Live Webcast, February 18, 1999!
I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala
We have four marriage customs to respect. The first is the 'open door'. It is flexible and there's no commitment. The second is a commitment to the parents when the girl has accepted the boy. This is a very important custom. The third is the ceremony when the girl and boy make their vows to one another. The fourth is the wedding itself, the despedida. The formalities for getting married are usually carried out in the following way.
The boy first tells his own parents that he likes a certain girl and they tell him what sort of commitment marriage is: 'You must have children, you have to feed them, and you must never regret what you've done for a single day.' They tell him about the responsibilities a father has. Then, when the young man has made up his mind and so have his parents, they go to the village representative and tell him the boy wants to get married and is going to ask the girl. Then comes the first custom, the 'open door', as we say. A door is opened by the village representative, the young man's parents and then the young man. These requests for marriage usually take place at four in the morning because most Indians leave home before five, and when they come home from work at six in the evening they're usually busy with other things. It's done at four in the morning so as not to cause too much inconvenience and they leave when the dogs start barking...
Well, the young girl starts talking to her parents and she says she would like to know the young man. My father opened the door for my sister when they came for the third time. He was the elected leader of our village, so they had to come with another of the community's representatives, and my parents finally received them. My father accepted a glass of guaro and some cigarettes. From then on the door was open...
When the guests arrive, they come in in a line. First comes the representative of the young man's village with his wife, and greet the girl's parents. Then the father kneels in a corner that has been specially prepared. If they still live in the same house where the girl was born, this will be the place where they put the candles when she was received into the natural world. If it is the same place, the parents will still have the remains of those candles and will use them now. This is still not the marriage rites, however, as there are still certain customs to perform. They come and kneel down in the corner where the candles are, without saying a word or acknowledging each other. The doors are opened and the rest of the people come in and kneel down. Then the girl's mother and father come in. The mother's role is very important here, because she is someone special, the person who has given life to her daughter and in whose image her daughter must live...
The third ceremony is when the boy and girl make their vows to one another. It's rather like the Catholic Action wedding ceremony when the couple make their promises in church. Our vows aren't made before God, though, but before our elders. The girl says: 'I will be a mother, I will suffer, my children will suffer, many of my children will die young because of the circumstances created for us by white men. It will be hard for me to accept my children's death but I will bear it because our ancestors bore it without giving up. We will not give up either.' This is the girl's promise. The young man promises: 'I will be responsible. We will see our children die before they have grown, but we must still go on following Indian ways.' Then they both promise: 'We will try to leave two or three seeds to reproduce the lineage of our ancestors. Although some of our children will die young, others will live on. From now on we will be mother and father.' This is their joint vow, taken before our elders...
All the neighbours know when the young girl is going away, and they all come around and bring things (just like when a baby is born). They bring wood, dough, meat, and the parents only have to provide the guaro. We make two types of guaro. One is a strong alcohol like rum or tequila, and the other is a sort of smooth, rather sweet, wine. So the parents make the drink and the neighbours bring everything else. They all arrive and act as if they were in their own homes. They take out the pots and utensils, make the food, and prepare the house. The community does every-thing. The same happens when the girl is received into the young man's home - it is the community that receives her. The girl is there ready with all her new things (except for the ones she'll be given when her young man is there), and all the things that belonged to her before. The neighbours all bring her little presents too, a cooking pot or a sobainita. One of the neighbours is chosen on behalf of the community to present the young girl with all the little things they have brought. If the guests are expected at ten in the morning, the neighbours will be there from five o'clock onwards preparing the house and the food. At ten everything is ready...
The whole village is present when she leaves and expresses its feelings. They say: 'Whatever happens, we are always here. You must lead your own life but if things go wrong, we will help you.' All Indian women have this - the support of their community as long as they don't break our laws. If a girl does break them, the community does have a heart, but it will look at her with different eyes...
Back to Rigoberta's Story
Guatemala | The Odyssey
Home | Teacher Zone