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Girls getting married through eloping is extremely common in my home community. Even the girls who stay with me in my home are inclined to use the same method. It is a very problematic method - as I am sure my readers can imagine. The girl goes to live with a man who she does not know, in an unknown family, in unknown circumstances. She has no come-back at all should she be in any way abused, as no dowry has been paid or ceremony performed. No promises have been publicly made and certainly no oaths have been sworn.

The traditional way of marriage was through making a down payment of cattle, and then what we call meko. That is, for brothers to the 'groom' to come to the home of the girl and carry her off by force, typically when she has had to leave the boundaries of the homestead either to fetch water or firewood. Even if the girl actually really wanted to go, it was her responsibility to kick and fight and scream as loud as she could supposedly to resist her kidnappers, but in the practice also to alert the whole community of her going. It was considered shameful for a girl to willingly walk to the home of her husband without being caught and then carried.

This girl then had rights. Cattle had already been paid, so there was already some security on the marriage. Because a gang of young men had gone to great trouble to find her and grab her (sometimes having to fend off her brothers who would attempt to prevent them from leaving with her) there was no question of her not being wanted; the husband couldn't later say 'you came here of your own accord when I really did not want you'. Negotiations having been made in advance meant that respective families had checked each other out and clearly articulated their mutual expectations. Because she had screamed loudly the whole community had been alerted to her going, thus further marking a clear transition from the unmarried to the married state. Other feasts and ceremonies were performed later in the course of payment of the remaining dowry.

Pray for the church to be wise to know how to advise girls today. Courting as we know it in the West is taboo, and typically quickly results in pregnancy. The key role should be that of the families, but the traditional mores having been broken no one nowadays really knows where they stand any more. Church weddings easily and uncontrollably mushroom into massive and expensive events. The promotion of condoms results in more and more young people being tempted to be sexually active even before eloping.

Thanks for your prayer for the young men and women in this neck of Africa.


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