The final version

There is a shorter version on my personal page, I posted it about a month ago, but this is the story that is being edited for the South Bend Tribune for publication sometime next month. It will need to be cut for space, I am a bit over on the word count. I wanted to present the unedited version here though.
A Cherokee Wedding By Tressa Bailey (sister of the bride) August 30, 2008, was a beautiful Summer Day. It was the end of the Fruit Moon and the 56th Cherokee National Holiday. It was too hot for an outdoor wedding, but like the ancestors that I am sure witnessed us from Heaven, we endured. This was the day that my sister, Rhonda Bailey would be joined forever with her love, Dave Buwa. Our parents (Ronald and Frances Bailey) and Dave’s parents (Marvin and Anna Buwa) had been planning this wonderful day for what seemed like ages, but was truthfully only a matter of months. Both families descend from the tribe of the Cherokee.
The guests, who dressed casually, mingled as we watched Chief Edgar WhiteWolf, assisted by his wife, Karen, consecrate the sacred circle where the wedding of my sister, Rhonda and Dave Buwa would soon be taking place. Chief WhiteWolf called out to the Great Spirit and our beloved ancestors to bless this union and all who attended.
It is interesting to note that while Cherokees are allowed to choose or reject their own mates, in order to participate in a wedding ceremony, they are required to get the favorable opinion of a Shaman. Since our tribe does not have an official Shaman, Chief acted in that capacity and met with the couple, instructed them and finally gave his approval of the union.
Most of the costumes worn by the wedding party were authentic costumes, hand made by our Mother, but our nephew, Adam Bailey, made his own costume as did the Chief and his wife. Cherokee women don't get to wear the sexy outfits that are commonly depicted in old movies. We are required to be fully covered and modest.
We entered the consecrated circle in the traditional clockwise manner, were handed a small packet and took our seats. Families sit together. Singles sit separately. The smells of sage and tobacco permeated our senses but it was a lovely smell, not at all like cigarettes, because this was untreated tobacco. The tobacco was not meant for smoking. Sage had been burned to bless the circle before we entered, much the same way that certain religions burn incenses in their churches. The Cherokee way of faith seems very ceremonial and mystical at times.
L to R, Frances Bailey, Anna Buwa, Rhonda and Dave Buwa, Chief Edgar WhiteWolf

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other.

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.

Now there is no more loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other.

Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.

Go now to your dwelling to enter into the days of your life together.

And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

The couple stood before the Chief and the mothers of the couple stood behind them. Cherokees have a matrilineal family tree. This means that family lineage and inheritance is passed down the line of the female rather than the male as is common in most societies.
Rhonda wore a traditional tear-dress, in white, and carried a basket with ears of corn to represent that she would take root and care for the family, Dave wore a Cherokee white ribbon shirt and carried a basket of meat indicating that he would nourish and support the family. Blue blankets were draped about the couples’ shoulders at the beginning of the ceremony by their mothers, covering them in symbolism, mostly about solitude, reflection and loyalty. They each have their own blanket to represent their separate beginnings. Behind Chief there was a basket holding the few remaining white-wrapped gifts of raw tobacco packets that were handed to each guest as we took our seats. These were given so that we might thank the Great Spirit for the couples’ love, by enriching the Earth at the end of the ceremony.
A wonderful event occurred during this ceremony. Two beautiful hawks (our family's totem consists of hawks and wolves. I've always considered myself a wolf, which is the minority, but my sister Rhonda considers herself a hawk) began circling the consecrated ground. This was considered a wonderful omen, a blessing from our ancestors and the Creator. I believe in omens like this. The circle became steadily smaller until the hawks were almost hovering above Rhonda and Dave. I silently said “Hi” to our Grandpa, Aunt Shirley and Cousin Sue, who had joined the Great Spirit years earlier. I believe it was their spirits which were directing the Hawks. I'm sure they wanted to celebrate my sister finding the happiness she has always deserved.
L to R, Frances Bailey, Anna Buwa, Rhonda Bailey, Dave Buwa (covered), Chief Edgar WhiteWolf

Above you are the stars, below you are the stones.

As time does pass, remember, like the stars should your love be constant.

Like the stones should your love be firm.

Be close yet not too close. Possess one another, yet be understanding

Have patience with each other, for storms will come, but they will go quickly.

Be free in giving of affection and warmth and be serious to one another.

Have no fear, and let not the words of the unenlightened give you unease.

For the Great Spirit is with you, now and forever. A May Naa (amen)

After the ceremony, but before the blessing, the mothers replaced the two blankets with a single white blanket symbolizing that the two were now one. The color was to symbolize the purity of their love, white is not required as much as the best fabric or hide available. It is more about placing the highest value on the partnership rather than the parts of the marriage. Rhonda and Dave, with tears of happiness in their eyes, then turned to us and gave us their wedding testament:

“God in Heaven above, protect the ones we love. We honor all that you have created as we pledge our lives and hearts together. We honor Mother Earth and ask that our union be warm and glowing with love in our hearts."

Many of the rest of us felt those tears too. For some of us, tears of relief that all obstacles had been conquered comingled with tears of joy that all promises and prayers had been answered. It seemed as if we, and not just they, had waited forever for this magical day. All was right with the world. Now they could rest in the comfort of each other and live in the security that is love.

Those few cynics amongst us believed in the power of faith and love once again, if only for a moment.

Adam Bailey dances Adam Bailey, our nephew, danced a traditional tribal dance after the ceremony. He made his costume right down to the deer-hide laces used as thread. He hunted and killed the deer that the hide came from. According to the Cherokee way, not one part of the animal was laid to waste. What wasn't eaten was used for clothing or art. If scraps remain, they are buried, untreated, to nourish the Earth. Native Americans never kill animals indiscriminately. It is against our faith to waste the Earth or its creatures. He gathered and cleaned all the feathers in his headdress and accessories. The beads were made from twigs and stones and various other *found* objects. Cherokees try to recycle everything as a way of life and out of respect to the Earth that the Creator provided us. After the dancing was completed, we guests blessed the ground with our tobacco and sent our prayers to the Great Spirit. We then went to the gift blanket to pick out our tokens from the happy couple. Cherokee people measure wealth, not by how much you retain, but by how much you give away. Cherokees give thanks for our blessings and events by giving, rather than receiving gifts. The ceremony ended when we rejoined and completed the circle during our exit. Rhonda and Dave Buwa, joined by their nephew Adam Bailey (center) Afterwards we gathered for a pot-luck dinner and hog roast reception. If anyone left hungry it was their own fault.

I must note that while this is the ceremony that our family will recognize, it was technically not a legal marriage, nor sanctioned by most religions. Rhonda and Dave were married at the courthouse for legal reference, and also had a nondenominational Christian ceremony shortly before the Cherokee Ceremony began.

I think that any couple who goes to the trouble of being married three times, will certainly last forever. May the Great Spirit bless them both and keep them safe from harm.


Remo said...

That's fantastic! Best wishes and blessings to the happy couple!

Martha said...

That is so cool! :-)

CONNIE said...

May their ancestors bless them on their journey together.
May their lives be filled with love.

Anonymous said...

B'Mose Ewe' Onuk