Courtship and dating were modern rituals that enabled men and women to choose a mate or partner for marriage and family life (Karandashev, 2017). Sometimes, one may think that these marital practices have always been this way. So, it may be curiously fascinating to learn what love, courting, and sexual relationships looked like among primitive savages of the past.

Cultural anthropology made enormous strides in the 19th and 20th centuries in studying sex, marriage, and love in remote tribal tribes (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Let us look into the old archives of love studies from the 19th century. They depict an intriguing history that can be helpful for love scholarship nowadays.

In the previous articles, I briefly showed what savage love was and what the practices of “wife-capture” were in the past centuries.

Here I summarize four courtship practices, which were widespread among various tribes of savages in various primitive cultures of the past. I use the old archival treasures of love scholarship (Finck, 1887/2019).

Four Types of Courtship among Savages

Romantic love and romantic relationships are primarily associated in modern scholarship with the courtship period of relationships. So, it is interesting to see what kind of opportunities for courtship the old primitive societies provided. The anthropologists of the 19th century discovered among semi-civilized people and savages four grades of courtship: “Capture”, “Elopement”, “Purchase”, and “Service”. Henry Finck briefly examined these types of courtship (Finck, 1887/2019). Let us consider these largely widespread courtship practices of the past.

The “Capture” Type of Courtship

According to this tradition, a man who wants a bride must steal or buy her from another tribe. He could not marry privately within his own tribe. Women, like other forms of property, were owned in common by the community. So, no man could take a woman for himself without overstepping someone else’s rights. However, if he stole a woman from another tribe, she became his exclusive property.

This primitive style of courtship was far ruder than animal courtship. If the woman resisted, the man knocked her on the head and dragged to his captor’s tent. A man who captured a woman from another tribe had a right to guard her and appear with pride of conquest. The primitive man’s pride was like that of a warrior with many scalps in his belt. Marriage follows capture. Rather than love, feelings of conjugal sentiments prevailed in this case (1887/2019, Finck).

Primitive people on all five continents used these “capture-wife” courtship practices for hundreds of years.

The “Elopement” Type of Courtship

“Wife-capture” was still present in many societies in the 19th and 20th centuries in the form of “elopement.” This happens when the parents oppose the young men and women’s choice. It is still widely practiced, even when all parties involved consent. These traditions of “sudden flight” and an impulsive marriage enhance the romantic flavor of the honeymoon. Additionally, this lets the newlyweds escape the awkward formalities and routine rituals of the wedding day.

The “Purchase” Type of Courtship

This kind of courtship is a substantially more civilized form of courtship. It is a somewhat higher evolutionary stage of courtship compared to “capture.” This “purchase” custom came in two different grades.

“In the first the girl has no choice whatever, but is sold by her father for so many cows or camels, in some cases to the highest bidder. Among the Turcomans a wife may be purchased for five camels if she be a girl, or for fifty if a widow; whereas among the Tunguse a girl costs one to twenty reindeer, while widows are considerably cheaper. In the second class of cases the purchased girl is allowed a certain degree of liberty of choice.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 59).

This type of marriage formation has existed for centuries among the peoples of the five continents. It was still retained in some remote tribal societies until recent times. Many “modern” day money-marriages of the 19th and 20th centuries could be called this way.

The “Service” Type of Courtship

This kind of courtship is the custom of getting a wife in exchange for services rendered to her parents. The Henry Finck quote of Mr. Spencer’s remarks well illustrates this type of courtship:

“The practice which Hebrew tradition acquaints us with in the case of Jacob, proves to be a widely-diffused practice. It is general with the Bhils, Ghonds, and Hill tribes of Nepaul; it obtained in Java before Mahometanism was introduced; it was common in ancient Peru and Central America; and among sundry existing American races it still occurs. Obviously, a wife long laboured for is likely to be more valued than one stolen or bought. Obviously, too, the period of service, during which the betrothed girl is looked upon as a future spouse, affords room for the growth of some feeling higher than the merely instinctive—initiates something approaching to the courtship and engagement of civilised peoples.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 59).

Victor Karandashev

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