Using the comparative technique, the story from the book The Tapestry of Culture, which contrasts Kwakiutl and American wedding customs, highlights many distinctions and parallels between the two cultural communities. This essay would concentrate on the three key similarities described in the text between the two types of wedding customs.
The first topic covered in this paper is the economics of marriage, in which all ethnic classes demonstrated exchange of goods and investment prior to the actual ceremony. The emergence of supernatural characteristics in rites and ceremonies exemplified in both traditions is the second correlation. The last aspect addressed is how marriages and wedding ceremonies manifest the economic positions of the parties involved.
Being the proponent, the author discusses the funeral ritual under the Catholic Church which he has personally witnessed. The writer intends to discuss the purpose of the ritual, the stages of the ceremony and how the vent reflects the cultural ideas and norms of the culture.
The Economics Involved Before the Marriage
One striking similarity which is quite similar across different cultures in the world in terms of marriage is the exchange and purchase of goods before the actual ceremony. This was elaborately discussed on the text wherein the exchange of goods such as copper and blankets were made between the groom and the father of the bride. The marriage ritual for the Kwakiutl group also includes a series of “repurchases” of the bride between the groom and the father of the bride, which takes more than a year, particularly after the birth of the child of the couple. This is exemplified in various cultures where the payment of dowries are still practiced.
In the American wedding, economics is involved, which means that the goods were purchased and there were many expenditures. The Kwakiutl marriage itself was an institution for transfers of large amounts of property (Rossman et al 43). Although American weddings do not focus on providing for luxurious gifts for the father of the bride, some similarities are still present such as the tradition of providing for an engagement ring to the fiancé to seal the deal before the actual wedding ceremony. Nowadays, there is also a tradition of gift giving on the day of the wedding before the actual ceremony between the groom and the bride. These practices strengthen the observation of the authors on how American weddings focus on the groom and the bride compared to the Kwakiutl marriage ritual, where kinship plays a bigger role and the exchanges of goods are more focused between the father of the bride and the groom.
Nonetheless, the tradition of providing for a luxurious gift or some form of economic good is still present in both groups.
Religion as an Aspect of the Marriage Ritual
Although American weddings are not exclusively held through a Roman Catholic ceremony, this was the point of comparison in the reading as what happened in the marriage between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. Though marriage can be sealed by law or by the State as a social institution, many still turn to religion to bond their marriage.
Religion was involved in the American wedding. For instance, an officiated priest and Roman Catholic vows were exchanged. Similarly, in the Kwakiutl marriage the rights and privileges exhibited demanded the recitation of myths linking people to their ancestors, a cornerstone of Kwakiutl religious belief (Rossman et al 43). Marriage as a tradition started and evolved with the element of the supernatural playing a big role. With Roman Catholic wedding rites, the groom and the bride wish to establish their marriage which is founded on religious faith. On the other hand, Kwakiutl marriages are founded on their belief in the powers of their ancestors, which is the basis of their religion. These factors display how marriage is regarded by most cultures believing that more than a social institution, marriages should be blessed and sealed by their faith. Such insinuations can be backed up by studies showing that there is a link between religiosity and marital commitment or stability.
Research also has repeatedly indicated correlations between religious homogamy and marital satisfaction, although the nature of the relationship is not certain (Koenig et al 2001). Apparently, state laws are not enough to make the parties to a marriage commit more, there must be an aspect of faith or religion in order to exercise fidelity or commitment to the responsibilities that come with marriage. This also reflects the concept of marriage as believed by most people not merely decided to be entered by both parties to the marriage, but must also be “blessed” by the community and by God or supernatural beings such as ancestors.
Marriage as a Badge of Economic and Political Status
As observed by the authors:
The more lavish is the display, the greater is the standing and renown of the participants and their families. Potlaches have been described as boastful displays of “conspicuous consumption.” Wealthy Americans have been accused of using such displays at weddings to promote themselves, and promoting one’s self can help in name recognition, especially in politics. In this respect, the extravagant display of the Shriver-Schwarzenegger wedding was very much like a potlatch (Rossman 42-43).
This similarity, as pointed out in the text, is the most strikingly obvious factor across cultures. Almost in all differing religions and marriage rites, weddings are venues for showing off one’s family background. More often than not, individuals entering a marriage would splurge and spend according to one’s economic or political backgrounds. Similar to what has been observed by Boas in the Kwakiutl culture, the daughter of the chieftain from the highest ranks of her society would necessarily entail elaborate and extravagant ceremonies. On the other hand, in an example of an American marriage, Maria Shriver coming from the Kennedy clan is considered to be part of the elite. Her marriage to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is also a celebrity, was extravagant with influential guests from politics and show business. Such elaborate wedding was compared to the potlatches of the Kwakiutl. Wedding ceremonies are also venues to strengthen political ties between families in almost all societies. Celebrations like this would include influential people as guests although they are not close to the couple getting married.
Roman Catholic Funeral
Observing the Roman Catholic funeral rites, one can note that the ceremonies are similar with the basic concepts and stages such as the vigil service or also known as the wake, the funeral liturgy and the burial or interment.
At the vigil service, there is a public viewing of the body, which usually takes place in a funeral home. This is usually the time when family and friends gather to remember the life of the deceased through eulogies in programs and prayers.
The funeral liturgy, on the other hand, is manifested through a Mass. This is the time when the friends and family of the deceased gather to give thanks and praise to God, to ask forgiveness for the sins of the deceased for him or her to enter the gates of heaven.
Lastly, the Roman Catholic funeral rites end with the interment wherein the body is buried in an open grave if not cremated. This symbolic procedure marks the wishes of the community that the deceased will soon be resurrected.
Although the stages of the Roman Catholic funeral rites are similar, other factors such as the extravagance of the funeral clearly show the economic status of the deceased or the family to which the dead belonged. The choice for the casket with different options for lavish materials or intricate designs is opted by wealthy families. For the funeral rites, families would have the capacity to opt for the more expensive lands in posh cemeteries and epitaphs, and tombs would also come with a price depending on the material and the design.
With different rituals and celebrations across various cultures, one major striking element is the spending capacity of a person. It is important to note that rites such as marriage, baptism or funeral are significant moments in our lives. Those significant celebrations and how we would like to make them special definitely reflect our economic status in society and how much we are willing to splurge for such occasions.
Koenig, Harold, Michael McCollough and David Larson. Handbook of Religion and Health. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Rosman, Abraham, Paula Rubel and Maxine Weisgrau. The Tapestry of Culture: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. AltaMira Press, 2009.