Marriage is a social institution which creates a conjugal link between its members, a socially recognized bond, whether by legal authorities or through its use and the customs of the people.
When looking into the Maya world of Yucatán, we find that during the 18th century and beginnings of the 19th century, it was the custom for males to marry at age 17 or 18, and females at age 14 or 15.
The parents preferred, for their sons, girls from the same social class and town. As well, it was considered petty if the male looked for a companion for himself or his children, rather than obtaining the servces of a professional matchmaker (ah atanzah).
Once the matchmaker was selected, the ceremony and the amount of the dowry were discussed. This usually consisted of dresses and other items of little value, which were paid by the father of the groom to the father of the bride as a marriage pledge; for her part, the groom’s mother prepared the clothing for her son and for her future daughter-in-law.
All of this was described by Dr. Sylvanus G. Morley, an eminent knowledgeable North American Mayanist archaeologist, in his work “La Civilización Maya” which may be one of the most authoritative historical documents about the Maya civilization. The knowledgeable North American relates, as well, that on the day of the ceremony, they met at the home of the father of the bride, where the priest pronounced a speech with the details of the marriage covenant; afterwards, the house was filled with burning incense, and the priest spoke the prayers and gave his blessing to the couple. The ceremony ended with a meal which was offered to the crowd in attendance.
From that moment, the son-in-law stayed in the home of the bride’s parents, working for them for a period of six or seven years. The mother-in-law had to ensure that her daughter gave food and drink to the young husband, as a way of showing that they recognized the marriage. However, if the young groom stopped working during the agreed upon time, he could be thrown out of the house.
Although the Maya were monogamous, divorce among them was a simple thing and occurred frequently. There were men who married 10 or 12 times, and the same freedom was enjoyed by the women, to leave their husbands and remarry, according to Spanish witnesses cited by Dr. Sylvanus G. Morley.
By: Yurina Fernández Noa