Au Pays de l’Ours Noir: Part 19

Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir,

Dispatches of a Missionary 1897, by Father

Adrien Gabriel Morice

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Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan

Sekani Courting Customs

The Sekani who are not Christian, have the simplest possible marriage ceremony and the quickest. There is no preamble: when a young hunter has made his choice he simply asks the child of the forest:

“Will you carry my beaver snares?”

If the young girl does not wish to unite for good or ill with her interlocutor, it is sufficient for her to reply:

“No there are plenty of women, ask another.”

If on the contrary the offer pleases her, she replies at once with no blush or pretense of modesty:

“Perhaps: ask my mother.”

There is no need for the young man to take this step for his betrothed has hurried to tell her mother. Then with the mother’s consent, the young girl puts up a hut of branches near her old home, for a Sekani will never live under the same roof with his married children. That evening the man comes in and hands over the beaver snares. With no more ceremony the couple are henceforth man and wife.

In earlier times the preliminaries of marriage with the Carrier were hardly more complicated than with the Sekani: only they cost more and took much longer. Etiquette required that the young girl should have nothing to say for or against the proposed union. Only when a young man had chosen his woman (who should be of a different clan from his) without exchanging a word with her, he simply made himself at home with his future father-in-law, put himself in his service, and did not fail to offer him, and the other relatives of the young girl, everything that he had succeeded in getting by hunting or in other ways. In other words he paid for his betrothed in advance.

A year or two passed thus. When having waited on the relations of his future bride, he thought a ‘yes’ was merited and would finally reward his perseverance, the young man begged the hand of the young girl through the intermediary of some obliging friend.

The proposal accepted, the marriage was thereby contracted. In the case of a refusal, the rejected suitor received as recompense for the gifts which he had made, an equivalent in kind.

When there was a marriage, there was never any intention that they would be bound for ever and ever. Divorce used to occur with little difficulty, especially with the Sekani. The former husband would take back the gifts which he had made to his former love, and the two formerly joined would go each his/her former way to try her/his luck elsewhere.

If children had come to cement this union, divorce was more difficult but by no means impossible. The father took possession of the offspring…

Besides polygamy, which was common to Carrier and Sekani, the latter also practised polyandry.

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