As our anthropologist daughter likes to point out, the world is full of fascinating cultures. Some tattoo their bodies, other pierce their noses, and still others hang large earrings in their ear lobes (ours seems to do all of the above). Some are completely vegetarian while others survive solely on animal products. But one trait they all have in common is some version of courtship and marriage.
As I’m sure you know, Valentine’s Day is almost here. Last year during the week leading up to this most romantic of holidays, I wrote two blog posts—one for singles, and one for those in a relationship. This year I thought I’d offer some encouragement to those of you who are interested in someone but need a little inspiration on what to do next.
Among the Hmong
For example… the Hmong people of Laos signal their interest to a member of the opposite sex by throwing balls at one another. Seriously. Known as pov pob, this flirting game goes on during the Hmong New Year celebration (held in the fall according to a lunar calendar and the end of the rice harvest).
Singles of both sex wear their best outfits, decorated with embroidery, pieces of silver, and other ornaments. A potential Romeo will toss a fabric ball (American emigrants use tennis balls) to a girl he finds attractive. If she decides she’s interested, she catches the ball with one hand, then throws it back. If she’s not impressed, she drops it. And if a catcher misses a ball by accident, a token from their outfit is given to the opposite player. The clumsy receiver must sing traditional courting songs to get it back. That’s one way to break the ice!
Tossing a ball at someone requires a little chutzpa. What if they drop it? What if they have no idea what you’re doing? If you’re too shy to flirt like the Hmong, how about hiring someone to be your go-between?
Lots of cultures use matchmakers to keep everything aboveboard and proper. Hiring someone also lets you avoid the awkwardness of expressing your feelings in person. Matchmaking in Jewish society is perhaps the most familiar to us westerners—remember Yente in Fiddler on the Roof?
Hangin’ with the Xhosa
Consider the Xhosa of southeast Africa. Traditionally, there was limited contact and courtship between a young man and woman who liked each other. Times have changed, but it’s still the extended families, not the couple, who work together to negotiate the “lobola” or bride price. When an agreement is reached, it’s often celebrated with a bottle of brandy, perhaps to smooth over any hurt feelings. In the past, when everything was arranged, the man would simply come and carry off his bride! These days western weddings are popular. The lobola is used to underwrite the wedding expenses and to help the new couple set up housekeeping.
Loving Like the Ilonggo
Or, you could copy the Ilonggo of the central Philippines. Once a young man decides on The One, his family hires a go-between (known as a kagon) to determine whether the girl is eligible for marriage. If the inquiry gets a green light, the boy’s family (plus the kagon) all arrange to show up on the girl’s doorstep laden with food and drinks. During the ensuing party, the bride price is negotiated. Traditionally, that included land, gold and slaves. I love the fact that the mother receives part of this payment as compensation for all those sleepless nights she endured when the girl was a baby.
But what if the hopeful suitor didn’t have land, gold, or slaves? In that case, he could work for his bride. For several months, or up to a year, he chopped firewood, hauled water, did household chores, and cared for the livestock. (I think we missed a great opportunity with our two sons-in-law!)
So, you’d rather do it yourself after all? Well, there are plenty of websites to offer advice. Or you can just stay home and watch this spot-on YouTube video about romantic comedies.