We’re right of the middle of February, so I thought: what better time to talk about the ancient Cherokee love and marriage traditions that help hold our nation together. While they may be the typical love stories in modern culture of happily-ever-afters or white gowns and wedding rings, they are no less inspiring, lasting, and beautiful.
As with any great love story, it begins with meeting and courting your would-be partner…
The Courting And Proposal Phase
All of those who belong in the same clan are considered as near relatives. That means they cannot marry each other. In ancient times, intermarriage within the clan is forbidden. This is to help ensure that hereditary disorders or diseases were avoided.
In order to enter courtship, a Cherokee man has to be about 17 and a woman at 15. As we’ve mentioned earlier, they have to belong to different clans. The man has to seek consent from the woman’s parents and his parent’s as well. Marriages for Cherokees don’t only involve the individuals, it also involves the clans. That is why all marriages and courtships are to be negotiated carefully and should be first approved by the clans.
If the courtship or marriage is approved, it would be officiated by a priest. However, before that takes place, the priest would first gather two roots and place them on his hand while he prayed. If the roots moved together during his prayer, it means that the marriage would be happy and would be approved. On the other hand, if the roots didn’t move together, or if one root wilted faster than the other, it is considered a bad sign. This would lead the priest to forbid the marriage.
During the courtship, the man would also bring an offering of deer meat to the woman’s home or clan as a symbol that he can take care of her. Men were allowed to court one woman at a time, however, there were also polygamist marriages in ancient times. These instances include that of a man that marries his brother’s widow so that someone could take care of her. Additionally, he could also marry his wife’s cousin or niece for the same reason.
The Marriage Ceremony
The marriage took place at the council house. The groom is escorted to either the north or south open space while the bride is escorted to the opposite end. They meet in the middle where there is a sacred fire. The groom’s mother bears gifts symbolizing his ability to provide support for her. Such gifs would include the deer meat and a blanket. On the bride’s side is her mother who is also holding gifts like tanned skin and food.
The bride and the groom have blue blankets over their shoulders as a symbol that they are single. After the priest says prayers and blesses the couple, the bride will give the groom a black and red belt and the groom will put it on. The gifts from the mothers will be given to their children and they’ll exchange the gifts for each other. Finally, the couple will join the blankets, share a corn drink from a double-sided vessel. This vessel is broken by the priest to seal the wedding vows. The blue blankets are removed and a white blanket is wrapped over their shoulders.
The Death Penalty
Divorce is allowed but it doesn’t happen often. The blanket shared would be divided to formalize the divorce. What gets you the death penalty is the marriage between two members of the same clan. This death penalty is usually done by the members of the clan themselves. Later on, the death penalty was removed and the penalty for marrying within the clan was abolished.