To Each Their Own

Visited a museum this weekend. One item that piqued my interest was the mention of a courtship dance performed by northwestern American Indian men. It involved wooden wands decorated with buckskin fringes; beyond that no details were provided. Alas, YouTube has none either, but you can guess what it may look like from related footage. I think it would be fun if our guys had to dress up in fringes and eagle-feather bustles to court us, don’t you?

Of course, in the next room over it discussed the Wedding Trade. And you thought we had it down to an irritating science, what with who gets the sheitel and who gets the bechar and who pays for the band and who gets the couple for the first Pesach. Well, among the Wasco, Walla Walla, and Paiute, it’s something like this:

The boy’s family gives the horses. The girl’s family gives food. The boy’s family provides skins, the girl’s family, baskets. And there are gifts of clothing and jewelry and wampum and goodness knows what else, each required by one of the sides. The description, given by soundbyte, went on for about 5 minutes.

Just in case you thought we were unique and particularly obsessive.

There was a section with period actors and actresses, so I strolled into a woman’s kitchen as she was doing her dishes. “Goodness!” she exclaimed to her neighbor who was keeping her company. “Why she’s the first woman I’ve seen all day who’s dressed appropriately!”  I agreed that it was scandalous how some of these other visitors dressed, but perhaps it was understandable considering the difficulty of obtaining or making fabric out on the frontier. Well, naturally we got to talking, and she asked me, point blank, without any of that smothering sensitivity one expects in frummer areas, if I was a spinster.

I guess it’s obvious enough, if not exactly written on my forehead.

I admitted  that I was indeed a spinster.

Seeing my somewhat abashed expression, she hastened to assure me that being a spinster was nothing bad – it was being a productive member of society, earning your own keep, so you didn’t need a husband. And heaven knew they could use a spinster out there – she pulled her Montgomery Ward catalog off the shelf to show me how much yarn costs, and we agreed that I could certainly undercut the company by using local sheep and alpacas.

She thought if there were more independent women around, why, women might just get the vote! Not that her husband would let her vote – he thinks women are feebleminded –

Seeing the expression on my face (mostly embarrassment for her husband, actually), she hastened to assure me that he was a good, law-abiding man – obeys the rule of thumb, and never switches her with anything thicker than that digit.

I said I thought I was going to look into that spinster gig very seriously after all.


20 thoughts on “To Each Their Own

  1. The courtship dance isn’t as exciting as it sounds. From my boy-scout/Order of the Arrow days I could probably still pull it off. But really it was just something the fellow did to let the girl know he was interested… it was one of the least impressive dances.

  2. this is Mrs Mekubal-can you email us which museum this is? Not one I went to on any of my School trips! I think the kids would enjoy it next time we’re out that way to visit Saba and Savta.

  3. If you stop into the Museum of Natural History, you can see the section on African rituals where they describe that women are valued. Despite the fact that men can have multiple wives, they claim, that each wife is in charge of her own home — husbands are merely guests there. In fact, the obligations of the husband in that society are similar to those itemized in the kethuba. But the museum curators did not seem to address Jewish cultural traditions among all the Asiatic peoples covered. I checked on Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christians represented to at least some extent.

  4. great post – it’s always quite interesting to examine other culture’s established marriage-related customs and see how they compare to our own. Maybe we should coordinate some group courtship dances (similar to the Gush Dance: for shtick at weddings where guys are most prominantly on display for the single womenfolk?

  5. Funny post, but I am wondering one thing: the period actress was speaking as herself or as the period actress? Seemed to me to be the former. In any case.

    Re Ariella Brown’s comment: my husband and I went to see that recently, and I was laughing at how in the African section you mentioned, one of the texts tells you that women were basically the dominant, bossy, mean ones. I was wondering why we all get upset when men rule over women but not when it’s the other way around. Lol.

  6. Mindy, it sounds to me very much like she was doing a great job speaking as a period actress.

  7. Chana – email me for the museum.
    Mindy – she was kidding. She was a great actress and we probably could have kept going for another 15 minutes, but I had to get back.
    Shades – love the idea. As long as it includes fringed buckskin sticks.

  8. we could start a whole new market hiring traditional Native American dance choreographers. For the most part, guys don’t do coordinated dances like I hear the girls do (or so my sister tells me, having never watched the girl’s side of the mechitza).

  9. i get a little jealous when i think about the un- or differently-affiliated who don’t feel the pressure to need to have families and can allow themselves the luxury of bachelor- or spinsterhood if they so desire.

  10. Pingback: Courting Flea « Bad for Shidduchim

  11. Pingback: Courting Flea « Bad for Shidduchim

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