National Geographic : 1901 Jul
THE SERI of his spouse, where he normally occu pies the outermost place in the group and acts as a sort of outer guard or sentinel. Conformably to their pro prietary position, the matrons have chief, if not sole, voice in extending and removing the rancheria; and such ques tions as that of the placement of a new jacal are discussed animatedly among them and are finally decided by the dic tum of the eldest in the group. The im portance of the function thus exercised by the women has long been noted at Costa Rica and other points on the Seri frontier, for the rancherias are located and the initial jacal is erected commonly by a solitary matron, sometimes by two or three aged dames; around this nu cleus other matrons and their children gather in the course of a day or two; while it is usually three or four days, and sometimes a week, before the broth ers and husbands skulk singly or in small bands into the new rancheria. MARRIAGE The most striking and significant social facts discovered among the Seri relate to marriage customs. As noted repeatedly elsewhere, the tribal population is preponderantly femi nine, so that polygyny naturally pre vails ; the number of wives reaches three or possibly four, averaging about two, though the younger warriors commonly have but one, and there are always a number of spouseless (widowed) dames, but no single men of marriageable age. So far as could be ascertained, no special formalities attend the taking of super numerary wives, who are usually wid owed sisters of the first spouse. It seems to be practically a family affair, governed by considerations of convenience rather than established regulations-an irregu larity combining with other facts to sug gest that polygyny is incidental, and perhaps of comparatively recent origin. The primary mating of the Seri is at- INDIANS 279 tended by observances so elaborate as to show that marriage is one of the pro foundest sacraments of the tribe, pene trating the innermost recesses of tribal thought, and interwoven with the essen tial fibers of tribal existence. Few, if any, other peoples devote such anxious care to their mating as do the Seri,* and among no other known tribe or folk is the moral aspect of conjugal union so rigorously guarded by collective action and individual devotion. The initial movement toward formal marriage seems to be somewhat indef inite (or perhaps, rather, spontaneous). According to Mashem, it may be made either by the prospective groom or by his father, though not directly by the maiden or her kinswomen. In any event the prerequisites for the union are pro visionally determined in the suitor's family. These relate to the suitability of age, the propriety of the clan rela tion, etc., for no stripling may seriously contemplate matrimony until he has en tered manhood (apparently correspond ing with the warrior class), nor can he mate in his own totem, though all other clans of the tribe are apparently open to him, while the maiden must have passed (apparently by a considerable time) her puberty feast. In any event, too, the proposal is formally conveyed by the elderwoman of the suitor's family to the maiden's clanmother, when it is duly pandered, first by this dame and her daughter matrons, and later (if the pro posal is entertained) it is deliberated and discussed at length by the matrons of the two clans involved, who commonly hold repeated councils for the purpose. At an undetermined stage and to an un determined degree the maiden herself is consulted; certainly she holds the power of veto, ostensible if not actual. Pend *Perhaps the closest parallel in this respect is that found in the elaborate marriage regula tions prevailing among the Australian aborig ines, as described by Spencer and Gillen, Walter E. Roth, and other modern observers.