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Marriage by Capture Tradition of the ǃKung People of Southern Africa

The ǃKung san are one of the San peoples who live mostly on the western edge of the Kalahari desert, Ovamboland (northern Namibia and southern Angola), and Botswana.

Marriage by Capture Tradition of the ǃKung People of Southern Africa
Image: alison wright photo

The !kung people live distantly from other peoples, even other groups of San due to centuries of oppression and dispossession by both Bantu and European immigrant groups. At one point in history, !Kung San people were even hunted for sport.

In other parts of the world, a man must first woo and secure the consent of a lady – and her parents – he intends marrying before he does anything, but in the !kung society, marriage is a whole world different.

Among the ǃKung, marriage is the major focus of alliance formation between groups of ǃKung. When a woman starts to develop, she is considered ready for marriage and according to tradition, every first marriage is arranged by her parents.

Marriage by Capture Tradition of the ǃKung People of Southern Africa

In selecting a partner for their daughter, the woman’s family typically look for men who have proven themselves to be good hunters, someone who they feel would be able and willing to take on the responsibilities of the wife’s family.

Marriage by Capture Tradition

On the marriage day, a dramatic sham “capture” ceremony is organized by the bride and groom’s family where the girl is forcibly removed from her hut and presented to her groom. During the ceremony, the bride has her head covered and is carried and then laid down in the hut while the groom is led to the hut and sits beside the door.

The couple stay respectfully apart from each other and do not join the wedding festivities. After the party, they spend the night together and the next morning they are ceremonially rubbed with oil by the husband’s mother.

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!kung Bushmem

Girls who are displeased with their parents’ selection may protest against the marriage by running away at the end of the ceremony. A bride running away may result in the dissolution of the arrangement if her family fail to convince her to give the man a chance.

Newlyweds live in the same village as the wife’s family so she has family support during her new life.

During this time, the husband will hunt for his wife’s family. If the couple never becomes comfortable, separation is acceptable, prompted by either partner. If they do become a stable couple, they can reside with either partner’s family, settling with whichever is beneficial at the time.

 ǃKung People of Southern Africa

Half of all first-time marriages end in divorce, but because it is common, the divorce process is not long.

After the divorce, both individuals and can live in their separate huts with their family. After a woman’s first divorce, she is free to marry a man of her choosing or stay single and live on her own.

Mr Madu
Mr Madu is a freelance writer, a lover of Africa and a frequent hiker who loves long, vigorous walks, usually on hills or mountains.

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