Wedding ceremonies are an integral part of the human experience, and for most people are one of the highlights of their life. The importance of the occasion has led to many fascinating and unique cultural practices and traditions, rich in symbolism and history. In this article, we will explore the Native American Wedding Ceremony, the rituals involved, and how it relates to their roles within their communities and the greater world around them.
Native American Wedding Rituals
The wedding practices of a people reflect their history, philosophy, societal views, and culture, and Native wedding traditions are no different. The occurrence of marriage was typically a large event in terms of the impact on family dynamics, the distribution of power and tribal politics. Different tribes faced different circumstances and lived in different environments, and their ceremonies made use of the natural resources found within their lands. Political considerations, familial allegiances and diplomatic measures often played a big role in the determination of who one would marry.
Some different tribes include the Cherokee, Chippewa, Ottawa, Delaware, Algonquin, Huron, and Iroquois, all with different outlooks on life, political systems, and rituals. One aspect that was common to most tribes however is reverence to the Great Spirit- the spiritual lifeforce that pervades the world and is embedded in the fabric of all living beings. The Native Americans were very much in tune with nature and the earth, and their traditions reflected so.
Native American Wedding Ceremony Tribe Custom Differences
The Algonquin are a family of tribes which include the Ottawa, the Chippewa, the Ojibwa, the Cree, the Montagnais, and more. In order for a couple from one of these tribes to have a wedding ceremony, the groom and bride must have sponsors that will play a pivotal role in the wedding ceremony. Sponsors are typically older, and respected people in the community. These sponsors commit to the bonding of the groom and bride, and essentially, pledge to help them for life.
Algonquin wedding ceremonies themselves are, of course, conducted typically in the outdoors, though ceremonial huts were also an option. Algonquin’s views on marriage are that the couple is making a serious pledge to each other that can’t be broken.
The officiant of the wedding, who is the pipe carrier, ensures that the couple knows their pledge is to the creator and can’t be broken. Once he is convinced that the couple truly know their duties and the gravity of the situation, the bride and groom will make a declaration, accept tobacco from the pipe carrier, and finally smoke from the tobacco pipe*. Smoking from the tobacco pipe can be seen as analogous to the bride and groom kissing after their vows.
The Navajo wedding ceremony is performed inside a Hogan (home). Historically, there was a long process involving negotiations with both families before this ceremony would take place. The groom and his associates enter the Hogan first, going clockwise and sitting on the west side, facing the east. The bride then enters carrying corn mush in a basket and sits with her groom, while her family also enters clockwise and sits on the east side. The bride washes the groom’s hand and then vice versa in a symbolic act of purification.
Then the medicine man would mix some corn pollen in the corn mush, which the bride and groom would then eat. The mother of the groom would keep the empty basket, and finally, the Navajo wedding would conclude with advice given to the newlywed by tribal elders.
There are many interesting Cherokee Customs. The eldest brother of the bride acknowledges his role as a future uncle and promises to be a positive force to the children and educate them on the ways of the world.
At a townhouse, the bride and groom exchange an ear of corn and venison respectively, symbolizing their roles of being a dutiful wife and providing husband. The wedding party would then dance and feast for hours in a display of joy and happiness. A priest will then bless the couple at a sacred fire. The bride and groom are initially covered in their own blue blanket, which represents their prior life. The priest will take these off and cover them with one white blanket, symbolizing their current and future unity. The couple will then take a drink from a double-headed Cherokee wedding vase. If they can manage to do so smoothly and without spilling a drop, the marriage is said to be lucky. Cherokee wedding blessings are truly spectacular and symbolic.
The Apache have a tradition where the groom will come and live with the bride in a matrilocal fashion. The marriage is traditionally arranged, with the bride’s parents assessing the wealth, power, horses and other characteristics of the young man. Negotiations will go on, but once they are complete, the new couple performs no ceremony and simply begin their new life together. The famous ‘Apache Wedding Blessing*‘ did not originate from the Apache, but was a poem written for a movie.
The North Californian traditions had a unique spin on marriage, with having two separate statuses: a full marriage and a half marriage. Half marriages would take place when there were familial disagreements or the groom was not wealthy enough for a full marriage. For the Delaware tribe, marriages were said to be arranged. The Navajo purchased the bride from her family with horses and other valuable livestock. As you can see, there is more to a Native American wedding ceremony than most others with all of the differences in culture and traditions among the many tribes.
General Native American Traditions
Even with the mass diversity of tribes in America, there are some similar themes found within their wedding customs. Food is present at most traditional Native American Weddings. Staples such as corn, bean, squash, venison, fry bread may be served to guests. Tribes today face a choice; there are Native American wedding ceremonies that are strictly traditional to their customs, and there are Native American wedding ceremonies that do actually mesh with modern Western standards. There are also strong parallels; like mentioned previously with the Algonquin, sponsors take the place of the ceremonial status that bridesmaids and groomsmen normally have.
The attire for both the couple and guests are traditional, which is universal for all tribes. A Native American wedding ceremony in the current age often mingle with modern Western food for their ceremony, so there is some familiarity there, but there may not be familiarity with the fact that food is served at the ceremony typically.
Next, you might be wondering about specific rituals that are unique to a Native American wedding ceremony. One such example of these rituals is called smudging, which is the act of setting flowers chosen specially for the ritual ablaze, which is said to cleanse the couple while the smoke carries their shared prayers up above to their beloved creator. It is a Native American Tradition that espouses tranquility and peace for those present.
Another ritual you may not know about is the blanket ceremony; quilts or blankets that are uniquely handmade are worn by the couple getting married as a symbolic representation of coming together as one. You can expect music to be played live and that music can range from being loud and powerful, or very soft. Flutes, drums, rattles, and whistles are commonly present at these musical performances.
Native American history and culture is very rich, as we have just seen with how different a Native American wedding ceremony can be compared to other weddings. It is difficult to illustrate a picture without taking the many tribes into consideration. Even though they share many similarities, there are many differences as well, and we hope that it has been clarified. Normally, when learning about a unique wedding ceremony, religious or not, there are distinct differences and the story ends there. Here, we have many stories to tell, with all of the different tribes!
Have you ever attended a Native American wedding ceremony or will you be attending one shortly? Or perhaps you may need help planning one? Then you may want to consider Easy Event Planning for your wedding planning needs, where a Native American wedding ceremony can be planned fast and easily! There is a lot of possible customization to tailor your wedding to be the perfect one, unique to you and to family and friends. The surface has barely been scratched with how you could have your own, perfect wedding. If you enjoyed this blog check out our others at easyeventplanning.com! And if you are having a wedding, check out our wedding budget, wedding checklist, wedding ideas, wedding ceremony ideas, vow and speech ideas, and ideas for wedding flowers.
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Written by Jan Rojas