TREE MARRIAGE. In Chota Nagpur, the tribes who speak languages of the Munda group, and in Bengal, low castes such as the Rautias, Bagdis and Murmis, perform the rite of tree marriage as an integral part of the marriage service. The nuptial pair are fastened to trees by thread. The trees selected are either the mahua or the mango, the two most important and conspicuous trees in that area. In the marriage rites for a number of castes in Mysore, whose language is Dravidian, the marriage is celebrated in a booth, one of the posts of which is called the milk post. This, so we are told, is to secure the continuity of the line, and it has to be cut by the maternal uncle—the male representative of an important social grouping. A fig tree is here specified, while in parts of the Punjab, a branch of a jhand tree Prosopis spicigera is essential to the due performance of the marriage rites. Quite obviously, trees of such economic impor tance as the mahua, the mango, the jhand and the fig are selected as conspicuously, essentially fertile, but it is not a general fer tility, but a specific fertility, that must be looked for as the reason for their selection. They are associated with the beliefs of the people as to the fate of those who are destined or desired to return and be re-born. In general, too, trees, notably the
peepul, are in India associated with the spirits, and for this reason barren women walk round them in order that they may be fertilized by a spirit denizen of the tree. In West Africa "nearly all Yoruba believe that souls about to be born live in or among trees, and it is for this reason that women so often pray to the tree spirits to send them children." (P. A. Talbot, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, vol. ii., p. 267.) There are cases where tree marriage affords a means of attain ing the social status of marriage, as where a bachelor who seeks to marry a widow is obliged to marry a tree, which is then cut down. He is then a widower, equal in status with his human bride. It may be a substitute and intended to avoid the curse of widowhood, or to confer the status of married woman on a girl, and thus escape the social and religious penalties attaching to those whose daughters do not marry. Lastly, there is the common practice in India of marrying a newly-constructed tank to a plantain tree for the purpose of blessing the tank.
Tree marriage is part of a series of rites by means of which the continuity of the group life is secured.