couple sitting with their backs to the west wall and dozens of friends and members of the two clans crowded into the room. The mother was nowhere to be seen as this family still adhered to the taboo that the bridegroom must never look his mother-in-law in the face on penalty of blindness. But we knew that she was in the nearby cookhouse where she could direct family procedure and observe all who came or went. We had interrupted the harangue of one of the bride's uncles, who had been appointed by her parents to deliver the wedding sermon. In other words, he was to expound the law as to the conduct and responsibilities of a married couple. After about an hour of instructions directed at the young couple, he turned his attention to the other young people in the room and to their parents. After a period of respectful silence, a messenger was sent to the cookhouse to tell the, that the speech was finished and it was time to bring the water and the mush. A younger sister came into the hogan carrying a large wedding basket filled with corn mush, the corn meal used for making this having been ground by this sister suing a cornstone and a metate. Following her came another girl with a bowl of water and a gourd dipper. Now the bride's father sprinkled a line of white pollen on top of the mush from east to west and then another from south to north. After this he placed lines of yellow pollen parallel to the white lines. White was for the groom and yellow was for the bride. Then he mixed the two colors of pollens and drew a circle around the edge of the bowl to indicate long life for both the bride and the groom. When the medicine man had finished blessing the mush and the water, both the basket of mush and the bowl of water were placed directly in front of the young couple. The groom, using his forefinger and thumb, took a large pinch of mush from the center of the basket and the bride's hand followed his in taking mush from the same place. This was repeated in taking pinches of mush from the south, the west, the north, and lastly from the east. The symbolism of this meant that she would follow his lead in all things. Then the basket was handed to her relatives who helped themselves to generous pinches, and then passed it to the guests, so it was sampled by everyone in the hogan and finally came back to the medicine man who ate the last fragments. While the basket was being passed around, The bride picked up the ladle and dipped it into the bowl of water to pour over the hands of the groom, then he did the same for her, indicating that they were willing to assist each other in all endeavors. There were no towels for drying their hands but a small amount of white corn meal was sifted over the groom's hands and yellow corn meal over the bride's. The empty mush basket, the water bowl, and the ladle were taken out by the two girls who had brought them, Then the groom and the bride gathered up armloads of gifts that had been brought to the hogan, and went to the home that awaited them. The medicine man in charge of the ceremony went with them, carrying the whirling-stick with which to start the first fire in the new house. With cliff rose cotton and pine splinters handy, the medicine man squatted by the central fire pit, deftly twirling the fire arrow and chanting hogan blessing songs. As soon as a spark caught in the tinder, he handed it to the bride to place under the wood in the fire pit, for this was her house and this was her fire, and the wood must not fail to burn.

From Navajo Neighbors, By Franc Johnson Newcomb; (Pgs. 158, 159)

Nowadays the principal importance of clan is that of limiting marriage choices: one may never marry within one's own clan nor that of one's father, although the latter is not considered as incestuous as it once was. The Navajos still look upon incest and the practice of witchcraft as the most repulsive of crimes and marriage within your own clan is thought of as incest. The traditional Navajo wedding ceremony is a complicated and colorful affair. To a great extent marriages are still arranged by a prescribed order of events. Once a boy becomes of marriageable age - usually in his late teens - his father begins to survey the local families in search of a suitable girl. Of course, nowadays the son has often already found the girl of his choice and, in any event, he is consulted on the choice of his father as are the rest of the adult members of the biological and sometimes the extended family. If the father knows of no family that has a suitable daughter of marriageable age, he might consult his relatives. Sometimes the entire matter is handled by the potential groom's maternal uncle. A maternal uncle is honored as a second father and traditionally he disciplined and taught his nephews. When the father or uncle has decided upon a girl to which there are no objections within the family group, a member of the boy's family is appointed to go to the prospective bride's family and ask for her hand in marriage. Once it has been decided who will act as the boy's emissary, the matter of dowry is discussed. In the old days a boy's family would offer up to twelve horses and several sheep, contributed by various members of the family and even by the boy himself. Nowadays it is more usual for jewelry or other goods, which may include livestock, to be offered. It is still not unusual for the prospective groom and bride to be strangers; in rare cases they may not have ever seen each other. When the emissary from the boy's family arrives at the girl's home he states his business to her mother, her father and perhaps to a maternal uncle. It is the duty of the emissary to overcome all objections to the boy that might crop up and to make the dowry offer. The mother of the girl usually has the final word as to whether the offer is accepted. She may, however, leave the decision up to the father or any other respected member of the family. The prospective bride is usually consulted in the matter today but she seldom was in the past. Once the bride's family decides to accept the marriage offer, a date is selected which is always an odd number of days ­ five, seven, twenty-one or more ­ away. Once the offer has been accepted and the date of the ceremony selected, the boy's representative thanks the family and returns home to make his report. The Bride's family notifies friends and relatives of the coming wedding. They in turn, give them gifts of food to help feed the expected guests. Then they usually build a separate hogan for the wedding and in which the bride and groom will reside. On the morning of the wedding the girl is bathed and dressed in her best clothing. The wedding feast is prepared and all is put in readiness for the guests. Meanwhile, the bridegroom is likewise undergoing a ritual cleansing and is dressed in his best clothing. His party leaves home so as to arrive at the bride's home at sundown. When they arrive they place the dowry livestock in the corral and / or give the bride's maternal uncle the dowry previously agreed upon. The bride's family inspects the dowry to see if it is as promised. In a rare case they might find the dowry wanting, then the wedding is immediately called off. The groom's party retires to the wedding hogan. When he enters the hogan, carrying his saddle, he proceeds "sunwise" south around the fire and takes his place in the rear opposite the entrance. The remainder of his party follows him in and they take their prescribed places to the north of the groom. Meanwhile the bride's mother is preparing unseasoned corn mush which she must cook in a clay pot. When it is ready she places it in a ceremonial woven basket. The other women of her family are getting the feast ready. A wicker jug is filled with water and a gourd ladle is placed beside it. A special dish of meat is prepared for the bridal couple also. Once the repast is ready, a master of ceremonies who may be a respected Singer or some favored member of the bride's family, carrying a bag of corn pollen and the jug of water, leads the bride's precession to the marriage hogan. The bride walks behind him, carrying the corn mush. Other members of her party follow her, carrying the food for the feast. The mother still usually remains behind. Mothers-in-law are not supposed to look upon their sons-in-law. This taboo ­ what Lummis called the "mother-in-law joke" ­ intrigues white people who have searched for a hidden significance that really doesn't exist. Navajo children, playing outside the hogan, will still warn a visiting grandmother that their father is approaching and she will take her leave. It would be considered bad manners for her to remain, just as it would be considered such if her son-in-law visited her hogan unannounced. Perhaps the only explanation for this custom is that given me by a Navajo friend who said, "It avoids a lot of trouble in the family." The bride's party enters the hogan and they take their prescribed places on the south. The bride places the basket of corn mush in front of the bridegroom and takes a seat to his right. The master of ceremonies puts the wicker jug in front of the bridal couple and gives the gourd ladle to the bride. He pours water into it and tells her to pour the water onto the groom's hands. After he has washed his hands, the bride gives him the ladle and he in turn pours water on her hands while she washes them. The master of ceremonies then takes out his bag of corn pollen. The basket of mush is placed so that the termination of the weaving faces the east and the fire. He takes a pinch of pollen and sprinkles it from east to west over the mush, then from north to south. Next he makes a clockwise pollen circle around the basket. Turning to the guests, he asks if there are any objections to his turning the basket halfway around, which is symbolic of turning the minds of the bride and groom toward each other. After turning the basket, he tells the groom to take a pinch of the corn mush at the edge where the pollen ends at the East. The groom places the mush in his mouth and the bride does the same. Next, with the groom preceding, they take pollen from the South, the West and the North and finally from the center where the two lines of pollen cross, and eat it. When they have finished, the master of ceremonies tells everyone to start eating the wedding feast. The woven basket used in the ceremony is usually given to the groom's mother. When the feast has been consumed one of the visiting party makes a speech, thanking the bride's people for the food and for their reception and also for the gift of the fine daughter. Then the master of ceremonies or some other respected member of one of the families selected for that purpose instructs the bride and groom as to their required future conduct toward each other and their connubial duties. The latter is frank and uninhibited and of a nature that would prove most embarrassing to a white bridal couple were it given to them in the presence of friends and relatives. It is then suggested that the bride and groom stay in the hogan for four nights and four days, and the wedding party leaves. Pgs. 20-23

The Book of the Navajo; 1976, Raymond Friday Locke.

A. M. Stephen thus describes the wedding custom: "On the night set for the wedding both families and their friends meet at the hut of the bride's family. Here there are much feasting and singing, and the bride's family make return presents to the bridegroom's people, but not, of course, to the same amount. The women of the bride's family prepare corn meal porridge, which is poured into the basket. The bride's uncle then sprinkles the sacred blue pollen of the larkspur upon the porridge, forming a design. The bride has hitherto been lying beside her mother, concealed under a blanket, on the woman's side of the hogan (hut). After calling to her to come to him, her uncle seats her on the west side of the hut, and the bridegroom sits down before her, with his face toward hers, and the basket of porridge set between them. A gourd of water is then given to the bride, who pours some of it on the bridegroom's hands while he washes them, and he then performs a like office for her. With the first two fingers of the right hand he then takes a pinch of porridge, just where the line of pollen touches the circle of the east side. He eats this one pinch, and the bride dips with her fingers from the same place. He then takes in succession a pinch from the other places where the lines touch the circle and a final pinch from the center, the bride's fingers following his. The basket of porridge is then passed over to the younger guests, who speedily devour it with merry clamor, a custom analogous to dividing the bride's cake at a wedding The elder relatives of the couple now give them much good and weighty advice, and the marriage is complete." In Navaho ceremonies that I have witnessed the custom is somewhat different. The pollen is sprinkled and a pinch taken from each quarter and from the center by the shaman or medicine man and by him breathed upon and thrown to the corresponding cardinal points, N. W. S. E. and here, thus propitiating the powers of all the universe. Then, handing the bowl to the bride and bridegroom, they, in the presence of the assembled guests, begin at the point where the line touches the east, and each take a pinch of the porridge and eat it, the bride going one way and the bridegroom the other, until their fingers meet on the opposite side of the bowl. Then the marriage is complete, and the rest of the porridge is handed to the guests.

Mr. G. H. Pepper, of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, has seen a Navaho wedding ceremony conducted in a different manner from either of these described. On this occasion he learned that a little Indian girl was at the point of death, having been bitten by a rattlesnake while collecting pollen from growing corn. Pollen is the Navaho symbol of fertility, and its use in a marriage ceremony is naturally obvious. Although the child was so dangerously ill, Mr. Pepper says the marriage ceremony went on, regardless of her condition. A small amount of corn meal was taken and slightly moistened and then mixed together. This half dry, half wet meal was then sprinkled in four lines across the empty wedding basket, dividing it into four equal parts. At the end of each line a small ball of the meal was placed, as well as one in the center. This done, all was ready for the ceremony. The bridegroom, who up to this time had been outside the hogan with his friends, now came in and sat down. Then the mother of the bride brought to the groom a wicker or gourd bottle full of water, with which he advanced, and, as the bride held out her hands, he poured the water over while she washed them. This done, the bride took the water bottle and poured water over his hands. Now the couple sat down on the west side of the hogan, and in full view of all present. The bridegroom then took the wedding basket in his hands, holding it with the shipapu opening turned towards the east. Then, taking a small pinch of meal from the end of the line which terminated towards the east, he put it in the bride's mouth. The bride then took a pinch and fed the groom in like manner, after which groom and bride alternately took a pinch, each feeding it to the other, from each of the lines in succession, and finally from the center. This done, the ceremony was completed. In his preoccupation with the sick child Mr. Pepper does not remember whether the pinches of meal were taken from the lines beginning East and continuing North, West and South or the other way. It will be remembered that elsewhere I have called attention to the fact that as a rule the ceremonial circuit of the Indians of the Southwest is always East, North, West and South, which is describing a circle in the backward way from that generally followed by white men. Pgs. 36-37

Indian Basketry and How to Make Baskets; 1903, George Wharton James.

A maiden becomes a wife after a very simple ceremony. The young brave sends a close relative, usually an uncle, as intermediary to the girl's parents with an offer of gifts consisting usually of horses. If acceptable, toward evening of a set date the bridegroom appears at the girl's home, where many guests have gathered to participate in the feast. During the day, his parents have brought the horses and other gifts to the girl's home. Meanwhile the girl's parents have been busily engaged in the preparation of dinner for the wedding party. At the appointed hour the bridegroom enters the hogan first. Then follows the bride led by her father. Bride and groom sit on a blanket at the northwest side of the building. the bride's father sits or crouches nearby to wait on them. Before them is a basketful of plain corn gruel and a small jar of water with a gourd ladle. The relatives and friends file in next and sit on each side. When everyone is inside, the bride's father makes a cross over the top of the gruel by dropping white corn pollen from east to west and from south to north. Then he makes a circle around the whole from the east.

First the bride dips the ladle and pours water over the groom's hands; then the groom does the same thing for the bride. After they have washed their hands, the man dips his finger in the gruel where the line of pollen touches the circle at the east and eats a pinch of the gruel. The bride follows his example. Taking turns, both bride and groom continue eating pinches from different places - to the south, west, and north - where the pollen touches the circle. The wedding ceremony over, all present join in the feasting. The parents and other elders give advice for a happy married life. If a couple has been married for some time and things have not been going well and the wife wishes to divorce her husband, all she has to do, figuratively speaking, is to place his saddle outside the hogan. When he returns and sees it there, all he can do is to take it and walk away. He knows he is no longer wanted. But if the man wants a divorce all he can do is to leave home, as the children and practically all property belong to the wife. Pgs. 177-178

Navajos, Gods, Tom-toms; By S.H. Babington, 1950.

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