Edvard Westermarck (1862-1939) was a Swedish sociologist who wrote about the history of marriage and associated ancient customs around the world.
In Madagascar, the women had a unique way of choosing a husband. The man in question would stand at a certain distance from a proficient athlete and be obliged to catch between his arm and side every spear that was thrown at him. If he displayed fear or failed to catch any of the spears he was rejected.
Among the Dongolowees, if two men are suitors for one girl and she has difficulty deciding between the rivals the following method is adopted. The girl ties a knife to each forearm so that the blades project below her elbows. She sits on a log of wood, the men on each side with their legs loosely pressed against her. Raising her arms she leans forward and slowly presses the knives into the thighs of her suitors. He who best undergoes this trial becomes her husband. Her first duty after marriage is to dress the wounds she herself inflicted.
Among the South American Uaupes a swollen calf is considered one of the best attractions a young lady can possess, the result being that girls wear a tight garter below the knee from infancy. The Hottentots are charmed by women’s long and pendulous breasts which can assume such monstrous dimensions that the usual way of giving suck when the child is carried on the back is by throwing the breast over the shoulder.
Among the Arawaks and some people in the province of Paria, a virgin bride had to spend the first night with the local priest. In Venezuela, legitimate wives, but not concubines, were deflowered by priests and it was considered a great crime not to conform to this custom. Among the Senegalese the king not only has the power of life or death over his subjects but also le droit du seigneur everywhere in the tribe and no girl can marry until she has been deflowered by him.
Every year the Kurds have a great feast, assembling in a large room for promiscuous intercourse. After the congregation have kissed the priest’s hand he cries out “I am a great bull.” The most recently married woman steps forward and replies “I am a young cow”, after which the lights are dimmed and the orgies begin.
On the coast of Malabar, Brahmans act as deflowerers of brides. They are not always willing to preform this duty and often oblige husbands to pay four or five hundred ducats to make it worth their while. In Central Africa when a young girl is “danced” or “initiated” a father has to pay a man to sleep with his daughter by giving him a fowl, a bowl of flour and a small bowl of beer.