There was the informal way. The man could bring the woman gifts, and if she accepted them, she could go with him to his lodge or he could go with her to hers. There weren’t many gifts, and there wasn’t a ceremony involved.
In Restoring Hope, the reason why Woape thought Gary had proposed was because he bought her clothes, a brush, and other items. He didn’t understand that by buying her things, he was proposing to her in her culture. This was why she went to his bedroom and went in his bed. He had proposed with gifts, and she accepted his proposal by going to his bed. All they needed to do was have sex to make the marriage official.
The downside to this is that it was typically frowned upon by the Mandan culture because they liked it when there were many gifts given over a period of time with a fancy ceremony. That’s why I decided to show the “proper” way a Mandan was supposed to get married in Bound by Honor Bound by Love.
Ideally, marriage would happen only after the man brought many gifts to the woman and her family, and the more gifts he brought, the better. He didn’t just propose to her; he essentially proposed to her family. To have an honorable wedding, the couple would get the permission from her family. It wasn’t the norm, but some marriages were arranged (as was in the case of Bound by Honor Bound by Love) and it was understood that the man could marry the woman’s younger sisters once they came of marriageable age. In fact, they had a saying that went something like, “One good son-in-law is worth more than many bad ones.” If the son-in-law was a good one (provided food for the lodge, didn’t bring them disgrace, etc), he was highly respected and given the best (and largest) room in the lodge.
A quick note about arranged marriages. They were arranged if sacred bundles were involved. It was a good way for a lodge to acquire a sacred bundle, which then typically ended up in the woman’s family since the man would move into her lodge. If the man’s family didn’t have brothers or uncles to provide for his family, the woman could agree to move into his lodge. In Bound by Honor Bound by Love, the marriage between Onawa and Citlali was arranged for the sacred bundle her family owned. Though I didn’t really get into it in the book, Citlali’s brother was just learning to hunt so he couldn’t be the sole provider for the tribe yet. So that is why Citlali’s family was glad Onawa agreed to move into their lodge. Because the original agreement was for Woape to marry Citlali and she ran off (breaking the marriage contract), she lost her possession of the sacred bundle. This sacred bundle passed down to Onawa, and her father agreed to let Citlali’s lodge own it.
Regarding the proposal, gifts could be anything of value, and the more gifts (and more valuable the gifts) the man brought to the woman and her family, the more impressive the proposal was to the tribe. He could bring horses, dogs, clothing, weapons, food, jewelry… Anything the lodge could use, he could bring it. He would give a formal proposal, and if she agreed, they would talk to her family. When the family agreed, they would have the wedding ceremony.
The wedding ceremony would begin with a meal where the father of the woman would drape a buffalo robe over the groom and bride. After the meal, they would go out of the woman’s lodge to a lodge dedicated to social functions. Like the proposal, the more gifts the couple accumulated from guests, the more impressive the ceremony was. And the couple did not keep these gifts. They gave them away to the guests. So in the book, people brought Citlali and Onawa gifts which were put on display for everyone to appreciate and pray over. Then the couple would select a gift to give to each guest. The white buffalo robe I used in the story was considered especially important, and if the couple dedicated that robe to the Lone Man, then it was even better. After this was all done, the man would either go to her lodge or she would go to his and they’d consummate the marriage.
Divorce was very easy to attain except when sacred bundles were involved. If the husband lived in the woman’s lodge, she would throw his clothes and hunting gear out the door of the lodge and that was it. If she was in his lodge, she’d take her things and leave. If she wanted to leave him and marry another man, he was supposed to bless their decision and move out of her lodge. Under no circumstances was he to get angry or protest her decision for a divorce. I’m not sure how many men divorced their wives. From what I read, it seemed that the woman had most of the control in this area. This was why Citlali felt as vulnerable as he did. In divorce, the woman kept the children. In Bound by Honor Bound by Love, Onawa left Citlali’s lodge but she didn’t divorce him. She thought about it, though.