Courtship: Past and Present (Traditional Melanesian and Western Modern Courtship)

Semi-Autobiography of Late Sir Ignatius Kilage

From the book ‘My Mother calls me Yaltep’ by Sir Ignatius Kilage

My dictionary defines Courtship as ‘A man’s courting of a woman; seeking the affections of a woman (usually with the hope of marriage)’. Is courtship same as dating? Let’s see, my dictionary defines date as ‘Meet with a lover or potential lover’.
When dating, a couple may not have expectations for their relationship whereas a couple courting intend to get engaged or married.. 
Here we will see how courting was done in the past and how courting is done today? 
In Sir Ignatius Kilage’s book, he paints vivid pictures of how courting was done in the past. One of the main activities during courtship when young men were courting young women was “the singsing”. There was no courting without singsing. This was the traditional custom which has been practiced for generations among the Simbu people. 
In Simbu, this is called “KUANANDI”, a courtship custom of youth whereby they hold hands and sing songs. Dating begins with a young women setting up a date with a young men from another clan by giving him a string with knots. She keeps a second string for herself with the exact same number of knots. Since they had no calendar or even names for days in the past, they used strings and knots to record the days. Say a string had five knots, the ‘date’ would then take place after five days.
Dating in the past was not among just two young people of the opposite sex, it was rather the young men of one clan going on a date with young women of another clan. Dating was not held in secrecy or away from public eyes, they were held in Kuanandi House (Courtship houses) under the watchful eyes of the clan. 
The young men would send word to all the clans telling them that 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 with fine colored plumes, sweet smelling leaves and ferns by their clansmen to prepare them for the Kuanandi. 
This was a proud day for most parents, as this was where their sons would find their future wife and vice versa.
In front of the Kuanandi house, 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 go in in response to the men’s songs. The young women had to be graceful in order to attract the most handsome young man from another clan.
In the house, the singing continues. After certain number of songs, the young men move from one girl to another. When a young man moves on to the next girl, they interlock their 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 go on “speed dating”? after the bell dings, 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 speed dating scene. 
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 the singing. The custom forbids the girls from going to a man’s home for singsing, it is the man who goes to the girl’s house for singsing. 
In girl’s home, her parents and some clans 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 girls parents.
It was during the Kuanandi that the young men had to choose their brides, but had to make sure they chose the right one. In some cases, it was the older people who decided the future of the young men.
The young men would visit the young women whom he had found appealing, he would visit her home every second day for singsing, for it was forbidden by the custom for a man to visit the same girl for singsing every night. 
The young man was also at liberty to visit other girls home for singsing but never a girl from the clan or tribe of the woman he loved. 
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. 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, this is the engagement.
This is where courtship ceremony ends and the clan prepares for the marriage ceremony. 
Courtship is important as it is the period in which the two young people get to know each other and decide if there will be an engagement or if they will get married. It is during courtship that a man comes to know the qualities of a girl, a girl had to carry herself with grace and had to 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:
Unlike in the past, courtship and dating is not open for discussion between young people and their parents in this age. Young people therefore take upon themselves to explore and find someone they like. This leads the young people to court and date without their parent’s knowledge. The people in the past were prepared for the stage in the children’s life before marriage which is courtship, courtship is crucial in the young person choosing a right partner. They built houses for them to court in. This was an important part of the young people lives so their parents, clans and tribes were heavily involved in the ceremony, directly and indirectly, sometimes influencing their children’s decision on which partner to court. In this age, parents have no influence over what type of partner their children choose. And since most children in this age are brought up rebellious, they refuse to take advice from their parents which leads to their predicament later in life.
The parents in the past were part of the courtship ceremony, watching everything closely to make sure their daughter or son chooses the right person. 
With transition from the stone age to the age of technology in the past decades, we have seen that modern courtship bears little resemblance to the traditional ceremony. Courtship in itself was a ceremony in the past. Technology and education has changed the rules, expectations and the rituals leading to marriage according to Gray Miller in his article “How to practice Modern courtship”. Young people wanting to court in the past informed their family and clans, the modern generation keep it a secret and date or court in secret, communicating through the use of technology such as phone or social media. The concept of courtship has always been the process of rituals that lead to marriage. That is why it was an important ceremony in the past. Traditional courtship is a process needed to create a loving relationship that results in the growth of two people together.
In the traditional courtship process, two people come to know each other well and grow together and eventually get engaged and later married. The young man spends at least 3 out of 7 days at the girl’s home singing with her and being acquainted with her. Under the watchful eyes of the girl’s parents, the boy is to conduct himself with respect in order to win the girl’s parents and the girl over.
Modern courtship lacks this, it is in the boy spending time at the girl’s parents home that the parents come to know the boy well and advice the girl on whether she should take him or let him go.
In the age of technology, young man barely go over to the girl’s parents house to stay for a while with her. The young couple spend endless hours on the phone confessing and expressing their love to each other without actually showing it on Facebook, etc. 
While many say courtship has become easier with technology, it is not effective because it allows technology to replace face to face interaction, as someone said ‘there is no soul in technological communication’.
The young man today do not visit girl’s in their home but take them to around at Ela Beach, go to the Cinemas or Vision City 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 and the next, she’s married off or the father of the child runs off and leaves the young mother hanging or in an abusive relationship.
Foregoing the traditional courtship has led to failed marriages and teen pregnancy among young girls or young girls end up in abusive relationships, as they have no idea who they are courting.
In traditional courtship, young man went to the girl’s home to visit her and her parents and sing with the girl. Modern courtship is all about the young woman visiting the boy’s home to spend the day in his bedroom doing god knows what.
It is never a girl’s place to visit the boy’s home, well maybe only when the time’s right.
Most young people have skipped courting and gone straight from dating to marriage, an early marriage that is without knowing well their partner. 
In the traditional courtship ceremonies, to my knowledge, I do not think there was sexual relations among the young people courting. Sexual relations was established after they were married, and the girl and boy now a young married couple move into their own home so they can start a family of their own.
In my view, though 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 is to spend time with the girl and her family so the family can come to know what kind of person he is. It is important that before making a commitment to get married, the young couple must know each other well, their flaws and strengths, their interests and most importantly, their character. It is through intimate courtship that one identifies another’s character.
Before marriage, there are steps you have to take and courtship is the most important step which will allow you to choose the right partner. 
Courtship allows you to peel a person like an onion, layer by layer and with each, you discover something about that person which you will like or dislike, that is when you will make the most important decision in your life, whether to keep them or kick them.

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