A mber’s father promised Bernadine’s family three pigs, and money as well, in addition to the plot of land he would give the young couple. That was a very fine price for a bride, and the council of village elders had agreed to the match. Bernadine’s mother was elated. Not only had she gotten a strong husband for her daughter, she’d also have three pigs to add to the small family herd.

Joe claimed that Bernadine should be happy, too. “Most families get only one pik for a daughter,” he told her. “When I marry, we won’t be giving more than one pik for my bride. But for you, Mother is getting much more. And money, too.”

But Bernadine thought differently. “Why should I be happy?” she asked, facing the river. “The more piks and money that come with the bridegroom, the less he’s worth.”

“No, it means that you’re worth a lot,” said Joe, discovering as he spoke that it’s very hard to convince your sister of something you don’t really believe yourself. “That’s why they’re giving more for you than they’d give for just anybody.”

“Joe, do you think it will be really awful for me with Amber?”

“No,” said Joe, lying brazenly. “I told you a hundred times already that he’s strong and… and quick.”

“And he’ll hunt any animal I want, and he’ll build me canoes.”


They were quiet for a moment.

“I’m going to the House of Spirits,” said Joe. “You want to walk me there?”


Left alone, she said quietly to herself, “I’m only going to live once. And you get married only once.”

There would be a wedding. Everyone would dress up in feathers and jewelry and paint their faces with pretty colors and come to meet Amber’s extended family. They really had to check on their supply of face paint and see if they were running out of any colors. Red was made from the henna plant, yellow from earth, white from chalk, and black from charcoal. With all those colors, they could paint their faces so beautifully. White people, she’d heard to her amusement, almost never painted their faces. That was so stupid. Wasn’t it bad enough that they were so pale and colorless, like skeletons? They of all people should paint their faces….

Joe had told her that. He liked to borrow books from the district library. He picked up all sorts of knowledge that way. For example, he told her that in other parts of the world, the bride wears a long white dress at her wedding, with the skirt all puffed out. And the bridegroom wears nicer clothes than any of the other men. That sounded very silly to Bernadine. Why should the bride and groom be dressed differently from everyone else?

“Because it’s their celebration,” Joe tried to explain. It had been evening, and they were sitting by the fire, eating sago pudding.

“It’s not the bride and groom’s celebration,” Grandpa Cargo corrected him sternly. He stopped to wipe a bit of pudding from his lip. “It is the tribe’s celebration. The tribe is celebrating the secret of life. The tribe is celebrating the continuation of the family line. The tribe is celebrating the union of the two families, who will now be joined by ties of blood. It is not the bride’s celebration or the groom’s celebration. It is the celebration of the tribe.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 671)