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  • Writer's pictureTribes Team

Did your ancestors have arranged marriages and what can we learn from that history?

Updated: Jan 20, 2020

What can we learn from our arranged marriages of the past in our modern day dating processes and eventual marriage of the right life partner? This article is to get conversation going. The questions that came up when I asked that question to my extended family include what is an appropriate age to date serious?, how long and how dating should occur before a serious relationship happens?, is monogamy and commitment traditional?, how does one identify the bad habits that usually are not apparent at first?, Why should marriage even be the goal? How do you get over traditional taboos such as jealousy and envy?. The conversation also made clear that everyone comes with flaws and you have assess what is most important to you and what you are willing to put up with. But that you should definitely listen to your family and friends views on your potential partner. The impetus for this article and conversation was my mom who loves to tell stories of my own great grandparents and elders and their amazing lives. Most had arranged marriages following the Navajo traditions. They all had very colorful lives and definitely lived lives of adventure. Most had arranged marriages all occurring for various reasons and even with age differences. In some cases the bride was younger and in some, the groom was younger. The one important outcome is that most of the arranged marriages stood the test of time and challenges.

The basis of their arranged marriages occurred with several considerations: To evaluate the bride or grooms family to ensure fit in values, affluence, and spirituality.

The bottom line was to assure the family unit’s survival and growth. So they used measures such as if the new groom candidate knew how to take care of livestock, build a home, sing songs. Whether the potential bride knew how to cook and keep a good home. What were their parents like? Do they have nice homes that contain love, laughter, honor and teachings,

In the olden days, as you can see it was also a marriage of families. After all the evaluations were done and a positive go ahead given, a dowry was agreed upon for the groom to offer for the bride. His whole family helped fulfill this dowry payment. Again, remember this is also a marriage of 2 families. The groom’s family would bring the dowry which many times included livestock to the bride’s family and come in on horseback. They would setup camp and celebrate the new union for several days. Again, the evaluation and approval between families had occurred and there was a high level of confidence in the new union. So it was common for other new romances to spring up during this multi day celebration. There was also a lot of food required to feed what could be a large visiting family. Thus the dowry kept the bride’s family whole.

The groom would settle with the bride’s family in keeping with our matrilineal values. They would help grow the family.

We can learn more from what they agreed was a good man and women. The man must be able to provide food through farming and hunting, to build a traditional home and livestock pens using harvested logs and architecture, on the path to know medicines and ceremonial knowledge to care for family, to be strong and industrious so the family is always prepared for winter and summer, to be honorable among other men and hopefully even be a spokesperson. The man had to be strong, brave but also kind and patient.

The women has to be able to take care of the home, to cook, make rug blankets if possible, know ceremonies and teachings, be honorable among other women, to be a leader for the family and offer major decisions on when to move the herd or migrate the family, to merge herds with extended family for a season, to raise and protect children. The women had to also be loving and offer a healing space for her partner.

Of course its not realistic to expect this type of arranged marriage in today’s fast attraction based worked but a young man or women can discern some good things from these old processes.

They need to use the lens of past families and look for the right values. Attraction should only be part of it. Dating should be a contribution from both and not one sided. You can see a lot by how an individual keeps their home, relations with their family, how they take care of themselves, how giving they are. Of course nowadays, both usually have careers and much more time for hobbies and socializing. These are learning opportunities. Be wary of that person that doesnt have interests nor takes care of themselves, that has poor relationships with their own family, that has a continual negative attitude, that doesn’t respect spirituality and honor. Be wary if you are always paying for dinner or entertainment and somehow never get a home cooked meal or a load of wood. Think about how they will take care of you, your home and family.

You can still honor the systems of the past and involve your family even if just as a symbolic gesture. Dont let your families take this too far as times have changed and the groom’s family is no longer camping for days like the past. This is not about materialism and of showing off.

With that short bit of wisdom, we at wish you only success in your pursuit of the perfect partner and hope we added a bit of insight for good decision making.

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