Courtship and Marriage

In theory, people marry for love and have freedom of choice. In actuality, the girl's family has to approve of the boy she is bringing into the household and who will father children for her clan. A stubborn girl might insist on marrying a boy she loves, but if her family really did not approve they would make life so miserable for him that he would leave. A girl might force an unwelcome marriage on her family, because girls do the proposing since they are inviting the boy to come to them.

Girls propose by presenting the favored boy with a special small corn cake. This is a token that unmarried girls give to any boy or man they like, and men are extremely pleased when a favorite niece or granddaughter presents them with one. It can be viewed as a token of friendship as well as love, rather like a valentine. The boy who receives it must accept, but he can choose to interpret it as friendship and do nothing further. Even if he loves the girl, self-respect demands that he not jump too quickly. Meanwhile, the girl is tense with anticipation. If he has not accepted the proposal within a couple of weeks, she knows that she has been rejected. If he accepts, the families begin the wedding preparations. There is a feast and an elaborate exchange of gifts between the families, the bride's giving more to the groom's in a kind of groomwealth. I have heard Hopi women remark "we paid for him" about a young male in-law.

Even if the couple are in love, the early days of marriage are hard for young men as they adjust from life with rather indulgent parents to the authority of parents-in-law and the need to prove themselves worthy. It is not unusual for young grooms to return home for several extended visits before they settle in.

Hopis only formally marry once, and the spouse in this life will be the spouse in the afterlife, in the village of the dead. However, informal remarriage is possible for widowed and "divorced," (i.e., permanently separated) people.

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