Culture Corner: Traditional Navajo Wedding
Traditional customs in Navajo culture are dwindling, particularly those that follow matrimonial outlines. Many Native Americans nowadays opt for modernism, but a small number of individuals still participate in the tribe’s native wedding customs today. According to the Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation, the “traditional Navajo — or Diné — wedding is based on the mating of the young maiden White Shell Woman and the Sun God in the White World.”
Like many cultures, traditional Navajo wedding ceremonies are considered to be incredibly private. “Photographs are not permitted, and the ceremony is solely witnessed by close friends and family” says Robin Martinez, a full blooded Navajo from Parker, AZ who still practices some traditional Navajo customs. To begin the ceremony, the groom, his family and friends enter a Hogan– a traditional home of the Navajo people—clockwise; the groom’s family and friends sit on the left of him, the bride’s family and friends sit on her right.
The wedding is opened with a prayer. Following the prayer, a basket prepared corn meal is blessed with corn pollen and a line is made from east to west then back to east. An additional line is made from south to north then back to south, and the corn mush is then outlined with the corn pollen spread in a circular shape going clockwise, beginning from the east and making a full circle. After this, water is poured into a gourd and given to the couple to wash their hands. This act is a symbolization of purity and cleansing.
Following the hand-wash, the groom eats a pinch of corn mush taken from the east direction with the bride following suit. The couple continue taking pinches of and consuming the mush from the south, west, and northern directions, finally taking a pinch from the middle of the mush. The basket of mush is vital to the ceremony as the different directions are meant to symbolize various stages of the journey of life. Upon the couple’s completion of this, the remaining mush is passed onto the groom’s family to finish. Traditionally, the corn mush basket remains stationary in front of the couple so that it is not handed around and moved about as the groom’s family takes their pinches of the mush.
At the end of the ceremony and after the consumption of all the food, the tribal elders give words of wisdom to encourage the newlyweds. The wedding blessing is recited as follows;
After the ceremony in a custom shared by older generations, the couple remains in the Hogan while the guests and visitors leave and return to their own homes. However, in modern day Navajo society, the bride and groom typically return to their own home. For the feast that follows the day of the ceremony, the family of the bride is responsible for providing the food, the leftovers given afterwards to the family of the groom which concludes the ceremony.
From this point forward, the couple are expected to remain together until death do them part as divorce is seldom and frowned upon within the Navajo tradition. Although there are few Navajo couples opting for a traditional wedding, those who do are keeping the custom alive.
Author: Catherine Hartley