Odd Marriage Customs

Odd Marriage Customs

The courting habits of primitive people often involve complicated rituals. In Paraguay, when two women of the Chaco Indian tribe want to marry the same man, they don tapir—skin boxing gloves and fight it out. The winner gets the man, who, incidentally, has very little to say in the matter.

The women of the Trobriand Islands near Papua, New Guinea, have quite a different approach to marriage. They simply go up to the man of their choice and bite him on the arm; his opinions and preferences are again of little consequence.

The ancient Babylonians were quite practical when it came to marriage. They never waited for any of their women to become "old maids"; it was customary to auction off all marriageable females annually. Men bid very high for the most attractive females. The money paid for them was used strictly as dowries for the women with fewer obvious charms for whom no one had bid. With such fringe benefits, an unattached woman was a notable rarity.

The ancient Greeks had a marital custom that, if applied today, would make old age obsolete. The women apparently managed to remain young by counting their age from the date on which they were married rather than from the day of their birth. They felt that the wedding marked the real beginning of a woman's life; all that went before was merely preparation. This usually gave a woman an extra twenty years of youth. The average life span of the ancient Greek woman was about fifty years; yet it was rare to find a woman over "thirty."

Years ago bizarre courting rituals were enforced strictly to keep the bride's virtue intact before the actual marriage. And in some parts of the world the methods were extreme. In the Solomon Islands a bride—to—be was kept in a cage, closely guarded, and not released until the time of the wedding. The girl's parents would keep an unusually sharp eye on their future son—in—law, who had to account for his whereabouts at all times.

In Wales future grooms had to develop artistic skill if they wished to be allowed to visit their brides—to—be. To keep the grooms' hands busy until the wedding, they had to make wooden spoons of very elaborate and delicate design for the girls' parents.

In contrast, nineteenth—century Scottish law required brides to certify their productivity by being pregnant on their wedding day. The law was enforced.

Standards of beauty have changed over the ages as well. Nowadays Americans consider a thin, shapely woman sexy and desirable. But it wasn't always so. In the late nineteenth century the great American beauty was Lillian Russell, and many a young man sighed over her photographs. This famous singer and actress, at the peak of her career, topped the scales at 186 pounds! The "fat is beautiful" viewpoint still prevails, not in America but in part of Nigeria. Here, when young girls reach puberty, they enter fattening houses, where they spend their time eating almost constantly. When they emerge months later, they appear as "mountains of flesh" and are only then considered truly fit for marriage.

Unusual methods of ending marital bliss have also been recorded. Back in the 1870s, in the city of Corinne, Utah, divorce was made so simple that any man could obtain one instantly. By merely slipping a $2.50 gold coin into a machine and turning a crank, he received divorce papers already signed by the local judge. But only men qualified for obtaining a divorce in this manner. The machine was extremely popular—for a while. Utah statutes failed to back up these slot machine divorces, and they were later declared illegal. As a result many men found they had unwittingly become bigamists.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth