Marriage is an important and sacred institution
in Navajo tradition. The ceremony acts to establish harmony between
the new couple and the extended families. A special form of Blessingway
is performed for the event of marriage. Changing Woman is believed
to have taught the wedding (iigeh) ceremony to Navajos. The ceremony,
which is still practiced today, typically involves traditional elements
and often includes elements of a Western wedding ceremony, such
as the Western-style multi-tiered wedding cake and the Western-style
opening of presents.
a bride would have to be bought. The parents of the suitor would
arrive at the home of the prospective bride with an offer in horses,
sheep or other valuable items that they wish to exchange for a wife.
If the woman's family accepts the gifts, the marriage would take
place within four days.
The traditional Navajo Wedding ceremony consisted of feeding
all of the friends and the visitors who came to see the young
people get married. Prior to the food and feast aspect came the
Navajo wedding ceremony itself. This ceremony consisted of the groom
arriving at the hogan
on a horse and is greeted at the door by the bride's father, who
accompanies the young man inside. The groom
entered the hogan with his father or uncle and sat on the west side
of the hogan, his mother beside him. After he had entered
and was seated the girl would enter carrying
the basket of mush, accompanied by her father or uncle. She
set down the basket before her groom and would sit beside the boy
and the two would be facing east – toward the door of the
hogan. The girl would sit on the right side of the boy.The groom’s
family sits to the north of the hooghan, which is the side reserved
for honored guests, and the bride’s to the south.
She would pour water (tó) from a pitch-covered
jug onto the boy’s hands and he would wash his hands.
Next the boy would pour water from the same jug onto the girl’s
hands and she would wash her hands. This symbolized purity
Next, the medicineman would take the wedding basket in which there
was corn meal mush and make a circle
of corn pollen on the mush and then make a cross in the center of
that circle. While the medicineman was doing that he would be praying
quietly, and when he had finished making the decorations on the
mush with the corn pollen, the basket would be placed in front of
the couple, and the boy would take the first
bite – by dipping two or three fingers into the mush
and eating from them – at the east where
the basket design opens. Next, the girl would take a bite
in the same way, and then they would take one bite after the other
from the four directions and finally from the center. Usually the
young couple was instructed to eat all of the mush themselves, but
at some weddings the remaining part of the mush would be passed
around so that each member of the boy’s family could get a
The traditional Navajo approach would be to have the basket remain
stationary in front of the young couple so that it would not be
handed around and moved about as different people took bites of
the mush with their fingers. The basket of mush is vital to the
ceremony and the couple to be married takes small amounts of mush
to eat in a specific order: east, south, west and north. Each direction
represents stages of life's journey.
After the mush has been eaten the basket
is given to the mother of the boy who is instructed to keep
it and preserve it at all times. Following the completion
of eating the mush, food was passed around to all of the guests
at the wedding. After this distribution and feasting
had been completed, the older and happily
married couples would give advice to the young married couples
in terms of what to expect and how to live happily and properly
with one another. Someone who was respected gave the following remarks:
you have lit a fire and that fire should not go out. The two of
you now have a fire that represents love, understanding and a philosophy
of life. It will give you heat, food, warmth, and happiness. This
new fire represents a new beginning – a new life and a new
family. The fire should keep burning; you should stay together.
You have lit the fire for life, until old age separates you.
In the old days the young couple would remain in the hogan following
the ceremony, while the guests and visitors would leave and return
to their own homes. Today, the bride and groom often leave to go
to their own home.
The bride's family is responsible for the food to be provided at
the feast following the marriage. After the feast, the bride's family
gives the leftover food to the groom's.