Courtship and Marriage

Marriages among the Western Shoshone were arranged informally, either by parental agreement or elopement. There was no formal ritual of marriage. Instead, the existence of a marital relationship was recognizable simply by the fact of a couple's residing together and referring to one another publicly as "my man" or "my husband" and "my woman" or "my wife." For instance, according to Trenholm and Carley (1964, pp. 12-13), among the Shoshonis, if a man stayed one night with a girl, in her lodge or his, the marriage was considered consummated. The couple would usually live with the girl's parents for about a year or until the first child was born. Then they would provide a dwelling of their own.

There was a mild cultural preference for marriages between a man's sister and his wife's brother, since such marriages could facilitate cooperative hunting between the two men. Marriages with kindred were generally disapproved, although cases of second-cousin and even firstcousin marriage were not unknown. Polygyny, especially sororal polygyny, was occasionally practiced. Shoshones also occasionally practiced a form of polyandry in which a wife might take her husband's younger brother as a second husband until he was mature enough to establish his own family. The Shoshone also practiced the levirate—if a husband died, his family had an obligation to provide his widow with another husband. Like marriage, divorce was a simple process that involved nothing more than leaving the relationship, and serial monogamy was common. Divorce could be initiated by women as readily as by men.

Perry (2000, p. 31) reports that among Utah's Northwestern Shoshone (a subdivision of the Western Shoshone whose primary territory was north of the Great Salt Lake), marriages were typically arranged and that,

Sometimes an older man would go to the home of parents of a newborn girl and ask permission to marry their newborn daughter at some future date. If the parents liked the man and knew him to be a good provider, they were sometimes agreeable.

Alternatively, a man would send a gift to the desired girl's parents. It might be a horse or several horses; it could be skins of all kinds, deer meat, or other food supplies showing him to be a good provider. If the parents agreed, the marriage was arranged.

Perry also reports that marriage ceremonies among the Northwestern Shoshone were conducted under the auspices of a spiritual leader as well as occasional ritualized mock capture of the bride by the bridegroom and that there were customs that made divorce relatively difficult. This greater emphasis on arranged marriage, the role of a "brideprice" (which was nonexistent or rare among the Western Shoshone), and the presence of a formal religious ceremony of marriage (that was absent among the Western Shoshone) may have developed as they began to form larger permanent communities based on a sedentary farming lifestyle and on religious influences from the Mormon settlers in Utah Territory who introduced them to farming.

Janetski (1987, p. 43) describes marriage among the eastern Northern Shoshone of the Yellowstone Park region in terms similar to those that might be applied to the Western Shoshone when he says that "Marriage was usually an informal economic union which bound a man and woman together to insure survival." Among those Northern and Eastern Shoshone, where the economic base included larger game such as elk, moose, and bison and where the influences of Plains culture were most notable, marriage arrangements tended to be somewhat more formally organized and marriages less brittle. For these groups, some tendency towards cross-cousin marriage existed.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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