Modern courtship and dating allow men and women to choose a mate for marriage and family life. Contemporary people may think marriage has always been this way. It may then be interesting to learn how ancient savages loved, courted, and had sexual relationships.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, cultural anthropology made a lot of progress in the study of sex, marriage, and love in remote tribal tribes (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Looking into the old archives of love studies from the 19th century shows a fascinating part of history that can help with love scholarship today.
Four types of courtship practices – “capture,” “elopement,” “purchase,” and “service” – were widely used among various savage tribes in the past. It seems the personal preferences of prospective mates, at least of a woman, were not taken into account (Finck, 1887/2019).
Did women have any choice? Did Darwinian sexual selection play any role in those old savage times of human evolution?
How Savage Men and Women of the Past Courted Each Other
Anthropological studies of the 19th century unveiled four varieties of courtship among primitive savages: “Capture,” “Elopement,” “Purchase,” and “Service.” (Finck, 1887/2019).
Primitive people on all five continents used these “Capture-Wife” dating practices for hundreds of years. The community of a tribe owned women like other property. No man could take a woman for marriage because he would violate someone’s rights. Therefore, a man couldn’t privately marry a woman within his tribe.
The only option he had was to steal or buy a bride from another tribe. If he stole a woman from another tribe, she was his property. If the woman did not want to be stolen, the man could force her by knocking on her head and pulling her to his tent in the tribe. In this case, when a man captured a woman from another tribe, as a pride of conquest, he had a right to have her as a wife. Then, he married her (1887/2019, Finck).
“Elopement” appeared later in the social evolution of humans. These kinds of courtship were widespread until recent centuries. It was a practice of stealing a bride by elopement when both a man and a woman wanted to marry each other, but their parents resisted or “presumably” resisted their marriage.
The “Purchase-wife” practices were of two different sorts. In the first case, the girl has no choice but to be sold by her father for a certain number of cows or camels, sometimes to the highest bidder. In the second case, the girl was allowed a certain degree of freedom in her choice. The “Service” form of courtship is practiced when a man rendered to the prospective bride’s parents some services in exchange for getting a wife. The man preferred to purchase her rather than steal her because, in this case, a wife was likely to be valued more than one stolen or bought. Besides, during the period of his service, the betrothed girl looked upon him as a future spouse. That time of service gave some room for the possibility that some feelings would grow between them.
Was Love Involved in Savage Courting?
Thus, one can see that all the courting practices relate to indirect or mediate courtship.
As Henry Finck commented on the “Capture-wife” way of courtship:
“When a girl is captured and knocked on the head she can hardly be said to be courted and consulted as to her wishes; and the man too, in such cases, owing to the dangers of the sport, is apt to pay no great attention to a woman’s looks and accomplishments, but to bag the first one that comes along.”(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).
Henry Finck also noted the “Purchase” courtship:
“the girl is rarely consulted as to her own preferences, the addresses being paid to the father, who invariably selects the wealthiest of the suitors, and only in rare cases allows the daughter a choice, as among the Kaffirs if the suitors happen to be equally well off.”(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).
In the case of courtship by “Service” again, the suitor worked not to please the daughter of the parents, but rather to compensate the parents for losing her labor.
The Savage Courtship in the Modern Sense of Sexual Selection In some instances, however, the savage courtships of the past resembled courtships in their modern meaning. These practices were largely among the lower races. The lovers paid their addresses directly to the girl, and she chose or rejected them at will.
Henry Finck quoted the Ploss who observed this custom as prevailing among the Orang-Sakai on the Malayan peninsula:
“On the wedding-day, the bride, in presence of her relatives, and those of her lover, and many other witnesses, is obliged to run into the forest. After a fixed interval the bridegroom follows and seeks to catch her. If he succeeds in capturing the bride she becomes his wife, otherwise he is compelled to renounce her for ever. If therefore a girl dislikes her suitor, she can easily escape from him and hide in the forest until the time allowed for his pursuit has expired.”(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).
In support of his theory of “sexual selection,” the British naturalist Charles Darwin observed its existence among the lower races:
“in utterly barbarous tribes the women have more power in choosing, rejecting, and tempting their lovers, or of afterwards changing their husbands, than might have been expected.”
Darwin also cited the following cases:
“Amongst the Abipones, a man on choosing a wife, bargains with the parents about the price. But ‘it frequently happens that the girl rescinds what has been agreed upon between the parents and the bridegroom, obstinately rejecting the very mention of marriage.’ She often runs away, hides herself, and thus eludes the bridegroom. Captain Musters, who lived with the Patagonians, says that their marriages are always settled by inclination; ‘if the parents make a match contrary to the daughter’s will, she refuses, and is never compelled to comply.’ In Tierra del Fuego a young man first obtains the consent of the parents by doing them some service, and then he attempts to carry off the girl; ‘but if she is unwilling, she hides herself in the woods until her admirer is heartily tired of looking for her, and gives up the pursuit; but this seldom happens.”(quoted in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).