Manataka American Indian Council
|ON THIS PAGE||Fire Ceremony|
|Basket Ceremony||Matrimonial Customs|
|Blanket Ceremony||Navajo Baskets & Pottery|
|Ceremony of the Rings||Planning an Indian Wedding|
|Cherokee Wedding Attire||Rite of the Seven Steps|
|Cherokee Wedding Prayer||Wedding Vase Ceremony|
|ON OTHER PAGES||Northern California Tribes|
|Algonquin Weddings||Wedding Dresses/Regalia|
|Delaware Traditions||Wedding of the Cat and Mouse|
|Manataka Questionnaire||Wedding Vase Story|
|Old Cherokee Weddings||Yaqui Wedding Ceremony|
We are proud to make these humble pages available to lovers – people who are planning the most important event in their lives – a sacred Native American Indian wedding ceremony.
Material utilized for these pages was gleaned from myths, legends, books and tribal elders. This presentation is not a definitive work on the subject of traditional Indian wedding ceremonies, but a broad overview of selected highlights of the simple yet beautiful wedding ceremonies of the People of the Land. We pray for your happy marriage. We wish you a wonderful, beautiful wedding ceremony.
"God in heaven above please protect the ones we love.
We honor all you created as we pledge our hearts and lives together.
We honor Mother Earth and ask for our marriage to be abundant
and grow stronger through the seasons.
We honor fire - and ask that our union be warm and glowing with love in our hearts.
We honor wind - and ask we sail through life safe and calm as in our father's arms.
We honor water - to clean and soothe our marriage– that it may never thirst for love.
All the forces of the universe you created, we pray for harmony and true happiness,
as we forever grow young together. Amen."
Members of the same clan were considered to be near relatives who were not allowed to intermarry. This law was strictly enforced with death or public whipping of the offending families. In ancient times, Indians seldom married a second time. The only second marriages considered honorable were those involving a brother’s widow.
Permission to marry was essential from the family of the woman. Many times the priest must give his permission as well. The bride’s brother would exchange gifts of clothing and ornaments with the groom as a symbolic act of joining the two families. Among many tribes, the suitor would supply the woman’s family with food or provide services from the time of the marriage proposal to the time of the wedding. Often times, a maiden could not refuse if the parents approved the match and the suitor gave gifts or services.
A young woman experiencing her first menstrual period was separated from the family and all others and placed in a vacant lodge a short distance away. During this time no person was allowed to touch her, and she was not allowed to prepare her own food. At the end of seven days she washed herself, her clothing and everything she had touched and returned to her family. She was now eligible to be married.
(The practice of separating women during their "moon-time" from the larger group was not because they were thought to be unclean, but rather their strong Mother Earth energy during this time required quiet solitude and reflection as their bodies gave sacred offering back to the earth. It was also a good health practice because some women are more susceptible to illness during their moon-time and require more rest.)
Indian marriages were considered a contract for life. Although divorces were not common, they did occur. The only formality required was the dividing of the marriage blanket. If a person was disloyal, the offending person was usually publicly whipped by the women. In the case of an offending wife, all her possessions were removed and she was turned out of the lodge. When separations were mutually agreed to and the marriage blanket was split, the couple’s property was equally divided and the children were provided for by the mother.
A priest or spiritual leader could not marry a widow, a divorced woman or a woman of bad character. Among many tribes, the marriage of a priest was approved by seven counselors. The wife of the priest must be a virgin of unblemished character. The position of wife of a priest held great honor and often times she was expected to take his place in case of his death until another priest could be appointed.
It was a common practice among many indigenous people that the groom went to live in the lodge of the bride's family after the wedding ceremony. Some clans built a new lodge for the couple in the village of the bride near her mother’s lodge.
The groom was subservient to the bride’s mother and obeyed her every wish. It was his responsibility to provide food, shelter and protection for the wife’s family.
Honeymoon trips were not common. However, families of the couple often provided food and plenty of space and time for the newlyweds to be alone for a period of time after the wedding.
Newlyweds were expected to perform certain acts of charity and service for the village to reinforce the habit of giving between themselves and the larger family. Gifts of food and clothing for widows and children were common. Gifts of tools, adornments and weapons were expected by some societies.
STEP 1: Determine those customs and traditions that have meaning to you and make them a part of your special day.
STEP 2: Select a site to hold the ceremony. Possibilities include chapels, or other spiritual places, historical landmarks, Indian monuments or reservations. Don’t forget, nature provides some of the most spectacular and beautiful wedding chapels on Mother Earth - the greatest of all cathedrals ever built. Consider being married at beautiful Manataka, located at Hot Springs National Park and the resort city of Hot Springs.
STEP 3: Choose a prayer that you would like to have read at the ceremony.
STEP 4: If desired, couples may write their own wedding vows. Do not wait until the time of the wedding to do so. Begin now to think about the perfect words that will bind you together for eternity. The words should be well thought out, heartfelt and agreed to by both parties. The words may be composed by the couple, taken from traditional ceremonies according to the couple's religious beliefs, or the vows may delivered by the spiritual leader.
STEP 5: Arrange a date and time with the officiating elder and civil officials far in advance. Get it in writing. Send a letter confirming arrangements and check back occasionally. Manataka offers both civil and traditional in one ceremony.
STEP 6: Arrange to have someone play an Indian Love Flute. Legend says that this flute, similar to modern flutes and piccolos, is carved out of cedar wood, holds the power of attraction and was used to enhance courtship. If possible, arrange to have someone play traditional Indian drum. In lieu of live music, Native America Indian music CD’s are readily available today. Keep the music soft and earthy. Powwow drum music is great, but not entirely appropriate at a wedding until the reception party begins.
STEP 7: If you plant to invite guests, compose a mailing/telephone/email list. You may include guests from the immediate and extended families, friends, co-workers and neighbors and other community members of both the bride and groom to celebrate the marriage.
STEP 8: Prepare decorative baskets to hold gifts.
STEP 9: Determine and prepare wedding attire.
STEP 10: Arrange to have three blankets available (two blue and one large white).
STEP 11: Arrange for gifts for the officiating elder(s), mothers and other special guests.
STEP 12: Important: Do not forget about the marriage license! Marriage laws vary from state to state, so check with your county or parish clerk's office now. In most states, both parties must appear in person at the clerk's office. Remember to bring your birth certificate and other forms of identification when applying. You must apply for a marriage license in which the state you will be married.
STEP 13: Consider pre-marriage counseling. In the old ways, the elders were responsible for helping insure a marriage would be strong, appropriate and a life long commitment. Today, modern society often ignores the wisdom of the elders, and as a result, divorce is all too common. Pre-marriage counseling by one of our elders is required if you plan to be married at Manataka. Throughout the years, not a single divorce has occurred in a marriage made at Manataka.
STEP 14: Take a deep breath, close your eyes and dream of a beautiful tomorrow!
Remember, Indian weddings were simple, yet elaborate ceremonies. Simple because not a lot of preparation was necessary for the location. Nature provides its own flowers and beauty. Elaborate because of the importance placed on sacred vows, tradition, and prayer.
CHEROKEE WEDDING ATTIRE
As relatives and friends followed, the couple entered the sacred council fire area. The bride wore a white dress and white moccasins, usually made from deer or elk skins. The groom wore a roe-colored ribbon shirt, black pants and moccasins.
In colonial times, Cherokee homes had no scissors so women tore pieces of fabric into either squares or rectangles to make their dresses. As calico and other fabrics became available to the Indian ribbon shirts, "tear" dresses became popular.
The couple was wrapped in blue blankets that represented their old ways of weakness, sorrow, failures and spiritual depression. Relatives followed them to the sacred fire.
A holy man blessed the union and all those present. The couple exchanged baskets. The groom’s basket contained meat and skins representing his promise to feed and clothe the bride. The bride’s basket was filled with bread and corn representing her promise to nurture and support her new husband.
The couple then shed the blue blankets and are enveloped by relatives in a white blanket representing their new ways of happiness, fulfillment and peace.
Stomp dancers performed for the couple and a prayer of continuance was said to end the ceremony.
Note: In today’s wedding ceremonies, if the holy man blessing the wedding is not licensed by the state in which the ceremony takes place, a civil ceremony following the Indian religious ceremony may be needed to meet legal requirements.
See Wedding Regalia by Silversmith
The Rite of Seven Steps
The Rite of Seven Steps is a beautiful and meaningful wedding ceremony. The origins of this ceremony are traced to tribes in different parts of the continent and cannot be attributed to any one nation or language group.
Both bride and groom take seven steps sunwise (clockwise) around the sacred fire. For each step taken, a vow is said by each. The groom makes one step forward and says a vow, and then the bride takes a step to join him and says her vow until one round around the fire is completed. Family and friends join hands in a circle around the fire.
A variation of the Rite of Seven Steps ceremony has the couple exchanging gifts after each step to signify each vow given. Example: kernels of corn represent fertility and growth, a feather stands for truth and loyalty, a stone stands for strength, solidarity and wisdom. The vows shown below are only an example of words that may be recited; however, you should consider writing your own vows.
GROOM STEP 1: O’ my beloved, our love has become firm by your walking one with me. Together we will share the responsibilities of the lodge, food and children. May the Creator bless noble children to share. May they live long.
BRIDE STEP 1: This is my commitment to you, my husband. Together we will share the responsibility of the home, food and children. I promise that I shall discharge all my share of the responsibilities for the welfare of the family and the children.
GROOM STEP 2: O’ my beloved, now you have walked with me the second step. May the Creator bless you. I will love you and you alone as my wife. I will fill your heart with strength and courage: this is my commitment and my pledge to you. May God protect the lodge and children.
BRIDE STEP 2: My husband, at all times I shall fill your heart with courage and strength. In your happiness I shall rejoice. May God bless you and our honorable lodge.
GROOM STEP 3: O my beloved, now since you have walked three steps with me, our wealth and prosperity will grow. May God bless us. May we educate our children and may they live long.
BRIDE STEP 3: My husband, I love you with single-minded devotion as my husband. I will treat all other men as my brothers. My devotion to you is pure and you are my joy. This is my commitment and pledge to you.
GROOM STEP 4: O’ my beloved, it is a great blessing that you have now walked four steps with me. May the Creator bless you. You have brought favor and sacredness in my life.
BRIDE STEP 4: O my husband, in all acts of righteousness, in material prosperity, in every form of enjoyment, and in those divine acts such as fire sacrifice, worship and charity, I promise you that I shall participate and I will always be with you.
GROOM STEP 5: O’ my beloved, now you have walked five steps with me. May the Creator make us prosperous. May the Creator bless us.
BRIDE STEP 5: O my husband, I will share both in your joys and sorrows. Your love will make me very happy.
GROOM STEP 6: O’ my beloved, by walking six steps with me, you have filled my heart with happiness. May I fill your heart with great joy and peace, time and time again. May the Creator bless you.
BRIDE STEP 6: My husband, the Creator blesses you. May I fill your heart with great joy and peace. I promise that I will always be with you.
GROOM STEP 7: O’ my beloved goddess, as you have walked the seven steps with me, our love and friendship have become inseparable and firm. We have experienced spiritual union in God. Now you have become completely mine. I offer my total self to you. May our marriage last forever.
BRIDE STEP 7: My husband, by the law of the Creator, and the spirits of our honorable ancestors, I have become your wife. Whatever promises I gave you I have spoken them with a pure heart. All the spirits are witnesses to this fact. I shall never deceive you, nor will I let you down. I shall love you forever.
The Blanket Ceremony is among the oldest and best loved traditions.
Two blue blankets used in the ceremony represent the couple's past lives that may have been filled with loneliness, weakness, failures, sorrow and spiritual depression.
The couple are wrapped in the blue blankets and their relatives follow them to the sacred fire circle. After the spiritual leader blesses the union the couple then shed the blue blankets and are enveloped by relatives in a single white blanket representing their new ways of happiness, fulfillment and peace.
Under the white blanket, the couple then embrace and kiss.
The white blanket is kept by the couple and often displayed in their home. It is the same blanket that is some times split in half if the marriage goes sour.
Ceremony of the Rings
Most indigenous peoples did not smelt stone into metal for use in decorative objects. Thus, it is doubtful our ancient ancestors used rings in their wedding ceremonies, but the practice has found favor among many today.
Today, the passage to the status of husband and wife is marked by the exchange of rings. These rings are a symbol of the unbroken circle of love.
Love freely given has no beginning and no end, no one giver and no one receiver for each is a giver and each is a receiver. May these rings always remind you of the vows you have made.
The Fire Ceremony is symbolic of the separate lives of the couple and the union of One accomplished by this beautiful and exciting ceremony.
A fire circle is built with high sides made of stones. Seven types of wood are specially cut from specific types of trees by a priest or spiritual leader. The wood and fire circle are blessed with prayer and song ceremonies.
Three separate fires are prepared in the sacred fire circle. One large fire prepared in the center of the Circle represents the Creator and the holy union of two people. Two smaller fires are prepared, one in the north and one in the south that represents the bride and groom who have individual lives before the wedding ceremonies. Tobacco, sage, sweet grass and corn are sprinkled on the respective fires by the spiritual leader, bride and groom as prayers are given and songs are sung.
The bride and groom each offer a prayer (aloud or silently) as the two small fires are lit. After both fires burn for a few moments, the bride and groom gently push their two small fires into the large stack of wood in the center which catches fire. All sing praises to the Creator as the two lives are merged into one holy union.
Symbolic of a time when large dowries were sometimes required by the families of the bride and groom, the practice of exchanging baskets filled with meaningful gifts.
For example, the bride's basket to the groom was filled with bread and corn representing her promise to nurture and support her new husband. The groom's basket contained meat and skins representing his promise to feed and clothe the bride.
Usually, the Basket Ceremony is performed prior to the Wedding Vase Ceremony.
WEDDING VASE CEREMONY
To celebrate the wedding ceremony indigenous people of the Southwest and Southeast used a pottery jar or pot with a handle on each side and two spouts, called a 'wedding vase'.
The vase is filled with water or herbal teas and the couple drink from each side as a toast to their union.
The couple first drink from one side, then the vase is turned and each sip from the other side. Finally, the both drink from the vase at the same time. It is said if the couple can drink from the vase at the same time and not spill a single drop, good understanding and a cooperative spirit will always be a part of their marriage.
Navajo and Pueblo
Baskets and Pottery
For traditional weddings, along with extended families of the bride and groom, the community gathers together with an officiating elder at the center of the sacred circle.
Decorative baskets holding corn (a fertility symbol as well as a traditional food) are presented to the couple. Both Navajo and Paiute weavers create willow wedding baskets to hold cornmeal for blessing or prayers. Baskets and pottery made from a wide variety of materials were used as practical gifts in the wedding ceremonies by indigenous people all across the continent. Often, baskets and pottery were decorated with ornate designs and symbols and were filled with food and supplies for the new home.
Also in the Southwest and Southeast, a pottery jar or pot with a handle on each side and two spouts, called a 'wedding vase', is filled with water or herbal teas and the couple drink from each side as a toast to their union.
The opening of the ceremonial baskets is always directed toward the East, a sacred direction from which no harm is supposed to pass. The Navajo family system is traditionally matrilineal, so, in the past, when a man is married, he went to live with his wife and her parents.
Wedding of the Cat and Mouse
Native American Courtship and Marriage Traditions
by Leslie Gourse
A specialist in music biographies and jazz histories, Gourse here sets off in a new direction with a treatment of love, courtship, marriage, and family traditions among several North American tribes, including the Hopi, Navajo, Iroquois, and Oglala Sioux. She describes old traditions and their evolution during modern times, and provides hints for brides and grooms who would like to incorporate these customs into their wedding ceremonies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR. Hippocrene Books, Inc. Hardcover, 119pp. $14.95
KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS?
Give a gift with a thousand beautiful memories.
The most important event in one’s life is the marriage ceremony.
A beautiful wedding at the sacred Manataka
will make those vows even more beautiful.
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