Courtship and Marriage

Embedded in the clan system was the regulation that clan members were forbidden to marry one another. To do otherwise was considered incestuous and carried a penalty of death. Marriages formed alliances among clans and guaranteed survival (Hill, 1997). It was the clans not the marriage that united Cherokees for life. Marriage was a family affair and a couple had to obtain consent from their relatives to marry. Relatives strongly encouraged marriage but never forced couples to marry against their will. Out of respect for their parents, children sometimes married someone they did not prefer.

If a couple wanted to marry, they would visit and make promises to each other. The couple's relatives would be notified of their commitment and, if there were no objections, the man cut cordings of wood to lie at the woman's door. If the young woman made a fire from the wood, it symbolized her acceptance and she would feed him. Publicly, the families reenacted the joining of the clans by building a fire from the wood provided and prepared a feast. This ritual signified the woman's willingness to be responsible for food and fire and the man's willingness to provide game (Hill, 1997).

In a Cherokee wedding, the couple step toward each other and meet in the middle of the council house. The groom presents venison, the bride presents corn, and their blankets are united. The ceremony symbolizes the centrality of tasks to the construction of gender (Perdue, 1998). In a society that is matrilocal and matrilineal, the couple live in the household of the mother, sisters, and her sister's husbands and children.

As a result of traders entering Cherokee country in the early 18th century, intermarriage occurred. The children from these unions were Cherokee as long the mother was Cherokee regardless of the race of the father. Yet, intermarriage upset the traditional Cherokee social organization because the woman lived in her husband's house; their children took the father's name and inherited the father's property, but affiliated with the mother's clan. In addition, the children often spoke English and Cherokee, received some education, and adopted the customs of Europeans (Perdue, 1998).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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