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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937], at


In the olden times they married at the age of twenty, but now at that of twelve or thirteen. For this reason they divorce the more easily because they marry without love, and ignorant of married life and the duties of married people; and if their parents could not persuade them to return to their wives, they hunted them another, and others and others. With equal ease men with children left their wives with no anxiety lest another might take them as wives, or that they themselves might later return to them. Nevertheless, they are very jealous, and do not lightly suffer infidelity on their wives’ part; and now that they see that the Spaniards kill their wives for this reason, they are beginning to maltreat and even to kill them. In cases of divorce, small children stayed with their mothers, while the grown-up went with their father and the girls with their mother.

Even though divorce was so common and familiar a thing, the old people and those of better customs condemned it, and there were many who never had but the single wife; nor did they ever marry one bearing their own name on the father's side, for this was considered a very bad thing. Equally wrong was it held that a man should marry his sister-in-law, the widow of a brother.

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[paragraph continues] Neither did they marry their step-mothers, their wives’ sisters, nor their mothers’ sisters, all these being regarded as wrong. But with all other kinsmen on their mothers’ side, even first cousins, it was held legitimate.

The fathers were at great care to seek in good season wives for their sons, of equal rank and condition; and for the men to seek their wives themselves was regarded as undignified, as well as for the parents of the woman to make advances. In these matters they left the preparatory steps in the charge of other persons to care for; these then negotiated, dealt together, discussed the dowry or the settlement (which was not large). This the youth's father gave to the prospective father-in-law, while the girl's mother prepared garments for the bride and for the child.

The day of the marriage having arrived, they all gathered at the house of the fiancée's father, where a repast had been prepared. The guests met with the young couple and their relatives; the priest assured himself that the latter had given the matter all due consideration, gave the young man his wife, if it was settled for him to receive her that night; and after this the banquet took place. From that day the son-in-law remained in his father-in-law's house for five or six years, working for him; if he failed in this, he was driven from the house, but the mothers arranged always for the wife to supply her husband with his food, as a mark of the marriage.

The marriage of widowers and widows took place without any festival or ceremonies; the man simply went to the woman's house, was admitted and given to eat, and with this it was a marriage. The result of this was that they separated as easily as they came together. The Yucatecans never took more than a single wife, although in other places they frequently took a number together. At times the parents contracted marriages for their sons even when they were young children, and were regarded as their fathers-in-law until they came of age.

Next: XXVI. Method of Baptism in Yucatan; How it was Celebrated