Courtship, Marriage, and Gender Roles
Digital History ID 631
Chrestien Le Clercq
A French missionary describes courtship and marriage customs among the Micmac.
A boy has no sooner formed the design to espouse a girl than he makes for himself a proposal about it to her father, because he well knows that the girl will never approve the suit, unless it be agreeable to her father. The boy asks the father if he thinks it suitable for him to enter into his wigwam, that is to say, into relationship with him through marrying his daughter....If the father does not like the suit of the young Indian, he tells him so without other ceremony than saying it cannot be; and this lover, however enamored he may be, receives this reply with equanimity as the decisive decree of his fate and of his courtship, and seeks elsewhere some other sweetheart....If the father finds that the suitor who presents himself is acceptable...he tells him to speak to his sweetheart....For they do not wish...to force the inclinations of their children in the means of marriage, or to induce them, whether by use of force, obedience, or affection, to marry men whom they cannot bring themselves to like....
The boy, then, after obtaining the consent of the father, addresses himself to the girl, in order to ascertain her sentiments. He makes her a present from whatever important things he possesses; and the custom is such that if she is agreeable to his suit, she receives and accepts it with pleasure, and offers him in return some of her most beautiful workmanship....
The presents having been received and accepted by both parties, the Indian returns to his home, takes leave of his parents, and comes to live for an entire year in the wigwam of his sweetheart's father, whom, according to the laws of the country, he is to serve, and to whom he is to give all the furs which he secures in hunting.... The girl, for her part, also does her best with that which concerns the housekeeping, and devotes herself wholly, during this year...to making snowshoes, sewing canoes, preparing barks, dressing skins of moose or of beaver, drawing the sled--in a word, to doing everything which can give her the reputation of being a good housewife....
When, then, the two parties concur in disposition and tastes, at the end of the year the oldest men of the nation, and the parents and friends of the future married couple, are brought together to the feast which is to be made for the public celebration of their marriage....If it turns out that the disposition of one is incompatible with the nature of the other, the boy or the girl retires without fuss, and everybody is as content and satisfied as if the marriage had been accomplished, because, say they, one ought not to marry only to be unhappy the remainder of one's days.
There is nevertheless much instability in these sorts of alliances, and the young married folks change their inclinations very easily when several years go by without their having children. ...It can be said with truth that the children are then the indissoluble bonds, and the confirmation of the marriage of their father and mother, who keep faithful company without ever separating, and who live in so great a union with one another, that they seem not to have more than a single heart and a single will....
One cannot express the grief of a Gaspesian when he loses his wife. It is true that outwardly he dissimulates as much as he can the bitterness which he has in his heart, because these people consider it a mark of weakness unworthy of a man, be he ever so little brave and noble, to lament in public.
Source: Chrestian Le Clercq, New Relations of Gaspesia, with the Customs and Religion of the Gaspesian Indians (1691), translated and edited by William F. Ganong (Toronto, 1910).
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