Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Beautiful Navajo Wedding (with an Apache twist)

Josh and Jessica Nakai Murdock  - - April 16, 2011

Today, Paige and I had the rare opportunity to see a traditional Navajo wedding in Blanding, Utah.  Although the wedding would traditionally be held in a hogan or tepee, an outdoor pavilion was used to accommodate the seven siblings on the bride's side and the twelve siblings on the groom's side plus spouses, parents, nieces, nephews, god parents, friends and the like. 

The ceremony was performed by a medicine man who under Utah Law has authority to perform the wedding rites.  This designation of medicine man is traditionally a generational distinction of honor passed down from a grandfather, father or a recognized elder in the tribe. The Bride
Following Apache tradition, the bride rode in on horseback in a beautiful white buckskin wedding dress that was made and hand beaded by her mother.  Her family walked behind in traditional dress showing support for the bride and the wedding.  (The bride's mother told me that she spent three plus hours every night and an hour during her lunch break for several months to hand bead the dress).  The Navajo tradition has the groom ride in on horseback, but because the bride is half Apache and half Navajo she chose to ride the horse.

The bride arrives on horseback accompanied by her brothers.

The medicine man brings the double vase of water followed by the bride's family.

The Setting

The bride dismounted the horse and carried in a wedding basket of corn meal as she joined the groom on the blanket.  A small cast iron pot full of hot ashes and cinders (fire) was positioned in front.  The medicine man carried water in a wedding vase made of wood with pouring spouts on either side. A container of sand was positioned on the floor as well. All of these items would play a symbolic role in the ceremony.The sacred symbols of the wedding ceremony include water, fire, sand, cornmeal and pollen. The medicine man began by blessing all four sides of the premises (the four sacred mountains) and sprinkling corn pollen in a large circle on the ground and a pinch on the bride and broom.  Corn pollen is highly sacred and represents life and fertility, in nature and for the Navajo. It is essentially a metaphor for fertility, as well as happiness and life itself.  This was followed by a special prayer for the joining of  the two families. The couple was given special advice that wherever their home may be, that this special union would go with them.  The bride and groom were asked to sit in prayer with their eyes closed to contemplate a long, devoted life together.  Their ties of unity today would go as far as they choose.  "Bless them when they have conflict, that they will resolve it with understanding.  When one is sick the other will provide care and comfort.  When the other is sick, he/she will provide the same in return.  Let it be known that this family will begin with the most wonderful blessings of love, caring and compassion for each other."

They were told that two nationalities were being joined together at this time.  May they have and enjoy the best of both worlds.  May they seek out those traditions and customs that will best serve them and their future family.  They were advised to replicate Mother Earth with her traditional values and that wonderful blessings would come their way.  They were reminded to remember their roots and their families and to always be grateful.  Be grateful for the wonderful times, be grateful for good experiences, for the hard times, for the victorious times and for the good times.  "Take care of each other physically, spiritually and emotionally from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head.  Stay in balance and harmony.  Be respectful of the home, both within and without.  Prepare good food to eat, that there will be wellness, growth and happiness. 

The wedding vase and basket are used in the ceremony.
The Wedding Symbols
The medicine man then explained each of the wedding symbols.  The fire is symbolic of basic roots.  It is a fundamental element used to keep you warm, to cook your food, to bless you in your lives, to symbolize the couple's love for each other.  The water is symbolic of life.  All living things require water to thrive and survive.  It strengthens, hydrates, cleans and nourishes the body and soul.  The sand replicates Mother Earth.  It provides a base to grow food and to allow one to eat.  It is the foundation for everything in life.  It is solid under one's feet and provides everlasting blessings.  It is the foundation and stability of the home.  The corn meal and corn pollen is to nourish and strengthen the body and union of the couple.  It will provide health, happiness, growth and good fortune day in and day out. 

The Application of the Wedding Symbols
At this point in the ceremony, each of the symbols was used in a ceremonial rite orchestrated by the medicine man and executed by the bride and groom. A small, specially grown tobacco was encased in a wrapping and lit with the embers in the fire.  This stick was then handed to each member of the wedding party (bride, groom, parents of both, and the godmother of the bride)  to puff smoke out and direct the smoke over their heads, arms, body, etc.  (No, they did not inhale this substance, FYI). The stick was then returned to the pot of coals from which it came. The wedding vase of water was then presented to the groom.  He proceeded to pour water in the bride's hands, which she washed over the basin of sand.  Then the bride helped to wash the hands of the groom.  They dried their hands with a traditional Navajo blanket. 

Corn Pollen and Meal
The basket of cornmeal was presented to the bride.  Corn pollen was placed over and around the basket.  The medicine man explained that this was one of the most sacred parts of the ceremony and requested that no pictures be taken.  The bride then proceeded to feed cornmeal to the groom and the groom did so to the bride. The meal was then extended to each of the groom's family who one by one addressed the wedding couple and sampled a taste.  The same invitation went to the bride's family as well and anyone else who desired to participate.  The remnants were then rubbed into the basket.  A cup of water was warmed over the smoke of the ashes and presented to the bride and groom to help wash down the cornmeal.

Good Tidings are Extended
The medicine man then asked the bride and groom to extend their legs out straight on the floor and flex their feet upward while cupping their hands on their laps, extending their fingers upward.  The couple was told of the five tools that would serve them in life which included hard work, care for themselves and each other, a sacred home, etc.  A traditional chant in the native tongue was sung to the bride and groom and corn pollen was sprinkled into their opened hands.  There was a beautiful casualness about the ceremony as a cute little nephew of the brides about age two toddled up behind the couple and stared intently at the medicine man as he chanted to the newlyweds (or almost newlyweds).  The bride then tasted the corn pollen, sprinkled some on herself and held it upwards towards heaven.  Time was counted by the medicine man.  The same was done by the groom. 

The hair should only be cut if approved by the husband or a tragedy occurs.
The couple was told that the key to this marriage was to take care of each other.  Most likely children will come and life will become more complex, but the circle of life will also make life more complete and whole.  They were told that the sun comes up and goes down each day, automatically.  It becomes a daily routine of life.  This new couple needs to keep their eyes open, to become alert and aware of their surroundings, to know their place and to help each other on their way.  If they will do this and keep love in their hearts, they will "be all right."  They couple was wished good luck and told that they could now stand and kiss each other.  It was a very beautiful, insightful and interesting wedding! 

Jessica and Josh, we welcome you to the matrimonial swim and wish you a wonderful, fulfilled, meaningful life together. Thank you for letting us be a part of your beautiful wedding day!

With all our love,
The Naisbitts