Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 29

Chapter VII

On Matrimony

The usual custom of these Indians in selecting and obtaining their wives, was as follows:--When one of them was inclined to marry, and having seen one with whom he was particularly pleased, he kept loitering about her place of residence, until opportunity offered to communicate, in secret, the wish of his heart: generally after this style: "I wish to wed with you," or, "We are to be married;" and the reply of the fair one, invariably, was, "It is well." "I will inform my parents, and you shall know." The girl then gave the information to her father and mother, and if the proposal were agreeable, the suitor was admitted to the house as a visitor.

Others proceeded after this manner:--They employed a third person to ascertain from the girl, if the proposal would be agreeable to her, and if so, the assent of the parents was solicited. In many cases the old men or women of the town made up the marriages, and after communicating with the parents of the girl, she was summoned to their presence and addressed as follows--"You are to marry so and so: you will be happy, because he is an excellent young man, and will have plenty to eat, and other things, for he knows how to kill the deer, rabbits, and other game." Others went direct to the parents of the girl to solicit their consent, and, if obtained, they were presented with some trifling gift as a token of the

p. 30

fact, and the daughter was informed as follows--"My child, you are to marry such a one; for we have given you away to him"--and the poor girl was obliged to submit, although, often-times, contrary to her wishes and feelings.

On the suitor's first visit to the house, he carried with him a present, either of some kind of fur skin, or of seeds or beads, or whatever else he had that was valuable; and from that day he considered it as his home, and the task of providing maintenance for the family, in part, fell upon him. During the time of their matrimonial promise, his obligations were to supply the house with fuel and game, and the girl attended to the domestic affairs--ever rising at the dawn of day, bathing herself, and supplying the house with water; after which, she put every thing in order, with the utmost precision, and prepared their customary repast. This task she was obliged to perform without any assistance whatever; thus, the wooer had an opportunity of witnessing the qualities of the girl, in regard to her acquirements in domestic duties, and for this reason, he was admitted to the house as a member of the family.

When the day was fixed upon for the celebration of the nuptials, the friends and relatives of each family were invited to attend, and every one in the town was expected to take part in the feast, which continued, always, for three or four days. In front of the house belonging to the lover, was erected a temporary shelter covered with the branches and leaves of trees, sufficiently large to accommodate a great number of people. The ceremony commenced by his sending one or two of the Puplem and a few of the old women, to bring the bride. In the meantime, he awaited her arrival, seated upon a mat or upon the ground. As soon as she appeared, adorned and dressed for the occasion, in all her gayest apparel, and before she entered the place prepared, already described, she was seized upon by the old women, disrobed, and thus, she was placed by the side of her husband. The dress and ornaments were never returned to her, but were considered by the women as "spoils," and each one present, secured as much as she could. This practice was universal, excepting at the marriages of the chiefs, who, while seated upon the mat, received the bride adorned with feathers only--her dress and trinkets having been previously removed. The Puplem then took her, and placed upon her person the dress of the "Capitanejas." While

p. 33

the feast lasted, the guests were employed in singing, dancing, and other diversions. It was usual on such occasions, before the separation took place between the parents and the bride, for the father to explain to her, her obligations and duties as a wife, and the instructions were as follows: "Reflect that you are the daughter of respectable parents--do nothing to offend them--obey and serve your husband, that has been given to you by Chinigchinich; be faithful to him, for if you are not, you will not only lose your life, but we shall be disgraced; and if your husband does not treat you as he ought, tell us, and you shall come back and live with us." This was the general custom among the Indians; and without any other ceremony, than the one here described, they were considered man and wife. Some parents, even, when their children were in infancy, by mutual agreement, would promise them in marriage, and the same was ever adhered to, and when the parties were of sufficient age, they were united with the customary ceremonies. During the period of their childhood, they were always together and the house of either was a home to both.

In the year 1821, in the Mission of St. Juan Capistrano, I married, in "facie eclesia," a couple who were thus betrothed. The girl was eight or nine months old, and the boy two years, when their parents contracted them.

There are other marriages, or modes, of taking a wife. For instance, whenever a captain, or a son of his, or a pul became enamored of one in another town, a messenger was despatched to solicit the fair one--if she declined, or if her parents were not pleased with the alliance, three or four armed men were sent to demand her in marriage, and to use any measures to secure her person. Others, when in the woods in search of game or seeds, if they met with one that pleased them, carried her off. These kinds of marriages, generally, were the cause of war, and severe conflicts between the neighboring towns.

Whether these Indians were lawfully and truly married, is a question. Apparently they were, excepting those who were united against their will and desire; and consequently, the contracts should be binding. Nevertheless, they did not consider the ceremony as binding, and they were at liberty to throw off the alliance, whenever they deemed it proper, or conductive to their convenience.

p. 32


Quic noit noivam
Quic secat peleblich.

Ybicnun majaar vesagnec,
Ibi panal, ibi urusar,
Ibi ecbal, ibi seja, ibi calcel.

"I go to my home,
That is shaded with willow."

"These five they have placed,
This argave, this stone pot,
This sand, this honey," &c., &c.


The first time the wife became enceinte, it was the custom to give a grand feast to all in the town, and they passed the whole of one night in dancing and singing. This rejoicing was on account of the looked--for increase, and in their songs they asked of Chinigchinich, his clemency towards the unborn, for the female was good--having, in a short time, arrived to a state that gave hopes of her becoming a mother. They looked upon a sterile woman as being unfortunate--one who would ever meet with calamities. On the day of the birth of the child, they made no particular demonstration of satisfaction, except to exhibit the infant to the people. If it were a male, the grandfather named it, saying A. B., thus shall he be named. If it were a female, then the grandmother named it, and generally gave it her own name, or, that of the mother, unless some event occurred about the time of the birth, and then it was given a name which would serve to commemorate that event. Notwithstanding no observance was made of the birth-day, yet the day, on which the umbilical cord was removed, was noticed with many ceremonies. All the relatives and friends of the family were invited to assist in the superstitious performances, and they were conducted as follows. At the hour appointed, all the guests being present, several old women who were skilled in the operation, removed the superabundant particles from the child, and the same were interred, with many ceremonies, in a hole prepared either within, or outside of the house. Then immediately commenced dancing and singing; and even now, among some of the Indians, the same observances are retained.

The most ludicrous custom among these Indians, was that of observing the most rigid diet from the day of their wives' confinement. They could not leave the house, unless to procure fuel and water--were prohibited the use of all kinds of fish and meat--smoking and diversions; and this observance lasted generally from fifteen to twenty days.

p. 33

One of the many singularities that prevailed among these Indians was that of marrying males with males, which has been spoken of by Father Torquemada. It was publicly done, but without the forms, and ceremonies already described in their marriage contracts with the females. Whilst yet in infancy they were selected, and instructed as they increased in years, in all the duties of the women--in their mode of dress--of walking, and dancing; so that in almost every particular, they resembled females. Being more robust than the women, they were better able to perform the arduous duties required of the wife, and for this reason, they were often selected by the chiefs and others, and on the day of the wedding a grand feast was given. To distinguish this detested race at this mission, they were called "Cuit," in the mountains, "Uluqui," and in other parts, they were known by the name of "Coias." At the present time, this horrible custom is entirely unknown among them. I was told by a missionary from the Mission of St. Domingo, in Lower California, that he once enquired of several Indians, from the plains of the river Colorado, if in their confines, were to be found any of the Coias? he replied that they were once very numerous, but a serious plague visited them, many years back, which destroyed them all--unfortunately the time when this great event transpired, they could not tell, as they possessed no idea, whatever, of chronology.

Next: Chapter VIII. On Their Mode of Life and Occupation