Courtship and Marriage

Courtship, as such, did not exist. Marriages were arranged by clan elders. Mothers, and fathers' sisters, were especially central to the decision. An individual was expected to follow the choices of their clan elders, but serious objections by a prospective bride or groom were apt to be accepted. A good marriage united people from opposite moieties who were of equal rank. In high-ranked situations, a history of marriages between clans dictated future choices. All people were expected to marry and if widowed or divorced, to remarry a person from the same clan as the original spouse. Traditionally, a young person married an elderly person as a first marriage. The younger spouse cared for the elder while the elder trained the younger. When the older spouse died, the widow or widower was expected to marry someone closer to his or her own age. Individuals who lived to an old age could expect to marry a young person. Of course, this system meant that most people would have multiple spouses during their lifetimes. The relationship between the clans of the spouses would be secured, and women could expect to remain in the same house throughout their married lives. Some high-ranking men and women had more than one spouse at the same time, although this was not a significant theme in Tlingit culture.

A marriage normally involved little ceremony, although a high-ranked marriage might have been accompanied by a potlatch-like reception. The relatives of the bride and groom met together at the house of the bride's father. The bride entered the room and sat near her husband. At this time the groom's family displayed items of wealth that were given to the bride's family. The bride's family might provide a smaller offering of gifts. At this point, the couple were married and the bride moved into the clan house of the husband. If she married a clansman of her father, and this was called a "royal marriage," the house of her new husband was the one she was reared in and the one where her parents lived.

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