Love is considered a universal language.
Regardless of the corner of the globe, you’ll find it displayed in one form or another. But as varied as our cuisines and climates are, our love culture is just as different. Sometimes, it’s down to our perception; in many parts of the world, premarital sex is seen as a taboo. In other regions, it’s a necessary part of courtship.
Our differences may also lie in how we show affection. Across the world, from Germany to Seoul, thousands of lovers have inscribed their names on padlocks, clamped the locks to landmarks and thrown away the keys. Sure, these love locks are a cute sign of affection, but they also take away from the beauty of the landmark. On the Pont des Arts in Paris, these locks have added a combined weight of up to 20 elephants, significantly weakening the bridge. This is why all love locks were taken down in June this year.
Other times, our differences lie in the type of partner we want. In Mauritania, bigger is considered better. To look attractive, young women are force-fed and have to drink up to 12 gallons of milk per day. If they refused any of it, they would be punished until they gave in. Tradition didn’t really care about the long term effects on the health of the women.
Do these seem weird to you? Then you’re in for a treat; the following are ten more weird courtship traditions from around the world.
10. Bride Kidnapping
We’re all for getting hitched and living happily ever after, but in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, they go about this quite differently. The ancient form of courtship revolves around a dude kidnapping the “girl of his dreams”, whether she’s into him or not.
With the help of his family and friends, he abducts a girl and takes her to his family home. She is held hostage there, with female members of his family pressuring her to marry the fellow. Depending on his social status, her family may join in and pressure her to stay or try to help her escape. Despite being made illegal in 1991, almost a third of marriages in Kyrgyzstan are said to start out like this.
The Amish are known to have many odd traditions but you’d be surprised to learn that they allow sleep-overs or bed courting. Yup, boy-girl sleepovers… with a twist. While they will allow intimacy, they draw the line at sexual contact before marriage. In some cases, the shared (bundling) bed would have a board running down the middle to prevent the couple touching.
In other cases, the individuals were bound in separate blankets then allowed to lay side by side. Occasionally, they may be placed in a sack that was then tied closed at the neck. They were expected to talk all night to avoid the temptation of intercourse. Though a dying tradition, it is still used among the Pennsylvania Amish.
Beauty is a highly prized trait among the Woodabe people of Niger. And it’s not only among the women. At the end of the rainy season, the males of the tribe hold an annual beauty pageant to impress and attract a partner. The women of the tribe look for features like impressive height, white eyes and teeth, excellent poise and a good voice. Cue the makeup, singing and peacocking!
As part of the Yaake dance, the males compete to win the attention of a potential bride. Prancing in a line dance, the men also sing for the largely female audience for as long as it takes. Making up their minds and choosing a suitor can take up to five hours in the desert heat, but the young men have to do it. Missing out here means they have to wait another year for the chance to get chosen again.
7. Usaba Sambah
As part of the festivals in June, young men of Tenganan, Bali, take fighting for their love pretty seriously. Wearing only sarongs, they engage each other in the makare-kare fight. They fight by whipping each other with the thorny leaves of the Pandanus plant and their only protection is a flimsy bamboo shield. The fighting and the flowing blood is supposed to impress the young women watching while the men show their skill.
Unmarried girls get a bird’s-eye view of the action and of their potential suitors as they are perched high on a wooden Ferris wheel. They don’t have it easy either; the Ferris wheel only stops when the fights end.
6. Sisters’ Meal Festival
Celebrated by the Miao people of Southwest China, this event is branded as Asian Valentine’s Day. Unmarried Miao girls cook up portions of rice dyed in four different colors to represent the four seasons. On the day of the festival, they arrive dressed in their finest clothes and jewelry.
They are quickly surrounded by bachelors who serenade them with love songs. They show their appreciation by giving the men a drink of rice wine and a handkerchief filled with rice. If a suitor is lucky to receive a package with a pair of red chopsticks in it, it means “I love you too”. For those that find a chili or a single red chopstick, that’s flat-out rejection. If he finds a pine needle though, it means she is undecided and he should try harder, with gifts in tow.
Not that kind of spooning!
Back in the day, a Welsh man would hand-carve a spoon as a sign of his affection for his potential bride. The tradition was thought to originate from sailors who returned home after months at sea, bearing gifts for their loved ones.
These intricate, hand-carved spoons were often adorned with different symbols. Keys symbolizing the key to a man’s heart, wheels to mean “I’ll work for you” and beads to show the number of children he would like.
Though the tradition is fading, wooden spoons are still given to show affection. If the woman feels the same way, she wears the spoon around her neck, and if she doesn’t, she gives it right back. Awkward!
4. Love Huts
Remember the Amish allowing the guy to sleep over?
Well, among the Kreung people of Cambodia, fathers of young girls do one better. They build a hut for their daughters when they hit puberty. Serving as a place where she can be alone, it also doubles as her “spinster’s pad”. She can invite boyfriends over, and take her time choosing whom she loves the most!
The villagers have no qualms about pre-marital sex and see the hut as a way to allow the girl to make her own choices and decisions. According to them, divorce and rapes are non-existent in their community.
3. Tree Marriage
Thanks to India’s deep roots in astrology, there is an ancient belief that girls born under the influence of Mars can’t get married, or even date. They believe that any partnership they enter will end in failure and death. They do have a way around this, though.
To avoid anything bad happening in her life, the young woman or ‘manglik‘, must first marry a tree to ward off any ill influence of the Red Planet, the logic being that the tree will bear the brunt of the wrath of Mars, rather than her human husband. This tradition continues till date, with even former Miss World and prominent Bollywood actress, Aishwarya Rai, having to do it before marrying Abhishek Bachchan.
What happens if despite all your carved spoons and prancing, you still can’t find a bride? In Japan, they have this covered with the ancient practice of Miai. Basically, neither party has to lift a finger: everything is done for them.
Originally started in the feudal age to ensure marriages were beneficial for strong political alliances, it’s found its way into modern Japan, especially among members of high society. Courtship entails a nakōdo (matchmaker) doing a thorough background check on both parties and their family members. Next is an exchange of pictures followed by strict grilling to ensure compatibility of both families. This practice is considered so effective that even companies like Mitsubishi are using it to help employees find partners.
1. Government Intervention
In Singapore, it’s a bit different: the population has zero drive to hook up. With the average Singaporean tumbling into bed after a long day at work, the average birth rate plummeted between 1988 and 1999. In 1991, the government even offered cash bonuses for couples with more than two children.
When that didn’t work, the government developed the Social Development Unit. This is an agency solely dedicated to hooking up couples. From classes on dating and falling in love, to organizing tea dances and wine tastings; they even gave advice on having sex outdoors!
Despite all the efforts, most young single Singaporeans remain career-driven and it is evident in the declining birthrate.
Next time you complain about not finding a date, spare a thought for the dudes who can only woo chicks ONCE a year or those that have to rely on the government to get laid!