A Description of New Netherlands
Adriaen van der Donck - 1649
OF THE MANNERS AND PECULIAR CUSTOMS OF, THE NATIVES OF THE NEW-NETHERLANDS
Of their Marriages, Accouchements, Children, &c.
Having treated the manners of the natives, of their appearance, of their clothing, of their ornaments, of their subsistence, and of their dwellings; we will continue and the description, and treat of their customs in their marriages and connections, without which they could not be. Marriages, and the fruits of marriage connections between males and females, keep up the succession of every living species in the world; and there has been no nation discovered or known, so barbarous as not to be benefited by marriage connections, and who have not upheld and supported the same. With the native of the New-Netherlands, (for the Christian usages are the same as in Holland,) we can still observe the old and ancient customs in their marriage ceremonies.
But to illustrate the subject properly, it will be necessary to notice their distinguishing names of man and woman, father and mother, sister and brother, uncle and aunt, niece and nephew, husband and wife, married and unmarried, which are all known and distinguished among the natives by different and appropriate names, and give strong evidence of their attachment to their relatives, and of their preference to marriage connections. The natives generally marry but one wife; and it is extraordinary, that the people can, by the light of nature, so effectually control their women, that no feuds or jealousies do arise and exist between them; for on inquiry, we have never discovered that nay strife, hatred, or discord existed in an Indian family between the women about their family affairs, their children, or of the preference of their husband, whom they all esteem and implicitly obey. Concerning their marriages, they do not use many ceremonies as the people of fashion do in Holland; but they act more like common citizens on such occasions.
With the natives there is no established time of marriageable years, but they judge their apparent fitness from their appearance, about which they are not very particular even to experimental proof. When the parties are young and related, the marriage usually takes place upon the counsel and advice of their relatives, having regard to their families and character. When the parties are widows or widowers, whether by death or otherwise, of whom there are many, then also it takes place sometimes upon the advice of friends; but it is not common for relatives to interfere in such marriages. The men, according to their condition, must always present their intended and betrothed bride, with a marriage gift, as a confirmation of their agreement, and of his intention, being similar to the marriage pledge of the ancients. When the parties are a widow or widower, who unite without the advice of friends, and the parties afterwards do not agree, for good cause or otherwise, then the husband frequently takes the gifts from his wife, forbids her his bed, and if she does not leave him, he turns her out of doors. Marriages with them are not so binding but that either party may altogether dissolve the union, which they frequently do.
I have known an Indian who changed his wife every year, although he had little or no reason for it. We have also noticed that the dissolution of their marriages for unchastity, arises more from the improper conduct of men, then of the women. In their marriage dissolution, the children follow their mother, which is also usual in many other nations, who calculate their descent and genealogies from the mother's side. The longer a marriage exists among the natives, the more the parties are esteemed and honoured. To be unchaste during wedlock, is held to be very disgraceful among them. Many of their women would prefer death, rather than submit to be dishonoured. Prostitution is considered baser by day than by night, and in the open fields than elsewhere, as it may be seen or shined upon by the sun, which they say beholds the deed. No Indian will keep his wife, however much he loved her, when he knows she is unchaste. When their women are young, free, and unmarried, they act as they please, but they are always mercenary in their conduct, and deem it disgraceful to be otherwise; neither is the fruit of illicit connexions despised, but the same are disregarded in a marriage connexion. Few females will associate with men in a state of concubinage when they will not marry. Those women are proud of such conduct, and when they become old they will frequently boast of their connexion with many of their chiefs and great men. This I have heard from several aged women, who deemed themselves honoured for having been esteemed, and gloried of their "quasi bene gesta," in their speeches.
When one of their young women is rijp (for that is the native term,) and
wishes to be married, it is customary on such occasions that they veil their
faces completely, and sit covered as an indication of their desire; whereupon
positions are made to such persons, and the practice is common with young women
who have suitors, whereby they give publicity of their inclination. The men
seldom make the first overtures, unless success is certain and they hope to
improve their conditions in life.
Whenever a native female is pregnant, in wedlock or otherwise, they take care that they do no act that would injure the offspring. During pregnancy they are generally healthy and they experience little or no sickness or painful days, and when the time of their delivery is near, (which they calculate closely,) and they fear a severe accouchement, or if it be their first time, then they prepare a drink made of a decoction of roots that grow in the woods, which are known by them, and they depart alone to a secluded place near a brook, or stream of water, where they can be protected from the winds, and prepare a shelter for themselves with mats covering, where, provided with provisions necessary for them, they await their delivery without the company or aid of any person.
After their children are born, and if they are males, although the weather be ever so cold and freezing, they immerse them some time in the water, which, they say, makes them strong brave men, and hardy hunters. After the immersion they wrap their children in warm clothing and pay them great attention from fear of accidents, and after they have remained several days in their secluded places, again return to their homes and friends. They rarely are sick from child-birth, suffer no inconveniences from the same, nor do any of them die on such occasions. Upon this subject some persons assign, as a reason and cause for their extraordinary deliveries, that the knowledge of good and evil is not given them, as unto us; that therefore they do not suffer the pains of sin in bringing forth their children; that such pains are really not natural, but the punishment which follows the knowledge of sin, as committed by our first mother, and is attached to those only; others ascribe the cause of the difference to the salubrity of the climate, their well-formed bodies, and their manner of living.