Saturday, April 22, 2017

Singleton tells of early Indian marriage customs and adultery punishments

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Our times sure have changed” was originally published in the April 25, 2002 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

During the past months, much has been said and written and presented through the aid of television about sex, marriage and free love among the youth of our country.

Hardly a day passes that the boob tubes are not full with the pros and cons of the above.

There may be some who might agree or encourage this type of behavior. Then, there are those who condemn these practices completely. I won’t attempt to get involved, other than I think that personal discipline and early family training are the great deciding factors as to the path a person takes.

A few days back, I was looking through some old papers and various information pertaining to the marital habits of the early Indians of this area. While viewing some of these writings, I decided that we, in our modern times, could learn from some of these ancient practices.

So, let me take you back in time a few hundred years and take a good look at some of the laws that these people abided by when pertaining to the practices of free love, marriage and adultery.

Contrary to our beliefs of today, the laws of the local tribes was not to be taken lightly. Punishment was not spared by the tribal leaders, and usually the breakers of the tribal laws thought twice before committing the same act twice if they survived the first time.

The act of marriage was quite simple. The Indian warrior would send his sister or some other female relative to contact a female relative of the bride-to-be. The marriage was discussed and an arrangement was decided upon. Then presents were exchanged.

Always the groom-to-be had to give presents greater in value than those given by the family of the bride. Then, the groom-to-be had to prove himself. First, he had to build a dwelling of a sorts for himself and his bride-to-be. He had to then plant a crop and harvest it. To further prove his ability as a provider, he had to go on a long hunt by himself. The game he killed had to be given to the future bride’s family and the leaders of the tribe.

They decided then, after viewing his crop and the building of his house and the amount of the wild game he brought in, whether he was capable of supporting a wife and family. If they decided in his favor, he was allowed to continue with the plans for marriage.

If he failed to satisfy the tribal leaders as to their expectations, he had to start all over again. He had to start another house, plant another crop and go again on another long hunt. If this practice was the rule of today, I don’t imagine there would be as many marriages as there are.

Once the marriage vows were taken, the young bride-groom had to walk the straight and narrow. Adultery was a serious violation of the tribal laws.

Should this occur, the family of the bride decided the fate of the guilty. They gathered together and decided on a course to purse. One half of the family went to the house of the bride and one half went to the residence of the guilty warrior.

The guilty was bound and beaten with long poles until he or she was unconscious. Then they chopped the ears off the guilty one, and sometimes even their noses. They did this with knives whose blades had been made rough and saw like.

If the woman was guilty, her hair was chopped off and carried in triumph to the center of the village and put on display for all to see. If the offender should escape, the nearest relative was punished in their place in the same fashion. (I can imagine I would have kept a close eye on my relatives had I lived during this time in history.) Murder was punishable by death; if the guilty escaped punishment, the next of kin would receive the death penalty.

To some of us in our modern society, these laws seem very harsh and cruel. But during this time in history when the great Indian nations were at the peak of their civilizations, murder and crime were almost unheard of. Can we say the same about our society of today?

Have our laws and lifestyles progressed from that of the early Indian? As parents, do we sit with our children and teach them the way they should go? Do we hear their problems and offer solutions? Do we sit in council and look out for the elderly and disabled of our communities? Are we concerned about the direction in which our nation is going?

I believe that the time is at hand; we must become concerned about our future. In closing, let us look a bit on the brighter side.

When the white man discovered this country,
Indians were running it. No taxes or debt.
Women did all the work.
White man thought he could improve on a system like that…

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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