Wednesday, April 1, 2009


This post is very speculative and I would appreciate any comments.

We were walking around the town of Paracho (the guitar town) when we heard a rather alarming noise behind us – much shouting and horn honking. We turned to find two or three trucks loaded with young men and women and the men with blackened faces. Was this the coming revolution! Upon asking we were told it was a wedding and the large group was going to pick up the bride. The trucks stopped on a side street and a young man in the traditional dress (white cotton shirt with embroidery and white cotton pants) appeared to be dancing to accompaniment of shouting and clapping. What was going on?

In search of an answer I turned to the ethnography by Ralph Beals (1946) on the town of Cheran which lies about 10 km to the north. Beals describes a traditional Tarascan wedding but his information comes from the 1930s and early 1940s and is an ideal portrait of weddings as he never witnessed one that fit this description. Let me summarize his description by identifying the main events in a sequence of activities.

1. The groom “steals” the bride. This is usually by consent and according to plan.
a. Parents of groom visit the bride’s house to ask for “pardon” and entice the father to consent with gifts.
b. If the father accepts, the neighbors and family are called together and much drinking occurs.
2. A few days later both families assemble and exchange bread and tomales. Much drinking occurs.
3. The couple makes application for a civil wedding. They almost always marry prior to the religious wedding.
4. Religious marriage.
a. Very early in the morning the bride’s parents hire a band and go to the groom’s house to take him clothing. He must dance once dressed.
b. Parents and godparents of groom go the house of the bride and take her clothing.
c. Parents, relatives and band take the couple to the church (still very early).
d. Bride and family go to her house.
e. Remainder of the group goes to the groom’s house.
f. All then go to the bride’s house and then back to the groom’s house for breakfast.
g. Bride returns to her house.
h. Band plays in the groom’s house and more and more friends drop in for food.
i. Meanwhile the sibling, cousins and grandparents of groom hire a band and go through the streets, ending up at the groom’s uncle for something to eat. They then proceed to the godparents of the bride where they sing outside the house and then enter to seek permission to take the bride.
j. The group then goes to the house of the bride and immediately asks for permission to take the bride. If the bride’s parents consent they take the bride back to the groom’s house along with gifts of clothing.
k. At the groom’s house there is the traditional distribution of bread.
l. All begin to drink and the gift clothing is distributed.

Now perhaps we can make some sense of what I saw on the street. The event observed appears to relate to 4(i) above. We observed the event in question around 1:00 so if the wedding occurred early in the morning and people have had time for breakfast and then some further food it seems reasonable that the picking up of the bride would be around this time. The groom was dressed very differently than others and his cloths may have been the gift from the bride’s parents and the cloths he was married in. The event on the street may have been the serenading of the godparents of the bide and obtaining their consent. Many of those in the trucks were drinking heavily and as this was the last major event of the day prior to the exchange of gifts and more drinking, it seems right. However, Beals makes no mention of the blackened faces. So perhaps my speculation is off course or this is a new addition to the tradition in the last 60 years. Any suggestions?

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