Social Traditions


Source: Omaha Public Library

The marriage traditions of the Arapaho are very interesting when compared to traditional western marriage practices.  After men could prove their hunting skills and that they were ready and able to provide for a family they were able to marry.  This usually occurred in the man’s late 20’s or early 30’s.  When it came time to marry for a woman, she was in typically in her late teens.  The most interesting aspect to the marital traditions is that the marriages were arranged.  Usually the woman’s older brother, father or uncle made the arrangement.  The man was typically a friend of the brother.  However, sometimes if a man of the tribe noticed a woman that he wished to marry he would often make contact with the brother, uncle or father of the woman.  Although the marriages were arranged, the woman had the right to refuse the arrangement, however this was very uncommon because of the pressures put on the woman by her family to marry whom they chose.  One Arapaho woman who was married in 1868 said:

“It was almost sundown…I pulled my shawl over my head and face and cried, but kept on running…It was getting dark.  The owls were already hooting.  I was “wild”!  While I was still running, a horse passed me and circled around me…A woman grabbed me, landed me on the horse, and took me back to camp…I still insisted that I wasn’t going to be married to him…In the morning my unlces talked to me, and then I was willing to be married.” (Fowler 30)

Another interesting aspect to marital practices of the Arapaho is that they practiced polygamy.  Only men were able to have more than one wife.  Usually the number of wives depended on the “wealth” or accomplishment of the man (men typically had two wives).   The two women lived in separate tepees.  The first wife would act as “head housekeeper and would often delegate the housekeeping tasks to the other wife or wives. The man would often marry one of the sisters of his first wife.  This happened because the man had already gained the respect of the family and the two women would find it easy to get along since they were sisters.  Although a man would marry two or more women from the same family, interbreeding was strictly avoided from within the family. 

“On the day of the wedding, the groom’s family brought horses and other gifts to the bride’s family, and the bride’s family responded by giving an equivalent amount of property.  After this exchange, the bride’s family set up a tipi and furnished it, then invited the groom and his family there for a feast.  At this feast the bride and groom sat together publicly for the first tiem, the marriage was announced, and elders prayed for the couple and instructed them on how to live a proper married life.  The two families again exchanged presents, competing the marriage ceremony.  Men gave horses and sometimes quivers (a case for carrying arrows), bows and arrows, and saddles.  Women gave robes, clothing, and other household goods.  Throughout the marriage, a woman retained her own property; she owned horses and the tipi and its furnishings.” (Fowler 30)


The above text is adapted from author Loretta Fowler in her book Arapaho

(ISBN #079100371X)