The Native American tribes had rather unique wedding traditions and lifestyle, in general. That’s why first European settlers couldn’t understand the Native American culture and people for a long time. They simply had too many differences. For example, the Native American people were matrilineal, so there were no dowry and no father giving away his daughter – women weren’t a possession. Divorce was a normal thing among the Native Americans, initiated by wives – all they had to do was put the husband’s belongings out of their home. These are just a few Native American marriage traditions, there are many more.
The Crane Dance
Native Americans had an interesting tradition of young people meeting their potential future spouses. There was no courtship as we know it today. Instead, communal courtship was practiced. Young boys and girls who were ready for marriage got together at a ceremonial party. They danced, talked, observed each other – all this was under the elders’ and parents’ supervision. So, the young couldn’t get too intimate at such gatherings. This ritual of getting to know each other was called the “Crane Dance”. And it could last for a few days. The details and rules differed from one tribe or one community to the other, but the main idea was the same.
When going to such a party, young Native Americans did a thorough prep. Women dressed in bright and beautiful clothing (usually made by their own hands, so they could show off how skillful they were), adorned themselves with feathers and hand-crafted jewelry, etc.
If a young man met a girl he liked during the ritual of meeting, the first thing he did was talking to his mother about the girl. He needed the approval of his mother to start dating (or rather start the wedding ceremony, as Native Americans didn’t actually date). As we’ve already mentioned, the Native American people were matrilineal, so women made a lot of decisions, and men were taught to trust the women’s decisions. But this doesn’t mean that Native American men were stupid or weak, it’s just every person had their responsibilities and abilities.
Ritual with candle
After the young man got the blessing from his mother to court a certain girl, he waited till midnight and went to the lodge where the girls spent the night. He lit a candle and shone a light in this girl’s face to wake her up. If she also liked him and was happy to see his face behind the candle, she would blow out the light. After this, the wedding process began.
In case the girl didn’t like the boy, she didn’t blow out the candle. And he had some time to try to win her affection. Often, he would use a courting flute – he would sit outside of the cabin and play romantic music in hope that his skill impressed her. The next night, he would go and light a candle in front of her face once more. But only the woman decided if she wanted to marry him, no one could force her.
Another way to win a beloved girl for a Native American young man was to present her with a special courting blanket. When he told his mother about the girl he fell for and got her blessing, he also received a hand-woven blanket made by said mother for this occasion. And then, he came to the girl in front of everybody and wrapped her in this blanket whispering words of affection.
Soon after the boy and girl met and liked each other, a marriage ceremony was performed. People didn’t date for months or years before popping the question, like we do today. They started life together, got wed.
There were various wedding rituals performed in different tribes and communities. For example, the wedding vessel ritual and wedding blanket ritual.
Also, you can find more info about Native American divorce, arranged marriages, and other wedding traditions here: Navajo wedding traditions. Major issues of Native American wedding.