Nakoda Courtship and Marriage
described by First Boy - James Larpentuer Long, Fort Peck
Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of
the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpenteur Long),
edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma
Press, 1961, p 27-32 (originally published as Land of
the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)
fair maiden was not easily courted because she was always
chaperoned by her grandmother or an older woman who was
manner of courtship on the part of a youth was to attract
the attention of a maiden by his dress, hunting ability,
war record, or skill in a game or dance. He did not call
on a young woman in her lodge, but if he saw her at a
gathering, he made it a point to attract her attention
in some manner. Then they exchanged fond glances. The
maiden returned this attention by wearing nice clothes
that showed her fine handiwork. Then at the first opportunity
the youth approached the girl and they talked together.
young men boldly courted while the young woman gathered
wood, even though an older woman was near and acted as
a chaperon. If a youth's attentions were agreeable to
a young woman, she carried on a conversation with him,
but if she resented them, she ignored him. Sometimes a
young man was not so easily driven away and insisted on
being heard. In that case the maiden threatened the rash
youth with a stick.
is told that some young men humbled themselves greatly
when talking to the maidens they admired. Perhaps they
met while the young woman was getting water, and usually
the youth watched for that chance. The young man's speech
would go like this
you say something? Perhaps I am mistaken. You have been
in my thoughts so much and I have imagined many times
that you have spoken to me. Now that you are so near,
I may seem to hear your voice. If you haven't said anything,
it is well and good, for I am like dirt under your feet
and why should you waste your kind voice on lowly things.
See, I dare not touch you, lest I soil so beautiful a
was a speech of a humble lover. A girl had to show judgment
because a desperate lover could resort to "love medicine."
On the other hand there were maidens who went out at night
and stood near their lodges to meet their sweethearts.
So when the old grandfathers gave advice to their grandsons
about love affairs, they said, "Do your courting
during the day, and if you wish to say something to the
young woman, send a message by your sister or cousin,
because maidens who go out after dark to meet young men
do not always make good wives."
parents thought it was time for a son to get married,
they asked one of the grandfathers to talk to the young
man. The grandmother prepared a dish that the youth was
fond of and he was invited over for an evening.
the meal was finished, the old man slowly filled a pipe,
lit it, and started to talk. "You are now a man and
in a short time you will be getting old. Before that time,
you must get yourself a woman and live in your own lodge
and raise some children.
you do this, first look over the maidens among our people
and make up your mind to one. I would advise that you
do not pick out one who is too much for looks and has
a good figure. Remember, if such a one gains favor in
your eyes, she will also attract other men, and even though
she sits beside you as your woman, men will continue to
admire her just the same.
relatives of your choice should be looked over to see
if her men relations are good providers, skilled hunters,
and men who are well known. If her mother is neat and
industrious, the daughter will be like her.
must turn these things over in your mind many times when
some good-to-look-at young woman tries to charm you. You
may think you have made a good choice and want to hurry
the marriage, but remember to take your time because the
one you pick may cause you to live a miserable life You
may find yourself living in a six-hide lodge [for the
poorest people] on the outskirts of an encampment. The
clothes you wear may be poorly made and the skins half-tanned.
Many other things will make your heart heavy.
good need not be told. You are grown up. Look around and
see others. Be like the ones who live in happiness and
a young couple decided to marry, the young man brought
his wife to the lodge of his folks, or he went to live
with her people. Then the marriage was announced at the
next dance and the relatives gave away presents.
couple lived with either parents for a year or so. If
they lived at the lodge of the wife's parents, the son-in-law
was expected to supply the meat and do the man's work.
The wife did most of the tasks in and about the lodge,
if they lived with his folks.
parents and relatives of a marriageable youth sometimes
made a choice for him. Red Feather told the following
father never talked to me about marriage, but one time,
while on a visit to my aunt in another band, she talked
right to the point. She always seemed to do the talking
for the family. She had a son and a daughter. The youth
was my age, and we were always together.
said, "You and your cousin (meaning her son) have
been visiting back and forth between the two bands and
caused us much worry. There is so much danger from war
parties traveling about and an enemy could easily waylay
and kill you both. You are now grown up and should settle
down. We have selected a young woman who lives in this
band to be your wife. She is strong and well-trained by
her mother and no one has, so far, asked for her. We have
already arranged everything so you will be married tomorrow."
was not surprised, for I was resigned to the will of my
family and my aunt was like my own mother. A man was paid
a fee and sent with three horses and some goods to my
future wife's folks.
was the custom for the bridegroom to paint the face of
his bride upon her arrival in the lodge of her future
husband, but my cousin said, "I will relieve you
of that task and paint her face myself. just leave that
part to me."
man returned, accompanied by my future wife. She brought
food with her, which she placed in front of my aunt. My
aunt then seated her beside me and told my cousin to paint
her face as he had volunteered to do. My cousin was not
so willing to keep his word now that the time had come
and said I should paint my own wife's face.
that time I thought my heart was going to pound its way
out through my breast. I could not move to do anything
and my aunt kept repeating that the bride should not be
kept waiting. So finally I got up enough courage to perform
the rite, and I did not do it so well either. My hands
shook so that I just daubed a little paint on each cheek
and was finished. After that she accompanied the man back
to her home.
next day, her folks brought her and two horses, which
were loaded with goods, to my aunt's lodge. The horses
they gave to my uncle and aunt, and the goods were bedding
and things for us.
aunt gave a large feast, and the marriage was announced,
and many things were given away by both parties.
was customary for older men to bargain for a wife. They
gave a fee to a go-between, and he made the offer to the
girl's parents. If the offer was attractive to the parents,
they entreated their daughter to consent to the marriage.
The girl could not be compelled to accept, but the parents
always worked on her affection for her relatives and usually,
in the end, there was a marriage.
poor parents, or parents who had daughters but no male
provider in the family, "gave away" their daughters
to prominent men, even though the men already had one
or more wives.
were cases where a child was promised to a grown man,
and while the girl was growing up, the prospective husband
provided for her and her parents. There were times when
a girl, on reaching maturity, refused to fulfill the promise
made by her parents.
A man boldly took back his gifts if the girl he bought
left his lodge and went back to her folks. Some of these
troubles, now and then, had serious consequences and someone
was injured or killed.
a man's wife had more work than she could do in their
lodge and had one or more unmarried younger sisters, the
man could through another person, ask her relatives for
one of them to be his wife. He need not bargain for her,
as it was considered her duty to her sister to accept
and help with the tasks. The parents did not expect anything
in return but continued support. Several sisters could
marry a man if he was a prominent person, a good provider,
and entertained a great deal.
parents of a boy and the parents of a girl, if the families
were close friends, usually planned that the two would
marry at maturity. In that case, if someone else wanted
the girl, she was already promised. And the maidens knew,
too, that the young man was as good as married. From childhood,
the two were taught to observe the rules that governed
a person's behavior and speech when in the presence of
a father-in-law or a mother-in-law.
were dissolved merely by living apart. Sometimes, if the
husband was a member of a society, he announced through
another that, "He has thrown her away." That
was a sign that anyone was free to court the woman. If
the man took his wife back and they lived together as
before, it was considered a disgrace. He was dropped from
his society, and if he had an office or rank in the organization,
it was taken from him and given to someone else."