Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Ye'kwana Marriage Proposal

Last December my son proposed marriage to Noamy in the traditional Western way of offering a ring. A few months later, he and Naomy, acted out the Ye'kwana marriage proposal ritual.

In the Ye'kwana culture there are several necessary steps a young man must fulfill in order to receive a young maiden's hand in marriage. The first of which is to begin visiting her parents. If the parents seem receptive to these visits, the young man will then begin to arrive with gifts for the parents. Usually this will be game or fish. The parents may accept this with obvious expressions of gratitude, or merely accept them gruffly as a matter of course. The young man will watch closely and notice if they seem grateful or not, as this will determine his next move.

If the young man is encouraged by the attitude of the girl's father, he will then visit more often and stay seated longer and longer each evening around the family's fire pit. When he feels confident that his desires are known and have not been rejected, he will then perform the most important ritual of all...akin to purchasing a diamond ring!

He will watch the hut closely and choose a moment when no one is at home. Then he will stealthily sneak into the hut and string up his hammock among those of the other family members. Then he will leave. He will not return for at least a day, perhaps two or three.

When he does return, he will look carefully to see that his hammock is still strung up in the hut, for if his proposal of marriage has been denied he will find it cut down by a machete or even tossed outside of the hut. If , however, his hammock remains strung along side those of the family's, he will quietly move in and begin to live as a family member.

(This is only a re-enactment!)

This does not mean the couple is now married! Now they must appear before the tribal council, in the village round house where all the complexities of marriage will be discussed and debated.
It is important that the bloodlines of the two be examined carefully to verify that they are eligible for marriage.

They may marry as first cousins, but only if they be 'cross cousins'. This means that you may not marry your father's brother's kids. Your father's brother is also your 'father' and thus, his children are your siblings. Your father's sister is merely your 'aunt' and her children are your cousins and thus eligible marriage partners. The same is true in relation to your mother's sister, who is your 'mother', as opposed to your mother's brother, who is your 'uncle'.

Sometimes these ties are not obvious to everyone as first borns are often given to others to be raised, or a man may have wives and children in other villages who have been raised by another man. So all this must be made clear before any marriage is allowed.

Once the familial eligibility is approved, the witch doctors will begin to recall the history of each family in regards to the two young people. Certain shamans lines can not cross with others and the descendants of two powerful witch doctors will not be allowed to marry as that would place too much power in the off springs of the couple.

Once this has been discussed and approved, the couple will now be considered married. ( The Christian couple will chose to have this acknowledged before the God and the church.) If they were denied permission to marry, the young man must remove his hammock and will leave for an extended visit to another village, often to return for a visit as a married man.

Once a couple is married, the man moves to the girls village and lives with her family. The first born child will be given to the girl's parents to be raised by them. The child will become a sort of retirement plan for the older couple as they age and the youth is able to provide for them.

If a married woman is upset with her husband, she will rarely mention it to him verbally. The way to show the depth of her anger is to cut the strings of his hammock with a machete, preferably while he is asleep in it. This is culturally acceptable and brings great shame on the man in the community, which promotes better behavior in the future!

( Naomy playfully threatens to cut his hammock down!)

If the husband has been unfaithful, or comes home drunk once too many times, he best be prepared to find himself cut down in his sleep! I once watched a young wife carefully build a small fire under her drunk husband's hammock before cutting the strings with a machete!

I know!
I should have warned him...or taught her about patience...
but who am I to mess with their culture????


Yekwana Man said...

That is one girl who would never cut down his hammock rope. The wedding proved that.

Pam said...

How funny! So is that a hammock Josh presented to her family?

Keeping the rules of whom is allowed to marry whom in the Yekwana tribe is a bit confusing to me!!!

Amanda said...

I need to know more about the married couples giving their firstborn children to the mom's parents to raise. So does the child think of its mom as its sister? Do the moms have a hard time doing this? Do they stay involved in its life? So many questions!

Jungle Mom said...

I will try and answer your questions in an upcoming post as I find time, OK???

Jane said...

How interesting. I love when you share from your experiences. I learn so much. In the first picture, was that couple getting married???? The girl looks about 12!!!

The Merry Widow said...

You know, it's good for a man to respect his wife...my late used to "push" the line to see if I was strong enough...my comeback(said sweetly, with a smile)was, "I know where the iron skillets are kept. Which size do you want permanently imbedded in your head?"
That would crack him up!
The lines of respect run both ways, for the health of the relationship. What man wants a weak woman?


Happymama said...

Naomy looks like she's cutting down his hammock...so what'd he do?



Vanessa said...

Hey There!

That made for some interesting reading! Thank you for sharing the culture with us.

Just wanted to say HELLO! I have not been posting much recently, but I'm working on that. :-) So please stop in if you get a chance.


Bar Kochba said...


WomanHonorThyself said...

ty for the great lesson!..if he cheated or drank excessively..he'd have more than his hammock cut..LOL

Bob said...

Great story! Thank you for taking the time to tell us about it.

Findalis said...

Isn't it strange that the most "primitive" cultures have the greatest ties to family and community and our "advanced" culture ignores this requirement of society?

Today it is out of place for a young man to ask a young woman's father (let alone her family) for the privilege to marry a girl. It's a shame. For as the Ye'kwana know, marriage isn't just a bond between a man and woman (and only a man and woman), but also a joining of families.

Thank you for sharing. She was a beautiful bride.

Sarah Joy said...

Thank you! I read in an archaeologist magazine (Don't remember which one, sorry) that hanging up the hammock in the house of one's intended was all it took to get married. I guess they didn't understand the culture.

I really enjoy reading your observations of the Ye'kwana culture. You are an expert for real, and also have a genuine respect and love for them.

Thursday's Child said...

Thanks for the social studies lesson. It's always fascinating to learn more about it.

So, what did he do? Already!

Jungle Mom said...

Naomy and Josh were only role playing. He was not in real trouble!!!!LOL!

~K~ said...

What is the average age for a couple to get married there?

Rebecca said...

OK I am totally LOVING the way the woman shows the man her annoyance.

Starla said...

LOL!!! The last part was so funny.

Anonymous said...

That's a great tradition. Thanks for sharing that.

Harry said...

The Ye'kwana obviously take marriage a lot more seriously than some in our society. I assume that eloping to Vegas to be married by an Elvis impersonator wouldn't cut it with the Ye'kwana.

The Localmalcontent said...

I like the proposal ritual of these people.

Ya know, it should be a formal thing, and involving the whole family, instead of sudden disasterous moves we see today.

Excuse me; I have much reading here to catch up on.

Mountain Mama said...

It seems the cutting of the hammock rope has fascinated us all. In my situation, I can think of a few times I would have been justified, according to tribal rules. However I don't believe my Ex would have seen it that way.
I must say I wouldn't give my first, second, third or any of my born children to anyone. Good thing I am not of that tribe.