The day the crocodile god walked
1997 – That turbulent and defining year

Courtship past & present: we lost something

Karim lek topDUNCAN GABI
| Aunamelo Blog | Edited

MADANG – When dating, a couple may not have expectations of marriage but, when courting, there is an intention to marry.

Sir Ignatius Kilage’s book, My Mother Calls Me Yaltep, paints vivid pictures of how courting was done in the past.

One of the main activities during courtship was the singsing. There was no courting without a singsing - a custom practiced for generations among the Simbu people.

In the Kuman language this is called kuanandi, a courtship custom of youth where they hold hands and sing songs.

Dating begins when a young woman set a date with a young man from another clan by giving him a knotted string.

She kept a second string for herself with the exact same number of knots. Since there was no calendar, or even names for days, the knotted string was the record. If a string had five knots, the date would take place after five days.

Dating was not just between two young people, it was young men of one clan going on a date with young women of another clan.

It was not held in secret or away from public view, it were held in the haus kuanandi (courtship house) under the watchful eyes of the clan.

The young men would send word to all clans telling them their tribe would be giving them a kuanandi. This way, all the clans knew their young men and women were going into courtship.

On the day of the date, the young men were dressed in their traditional bilas, adorned by their clansmen with fine coloured plumes and sweet-smelling leaves and ferns.

This was a proud day for parents, as it was where their sons and daughters would find a future partner.

In front of the haus kuanandi, the young people were made to stand in two rows facing each other with the men starting the songs and going into the house first, followed by the women who wnt inside in response to the men’s songs.

In the house, the singing continued. After a certain number of songs, the young men moved from one girl to another. They would interlock arms, sing and laugh and then move on to the next person.

Many millennials will not understand this so I’ll illustrate it with your favorite cartoon, ‘Angry Birds Part 2’. Remember the scene where Red and his friends went ‘speed dating’? After the bell rings, the birds move to the next bird to find out their interests and so forth to see if they can make a pair. It’s exactly like that.

While all this is going on in the house, the little children and some young men who are not taking part in the courtship ceremony keep watch and keep the fire burning all night.

This is to keep everyone in the light so nothing happens as there might be some cheeky boys who will sneak a touch in the dark.

When the kuanandi comes to an end, it is up to each girl to pick the young man who captured her imagination and move off with him to her home or stay in the kuanandi house and continue singing.

Custom forbids the girls from going to a man’s home for singsing, it is the man who goes to the girl’s house.

In the girl’s home, her parents and some clan members would be in the house to keep the fire burning and keep watch while their daughter sings with the young man she took home from the kuanandi. Everything was done under the watchful eyes of the clan and the girl’s parents.

It was during the kuanandi that young men had to choose their brides, and had to make sure they chose the right one. In some cases, it was the older people who decided this.

The young man would visit the young woman he had found appealing. He would visit her home every second day for singsing. It was forbidden for a man to visit the same girl every night.

The young man was also at liberty to visit other girls’ homes but never a girl from the clan or tribe of the woman he had chosen.

There is a ceremony called kaungo iungua which means ‘to bring home a girl’. The girl repays the young man for visiting in all weather. In his book, Kilage calls this a complicated and delicate ceremony:

“The girls decides the date and gives the young man the knotted string, which stands for days. At the appointed time, the young man goes with his friends to the girl’s house to sing songs to please the girl’s mother, then the girl leaves with one or two young girls as ‘ladies in waiting’. They are obliged to escort them to the mother of the boy and the boys announce the good news to the clan. Then a few days later, the girls people come and escort them back with gifts.”

When a young woman repays a man’s visit by visiting his home, she is to be decorated and showered with gifts and sent back to her home after three days.

If she refuses to return to her home, that means her mind has been made up and she intends to marry the young man.

The ‘ladies in waiting’ who escorted the young woman to the man’s home are decorated in plumes and oiled by the man’s clan and sent back while the young woman remains with the man’s family to get acquainted with her tambus (relatives). This is the engagement.

And this is where courtship ceremony ends and the clan prepares for the marriage ceremony.

It was during courtship that a man came to know the qualities of a girl. The girl had to carry herself with grace and be diligent as she was under the scrutiny of the elders and her future parents in-law, for it was them who would persuade the young man to marry her or let her go.

Modern Courtship

In this age, unlike in the past, courtship and dating is not open for discussion between young people and their parents. Young people take it upon themselves to explore and find someone they like. This leads the young people to court and date without their parents’ knowledge.

Modern courtship bears little resemblance to the traditional ceremony. Technology and education have changed rules, expectations and rituals leading to marriage. The modern generation tends to keep courting a secret and communicate by phone or social media.

The concept of courtship was always an important ceremony. Traditional courtship was a process of creating a loving relationship. Modern courtship lacks this. Young men rarely go to the girl’s parents’ house to stay a while with her.

Instead the young couple spend endless hours on the phone confessing and expressing their love to each other without actually showing it on social media.

While many say courtship has become easier with technology, it is weakened because technology replaces face to face interaction. As someone said ‘there is no soul in technological communication’.

Indeed, most young people skip courting and go straight from dating to marriage. The young men today do not visit girls in their home but take them to Ela Beach or go to the cinemas or go partying at night clubs.

The parents are unaware of their child’s love interest and courtship. They do not know who is courting until she comes home pregnant one day to be quickly married. That’s if the father of the child doesn’t run off and leave the young mother.

Karim lekForegoing traditional courtship has led to failed marriages and teen pregnancies or young girls entering abusive relationships.

Indeed, most young people skip courting and go straight from dating to marriage.

In my view, although we cannot bring back the old ways, we need to embrace the traditional concept of courtship whereby the parents know who their child is courting.

The young man needs to spend time with the girl and her family so the family come to know what kind of person he is.

It is important that, before making a commitment to get married, the young couple know each other well, their flaws and strengths, their interests and their character. It is through intimate courtship that one identifies another’s character.

Courtship allows men and women to discover something about the other person so, when you make the most important decision in your life, you can be better assured it is the right one.


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Benson McRubin's

Good values slowly fading....Nice piece and a relevant one at this juncture - technological era. Courtship under the parents and adults observation was and is always the safest process. Only they have the experience and knowledge to identify certain features of characteristics and behaviour pattern of either the young man or woman who can become of somebody in the future ( bad/good husband and/or wife) The traditional courtship practice is like a screening process to identify the right candidate. The process also prevented sex before marriage, unplanned pregnancies, installed respect for the parent inlaws by both the young men and women and the list goes on.

Thank you Duncan.

Teddy Winn

Great read Duncan.

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