Over the years, how marriage rituals are conducted have changed. Most people go for the white weddings, with veils and trains, and others stick to the traditional ceremonies as per their cultures. Those who can afford it, conduct both ceremonies.
This was not always the case in the past, especially in the Nguni community of South Africa.
In a ritual known as Ukuthwala, a young man (of marriageable age) and his friends would kidnap a girl or a young woman with the intention of compelling her family to approve the marriage and start negotiations.
The kidnapping was a mock ritual in which the girl is taken to the female members of the man’s family as negotiations take place. One of the main things about Ukuthwala is that the girl has to appear as if she’s resisting the kidnapping. Surrendering too easily would indicate that she is a woman of loose morals.
The ritual is not restricted to the Nguni community. In Kenya, the Gusii practiced the same, however, it involved rape to compromise the young woman so that marriage is secured. More points to the groom if the woman becomes pregnant.
Usually, the man would follow the girl as she goes on her daily duties- fetching water or even returning from the market. He would abduct her on his own or get the help of his friends. Witnesses would not intervene as it is considered a common ritual.
In Rwanda and Ethiopia, customary laws ban men from having sex with the kidnapped girls, but it is not always observed, case in point the Umutara region of Rwanda.
The practice was quite common especially for men who cannot afford the bride price, according to an article in the Journal of African History by Brett Shadle of the University of Mississippi.
In recent times, South Africa has criminalised Ukuthwala, as it encourages physical and sexual violence against girls as young as 12.
“Today Ukuthwala, particularly in the Eastern Cape, increasingly involves the kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of minor girls as young as twelve years, by grown men old enough to be their grandfathers.”
– Justice Department South Africa
However, the practice is still rampant.