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Marriage Customs Of Borneo

( Originally Published 1897 )

Among the Sinambau Dyaks of Borneo there are ways of courting not unknown in European countries. For instance, when a young girl has taken the fancy of some man, he shows his preference by helping her in her daily labour in a chivalrous manner only too rare in Eastern countries. One day he will carry a load of wood for her ; another day he performs some other useful task. Occasionally she receives a present from her admirer. When this state of affairs has lasted for some time, he resolves to declare his passion ; for this purpose he steals out at night to the house where his lady-love lives, and gently awakes her as she sleeps. Her parents sleep in the same room ; and if they approve of the suitor take no notice, pretending to be asleep. If they have any objection to him he is promptly told to depart. He brings with him betel nuts and other food. Should the young woman accept these, it is equivalent to saying she fancies him ; but if it is otherwise, she tells him to stir the fire, or to light the lamp, which is only a polite way of bidding him beat a retreat.

The marriage ceremony opens with a little bit of symbolism. The bride and bridegroom are brought out and made to sit on two bars of iron previously laid down on the ground. This act implies that the two are being bound together with the iron band of matrimony. The priest gives to each a cigar and and some betel nuts, which they hold in their hands while he waves two fowls over their heads, and in the course of a lengthy address invokes every blessing upon them. The bridegroom then places the betel nut in the mouth of the bride, and the cigar between her lips, and in this way he publicly acknowledges her to be his wife. The two fowls are then killed, and omens taken from their blood. As among the Kaffirs and others, the husband must never pronounce the name of his father-in-law.

Among the Aheta of the Philippine Islands, when a man wishes to marry a girl, her parents send her before sunrise into the woods. She has about an hour's start, after which the lover goes off to seek her. If he succeed in finding her and bringing her back before sunset, the marriage is acknowledged. If not, he must abandon all claim to her.

These are not to be regarded as instances of marriage by capture " pure and simple, as we see it at the present day among the Esquimaux or the aboriginal Australians, but as ceremonies in imitation of it and, as it were, commemorating the days when it actually did take place. We shall see how mock combats take place among the Druse people of Palestine and elsewhere. Examples might easily be multiplied. Thus, with the greater part of the nomads of ,Central Asia, and especially Turcomans, the young girl, clothed in her bridal costume, mounts a horse, and gallops off with a lamb or kid just killed at the saddle. The man and his party pursue her on horseback in hot haste, while she endeavours to out-distance them, and prevent them seizing the animal she has with her.

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