So what happened when the all-too-familiar scenario occurred in this or that Haudenosaunee/Iroquois town or village, when a certain pretty girl would catch a certain boy’s eye, refusing to leave his thoughts no matter where he went? Or the other way around, of course. Like everywhere else in the world, in the areas around Lakes Ontario or Erie love drew no bounds and spared no victims, in a habit of striking unexpectedly and just as one anticipated none of it.
So first of all, if you had an eye for a pretty girl and preferably before deciding to fall in love with her, you should have made sure that she wasn’t a member of your clan. Because even had she lived in another longhouse, village, town, or a nation belonging to the Great League, it wouldn’t do. The laws governing clans and their relationship were strict and uncompromising.
Two people of the same clan couldn’t marry, being considered blood relatives even if ten or more degrees removed. And no, each clan was by no means restricted to the same village or town. Stretched over settlements and nations, the clan system was one of the sturdiest pillars of the Longhouse People’s societies, as much as it was the part of life among its neighbors, enemies or allies, Wyandot/Huron, Erie, Neutrals and others.
You could be an Onondaga man, a member of a Wolf Clan, for example, but if you fell in love with a Flint/Mohawk girl who had happened to belong to her people’s Wolf Clan as well, a person you never ever met or set an eye upon before, neither on her not on her family, it didn’t matter, because by the law you two were considered related, ineligible for building a family unit.
In this love has no power.
However if you were lucky to fall for a beauty that belong to an entire different clan, even if she grew up in the longhouse next door, then you could go ahead with any marriage proposals and plans you wish.
So having ensured that the two of you are getting along nicely enough and your both intentions are dead serious, your next step would be your mother, or better yet, the Clan Mother, the respectable matron that ruled your longhouse – this part of your extended family as one longhouse would not represent the entire clan of this or that fairly large town. To obtain such important person’s permission and blessing was essential, and advisable as well.
Then, assuming that this respectable lady saw the wisdom of your choice and approved, you would leave it in her hands, to take the next step.
Wedding cakes were prepared from the same dough the regular bread was made, yet molded differently, they presented your claim fairly well. Shaped as two balls connected by a short neck, those forms were wrapped in corn husk and tied it the middle, then tossed into a pot of boiling water, to simmer for about an hour.
Twenty four such cakes were taken by the boy’s or girl’s maternal grandmother or the appointed grandmother of their longhouse to the longhouse of the desired party. The recipient, not the lucky chosen but again the Clan Mother of his or her longhouse, who usually would have been consulted beforehand, to avoid embarrassing misunderstandings, would taste the bread, then notify the mother of the desired party. The mother of the boy or girl is expected to honor her elder’s wish unless she has substantial objection. But if offered none, the proposed side would take the same amount of cakes and carry them back to the longhouse of the proposing side.
In the rare instance that the suit was rejected, “… it is said, the cakes would be left untouched and the humiliated proposer … would have no choice but to creep back in order to retrieve her baked goods. Some say that the rejected cakes were never eaten, but often stored to be pelted at the offending party, for misleading the proposers at the first place…”
However, if the cakes were tasted, then returned with beaming smiles, the marriage sanctioned and approved by all parties involved, the happy couple was free to move together with not much of a further ado.
Which meant that the lucky groom would be the one packing things, preparing to move to his new home. Not the other way around (very little in many men’ cases as those would be limited to their personal possessions, weaponry and clothing – everything else was the property of the longhouse they lived at before, belonging to the women of this dwelling).
Yet, it was not to say that the man would changed his clan’s belonging. A member of his original clan, his mother’s and not his father’s extended family, he would remain a part of it, but his children by the girl he married would belong to her clan.
The Iroquois society was one of the few that truly did not put a woman in any disadvantage while not treading on man’s right as well. As it was women’s duty to run a house and a family – the reality many other cultures had faced as wells – it was only natural that a woman would retain legal rights and not only the duties to manage her household most efficiently, without restrictions and the need to ask for permissions from her mate. He has his own duties to face, to provide for his family and to keep it safe, and in those areas he didn’t need to ask for his female partner’s permission as well. A well balanced relationship between the genders it was.
In the case it didn’t work out, the divorce was as easy as was the marriage. No special ceremony, especially if both parties and their families were in agreement.
Not always the case, of course, not where human feelings, convenience and matters of honor were concerned. Well, in this, women still had the upper hand, being the owner of their house or rather a compartment in their family’s longhouse. The reluctant man would still be shown the door at either entrance of his disappointed ex-wife’s longhouse. There was nothing he could do about it.
Yet again, having a right to throw their men out, women didn’t do that lightly, as thus she and her children would be left without a provider. With the house and her extended family’s support, yes, but with no one to hunt and fish, clear new fields or rebuild should the need to rebuild arise. Who wanted to depend on the extended family for such matters? So, as impatient as a woman may have grown with her chosen mate, many would resolve to solve their marital problems in other ways than the roaring ‘get out of my house’ dramatics.
An excerpt from “The Great Law of Peace”, The Peacemaker Series, book #3.
She sighed, then, out of a habit, scanned the lake surface, always empty, bringing no hope.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “I changed, but it’s for the better. I was a silly girl before.”
“You? You were never silly. You were always serious, but full of life, of purpose. Now you are empty.”
She shrugged. “Why would you care? We are not children to play in the woods anymore. I’m of no use to you, full of life or not.”
He said nothing, peering at the lake, as though expecting the bright canoe to appear out of the misty vastness, too.
What if it did? she wondered suddenly, the wave of excitement washing her, beginning at her belly, slipping upward, toward her chest, tickling in her feet. Oh, they only thought she was empty.
She stifled a nervous giggle. If the canoe appeared, she would have to distract Hainteroh’s attention, take him away from the cliff, lure him back into town, then come here running. She squinted against the glow of the lowering sun.
“I talked to my mother,” she heard him saying. “Asked her to talk to the Grandmother of our longhouse.”
“Oh, why?” Feeling the twinge of well-familiar disappointment, she frowned. The bright bluish vastness was empty, as always, leaving her with the bitter taste in her mouth and her stomach as empty as the neglected lake.
“She’ll bring the cakes to the Grandmother of your longhouse.”
She caught her breath. “Hainteroh, no!” The lake temporarily forgotten, she peered at him instead, taking in his proud, eagle-like profile. He had grown to be quite a handsome man, she suddenly realized, having not noticed that before. “Please, make her not do that. Go now and tell her not to, before she brings the cakes to our longhouse.” She caught his arm. “Please. I can’t accept.”
He didn’t move, didn’t take his gaze off the water, but she saw his throat convulsing as though he had swallowed hard.
“Why not?” His voice was also colorless, empty.
She brought her palms up, careful not to scatter the precious shells. “I’m too young for that. I’m not ready.”
“You are not too young, Seketa! You’ve seen seventeen summers. Many girls of your age are taking a man into their lives. Look around you. Are your friends sleeping alone? Tindee and the other girls. Eh?”
She shrugged. “I don’t care what they do. I’m not ready.”
“Will you ever be?”
“I don’t know.”
“You liked the foreigner, didn’t you?” Now his voice took a growling sound.
She felt it like a blow in her stomach, her limbs going numb. “It has nothing to do with you.”
“So you did like him, that filthy, murderous savage!” Now his eyes were upon her, burning with rage.
She clenched her teeth against the suddenness of her own anger. “He was not filthy and not murderous. Don’t you ever say such things about him! He was good and kind and different. He was brave. He killed the giant brown bear with his knife! Think about it. He was decent and he was good.” She heard her voice piquing, turning loud and shrill, impossible to control. “Yeentso was the filthy, murderous lowlife. Not the Wolf Clan boy. But no one paid attention, no one cared. Because he was a foreigner, no one was prepared to let him show himself. No one was prepared to listen!” Drawing a convulsive breath, she tried to control her voice. It rang ugly and shrill, disturbing the sacredness of this place.
He peered at her, his eyes narrow. “No one but you, Seketa. You cared, you listened. You let him deceive you with his filthy lies.”