The Cherokee wedding ceremony is a very beautiful event, whether it is the old fashioned, or ‘ancient’ ceremony or a modern one. The original ceremony differed from clan to clan and community to community, but basically used the same ritual elements. Because clanship is matrilineal in the Cherokee society, it is forbidden to marry within one’s own clan. Because the woman holds the family clan, she is represented at the ceremony by both her mother (or clan mother) and oldest brother. The brother stands with her as his vow to take the responsibility of teaching the children in spiritual and religious matters, as that is the traditional role of the ‘uncle’ (e-du-tsi). In ancient times, they would meet at the center of the townhouse, and the groom gave the bride a ham of venison while she gave an ear of corn to him, then the wedding party danced and feasted for hours on end. Venison symbolized his intention to keep meat in the household and her corn symbolized her willing to be a good Cherokee homemaker.
The groom is accompanied by his mother. After the sacred spot for the ceremony has been blessed for seven consecutive days, it is time for the ceremony. The wedding couple approach the sacred fire, and are blessed by the priest and/or priestess. All participants of the wedding, including guests are also blessed. Songs are sung in Cherokee, and those conducting the ceremony bless the couple. Both the Bride and Groom are covered in a blue blanket. At the right point of the ceremony, the priest or priestess removes each blue blanket, and covers the couple together with one white blanket, indicating the beginning of their new life together. Instead of exchanging rings, in the old times the couple exchanged food. The groom brought ham of venison, or some other meat, to indicate his intention to provide for the household. The bride provided corn, or bean bread to symbolize her willingness to care for and provide nourishment for her household.
This is interesting when noting that when a baby is born, the traditional question is, “Is it a bow, or a sifter?” Even at birth, the male is associated with hunting and providing, and the female with nourishing and giving life. The gifts of meat and corn also honor the fact that traditionally, Cherokee men hunted for the household, while women tended the farms. It also reflects the roles of Kanati (first man) and Selu (first woman). The couple drank together from a Cherokee Wedding Vase. The vessel held one drink, but had two openings for the couple to drink from at the same time. Following the ceremony, the town, community, or clans provided a wedding feast, and the dancing and celebrating often continued all night. Today, some Cherokee traditionalists still observe portions of these wedding rituals. The vows of today’s ceremony reflect the Cherokee culture and belief system, but are in other ways like wedding ceremonies of other cultures and denominations.
Today’s dress can be in a tear dress and ribbon shirt, a wedding gown, or normal attire worn at a Ceremonial Ground. Cherokee Nation has a marriage law, and Cherokee couples are allowed to marry under this law instead of the State marriage laws. This is because Cherokee Nation is a sovereign government. The couple is not required to obtain a license; however, the person conducting the ceremony must be licensed by the Cherokee Nation to do so. After the religious leader contacts the Cherokee Nation District Court, the court clerk will prepare a certificate. This paper shows that the couple were indeed married in a ceremony by a religious or spiritual leader licensed to do so. The certificate is returned to the Cherokee Nation District Court after all parties have signed it, and filed in the official records. Information provided by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center. For information regarding culture and language, please contact: Culture@Cherokee.Org.