First published in 1908.
This online edition was created and published by Global Grey on the 26th November 2022.
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The first edition of this work, published in 1907-8, consisted of two large quarto volumes, and contained a comprehensive survey of the position, life, occupations, etc., of woman throughout the world. In preparing an abridged, though, it is hoped, no less comprehensive, edition, care has been taken to preserve more or less intact those passages dealing with customs which are especially characteristic of particular countries. Many customs and many institutions are shared by a number of tribes and peoples, and in the work of condensation an attempt has been made to make the picture of woman’s life as varied as possible. Owing to the wide nature of the subject, this book cannot pretend to give a complete account of the life of women in each country, and those readers who wish for more detailed information may be referred to the original edition. At the same time, it may be claimed that nothing has been omitted which is essential to the main object of the book—namely, the presentment of a general sketch of the life and occupations of the gentler sex throughout the globe.
The authors of the various articles which have been abridged to form the present work are as follows:
Jessie Ackermann (The Ainu, Korea), A. de Alberti (Spain and Portugal), R. Grant Brown (Burma), A. R. Colquhoun (China, Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet), E. A. Crawford (Ceylon), E. Drachmann (Denmark, Iceland), M. E. Durham (Western Balkans), R. W. Felkin (East Africa), A. van Gennep (Madagascar), A. Kingston (Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia), Clive Holland (Japan, North Africa, France, Belgium), T. A. Joyce (New Zealand), T. Koch-Grunberg (South America), G. Krog (Norway), the late Prof. Otis Mason and Walter Hough (North America), A. M. B. Meakin (Turkestan, Russia), M. H. Morrison (British Isles), M. T. Nathhorst'(Sweden), F. E. Penny (North India), Lady Ramsay (Asia Minor), C. E. Roche (Switzerland, United States, Canada), Dr. C. G. Seligmann (New Guinea, Torres Straits), R. Shelford (Indonesia), W. W. Skeat (Malay Peninsula, Siam, Cambodia), E. C. Sykes (Persia), N. W. Thomas (Australia, Philippines, West Africa), E. Torday (Congo Free State), A. Werner (South and South-West Africa), Mrs. F. Wilde (Assam). The thanks of the Editor are due to Mr. T. Heath Joyce for valuable assistance in the reduction of the text.
Since man rose above the lowest grade of savagery, if not ever since the world began, woman has been the theme of poets, the model of artists and of sculptors, and the despair of the male sex generally. Biologists may tell us that the female is physically at a lower stage than her mate; misogynists and pessimists like Schopenhauer may assure us that she is mentally the inferior of the stronger sex; and, going to the opposite extreme, believers in woman’s rights may sacrilegiously, if unwittingly, pull woman down from the pedestal on which she has been placed by modern, no less than by medieval, chivalry. But the sound judgment of the average man will reject the paradoxes of the man of science, and by a simple process of natural selection eliminate from the character of future generations of the fair sex what is unpleasing in the advanced woman of the present day; he will not suffer woman to fall below the level of the woman that is or has been.
Taking a broad view of history, we may say that in one respect it is the story of how woman has ceased to be the slave of man, as she is among the peoples on the lowest planes of culture, and has become his help-meet. To trace the course of this development here is impossible; but in the sequel the reader will find in the description of woman, as she is at the present day among the peoples of the world, ample materials for a reconstruction of the story of the advance of woman from the lowest grade to the place she now occupies among us.
The pages which follow contain many photographs from all parts of the world. They have in many cases been selected because they are typical of the people whom they represent; in other cases they may be as little typical of the mass as the photograph of the most beautiful woman in England would be of the average of her sisters who toil for their daily bread.
It is a curious and interesting problem how far the judgment of the European, as regards beauty in woman, falls into line with that of the people whose type of beauty is in question. For it by no means follows that our idea of beauty is universally accepted. Quite apart from differences of colour, the set of the eyes, the arrangement of the hair, the presence or absence of deformation by ornaments or simple scars, and a thousand other elements count for much in European and non-European eyes.
A line drawn in a north-easterly direction from New Zealand, across the Pacific through Fiji to Hawaii, roughly cuts off Polynesia on the east from Micronesia and Melanesia on the west; it includes island-clusters studding areas perhaps 1,000 miles in diameter, and lonely islets hundreds of leagues from any neighbour; some are lofty and volcanic, but the majority are low coral atolls; on some there is a dense population and on others the barren and waterless conditions are incapable of supporting life.
The most important of the island groups stretch eastwards from Fiji, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. These are Tonga, or the Friendly Isles; Samoa, or the Navigator group; Hervey, or Cook Isles; Society Isles, including Tahiti; and the innumerable islets of the Paumotu, or Low Archipelago, which seldom rise more than three feet above the sea. To the north of the Paumotu, and nearing the Equator, are the Marquesas, and far away across the Equator and lying south of the Tropic of Cancer are the Hawaiian Islands, called by Captain Cook the Sandwich Isles.
All these groups of islands are inhabited by one race, the Polynesian, and all their languages belong to the same family, the Oceanic or Malayo-Polynesian.
The men are usually tall, with strong, well-made limbs and an erect, graceful carriage. The head-form is more or less broad, the hair black or dark brown, straight or wavy, and luxuriant. The skin colour is a warm yellow or brownish tint; the nose is straight and prominent; the cheek-bones are fairly salient, but the superciliary arches little marked. Travellers and residents alike have pronounced the Polynesians to be one of the finest races of the world, and many do not hesitate to describe the women as perfect types of feminine beauty.
Personal beauty is very highly prized among the Polynesians, and its development and enhancement are the main interests of the women. A love of bathing is one of the pronounced characteristics of the race, and this, in spite of the proximity of the sea, is always performed in fresh water. Even if the women have spent nearly all day in the sea—fishing, wading, shell-fish collecting, etc. —they will invariably bathe in fresh water on their way homeward. Sometimes a red earth, which lathers slightly in the water, is used as soap, or the juice of fresh green oranges answers the same purpose. These frequent bathings, together with the subsequent oiling with fragrant oil and shampooings, make the skin peculiarly soft and supple, with a sheen like that of rich satin. It is noticeable that in Fiji, where the skin is not rubbed with oil, it is much less smooth and sleek.
Native taste considers that the two essential factors of feminine loveliness are fairness and fatness, and much care is exercised to shelter the skin from damaging sunburn, so that a girl of high position often has as fair a skin as that of a European. The hair also receives a great deal of attention. It is dressed in various ways, perfumed with scented oil, combed, adjusted and decorated with flowers. So important was the arrangement and adorning of the hair considered in olden times that there was a god of hairdressers, or combers, called Totoropotaa, whose aid was invoked at the toilet.
On special occasions lime, made from burnt coral, is largely used in hair-dressing. The lime is mixed with water, and the head dipped in and then allowed to dry.
The process is repeated several times until the hair is thoroughly coated with the mixture. In many of the islands the skulls of babies are artificially deformed by pressure with stones or slabs of soft wood, applied before and behind. More curious is the artificial flattening of the nose, performed on girls alone. The mother presses the plastic nose of the infant so as to spread out the nostrils on either side, and produce a shape in consonance with native ideas of comeliness, “unlike the thin, starved nose of the white race,” as a woman was heard to say.
The most striking type of decorative deformation is seen in the tattooing, a custom prevalent throughout the greater part of Polynesia. The method employed is practically the same throughout the whole area. The instrument consists of a row of fine teeth, usually of bone or of thorns or pins, fastened to a light handle. A heavier stick is used as a mallet to drive the sharp points through the skin. The figure to be traced is generally sketched out with charcoal, but even the most elaborate devices are carried out by the more skilled workers with no other guide than the eye. The colouring matter, into which the instrument is dipped, is made from the kernels of the candle-nut (Aleurites trilob ata), baked, charred, pulverised and mixed with oil. Soot from the seeds of Calophyllium inophyllum, mixed with oil from the same seeds, is also used as pigment, and occasionally a purple stain is composed from the scraped roots of a tree, mixed with lime. The operator, immersing the points of the sharp bone instrument in the colouring matter, which is a beautiful jet, applies it to the surface of the skin, and, striking it smartly with the elastic stick held in the right hand, punctures the skin and injects the dye at the same time, “with as much facility as an adder would bite and deposit her poison.”
Owing to the absence of all indigenous mammals, except rats and mice, and owing to the ignorance of a loom, the native dress materials are all derived from the vegetable world. The simplest costume is a covering of ti leaves (Dracaena terminalis), forming a petticoat from waist to knee. This was the ordinary Samoan garment, mats and native cloth being worn only on special occasions. In Tahiti native cloth was worn by all, and “prince and peasant, warrior and voluptuary, were clad in vestments of the same material.” But on coral atolls, where fibre-producing trees and plants are unknown, petticoats are made of split pandanus, or coco-nut leaves coarsely plaited. One of the prettiest of native garments is the fringe made of various plants and leaf strips, called in Tonga the sisi, worn commonly round the waist, over a skirt of tapa, or else round the neck as a decoration.
Native cloth, commonly called tapa—i.e. the beaten— is one of the most wonderful products of Polynesian industry, and the art of manufacture is brought to a remarkable degree of perfection. Various kinds of bark are used for its preparation, that of the paper mulberry (Brousonetia papyrifera) makes the best cloth, and shoots of the tree are specially grown for the purpose.
The making of the tapa is one of the most important labours of the women, and though to a great extent the native material is superseded by European cloth, it still forms the characteristic clothing in many parts.
The method of cloth-making is as follows: First the bark of the shoots is stripped off, soaked, the hard outer rind scraped away, and the inner fibrous surface steeped in water; when thoroughly soaked it is laid on a piece of wood, hollow beneath, or raised somewhat from the ground, with a convex surface above. On either side of this sit the women, each one armed with a mallet of heavy wood, with which she beats out the material. The beating spreads the fibrous stuff into a broad sheet as thin as tissue paper and about as strong; it is kept saturated with moisture during the whole process, and the fibres of bark become completely interwoven.
But great as was the pride taken in cloth-making, almost more importance was attached to the mats which formed clothing, house furniture, and, in some islands, wealth and currency. In Samoa the fine mats are still considered the most valuable clothing. They are made of the leaves of a species of pandanus, scraped clean and thin as writing paper, and slit into strips about the sixteenth of an inch wide. A special house has to be built for the work, as the growing mat must not be exposed to the domestic dangers of an ordinary house. It is not on every day that the maker may work; the weather must be fine and fair, or the weaving is blemished. The mats when completed are from two to three yards square, fringed, and sometimes ornamented with small scarlet feathers inserted here and there, and they are almost as flexible as a piece of calico.
Ornaments are far more sparingly worn in Polynesia than in Melanesia, if we except the almost universal custom of the people of decking themselves with flowers, which adds a peculiar charm to the already attractive appearance of men, women, and children. A typical Polynesian girl always wears flowers in her hair, and the pure white with the dark centre or the rich scarlet of the hibiscus, the pink of the oleander, the yellow of the alamander, or the stars of the jessamine, show up well against the dark gloss of the hair. If the ear is perforated, it is to receive a flower, and wreaths of flowers are worn as garlands for the head, as necklaces, and as girdles.
Ornaments, except for floral decorations, are mainly confined to necklaces, bracelets, and frontlets of various descriptions. As in Melanesia (and probably indicative of Melanesian influence), one of the most highly-prized ornaments is a nearly circular boar’s tusk, worn as an armlet, or as a pendant round the neck.
The age for betrothal varies in different islands. As a rule, a girl is not betrothed until maturity is reached —at twelve or thirteen, or later—and an unmarried girl is in most of the islands allowed absolute liberty. Marriage is not a matter of sale or barter, though, as usual, it is an occasion of much present-giving on both sides, and the suitor often ingratiates himself with the parents of his beloved by means of well-chosen gifts.
Marriages are usually arranged by the parents, especially among the higher classes, and the individuals are passively acquiescent; but among the lower ranks the young man generally chooses for himself, though he selects a friend to conduct negotiations.
Women of rank used to have the right to make proposals to men of equal or inferior grades, and in Tahiti, if the wife was of superior rank to her husband, she was at liberty to take as many other husbands as she pleased, though still nominally regarded as the wife of the man she first married. The wedding ceremony usually included a feast, in which bride and bridegroom ate together, and a giving of presents by the family of the bride to the bridegroom, and vice versa. In Samoa the bride’s friends would contribute fine mats and native cloth, which were looked upon as the bridal dowry, and the friends of the bridegroom would give canoes, pigs, or trade goods in return. In Hawaii it was generally the parents or friends of the girl who arranged the marriage, and there was practically no wedding ceremony. Sometimes the bridegroom threw a piece of tapa round the bride, and a feast was spread in honour of the occasion.
In Tahiti the sanction of the gods was considered necessary for the marriage contract. A temporary altar was erected in the house of the bride, on which were placed the skulls and bones of her ancestors. The bride and bridegroom, arrayed in wedding garments (which were afterwards considered sacred), stood a few yards apart, and the priest asked the man, “Will you not cast away your wife?” to which he answered, “No”; then the bride was asked a similar question, and returned a similar answer. The priest then said to them both, “Happy will it be if thus with you two.”
Polygamy was a universal custom, limited only by the wealth of the husband, and the fact that in most of the islands the men were numerically in excess of the women.
Woman reaches her highest social position in Tonga and Samoa. Samoa possesses all the advantages of climate and soil characteristic of Polynesia. It is healthy, and the means of subsistence are perhaps more easily obtained here than in any other part of the world. It is not subject to the disadvantages of isolation, which retard progress in other groups, and contact with neighbouring peoples has prevented stagnation.
No account of social life in Samoa is complete without a description of its central features, kava and the taupou. Kava (or ’ava, as the Samoans call it) is the necessary part of every ceremony, no festival is complete without it, no war may be fought or even determined on if the kava has not been rightly served, and the beginnings of peace are in the kava bowl. A visitor must always carry with him his three pieces to present to his host, who, in his turn, never fails to present kava to his guest.
The drink is made of the roots of the Piper methysticurn, and in old days it was “masticated by the pearly teeth of flower-clad maidens”; but this practice has been stopped by the missionaries, and is now only to be found in out-of-the-way parts. Near Apia the kava pounding stones form prominent items in domestic furniture.
The institution of the taupou, or official maid of the village, is a prominent feature in Samoa. Each village elects a girl, who must be the daughter of a chief, or occasionally certain great chiefs have the right of appointing some girl of high birth. The taupou has a large house provided for her in the village, and has control of all the women and girls in it. Here she resides more or less, with her court of young girls, and she never goes anywhere unless accompanied by an elderly woman. No man belonging to the village is allowed to enter the house.
In all the village festivities, and especially when visits are exchanged between villages, the taupou and her court play an important part. One of her chief duties is to receive strangers, to entertain them, and to make the kava. If a visit is paid to a neighbouring village, the orator leads the procession of girls, calling out the name and rank and titles of the official maid. The taupou herself is a sort of village property, and a model of virtue to all the other girls. It is her duty to attract courting parties from other villages, with their many presents. Eventually she will be married to some young chief who presents so many hundred pigs, which are divided amongst the village, and in return her friends contribute so many hundred fine mats for the relations of the bridegroom. Dancing is one of the duties of the taupou. She is instructed in all the poses of the dance by her duenna; her scanty wardrobe is principally made up of material which shall adorn her for the dance, and the court of attendant girls are carefully trained to accompany her in the siva. She is not a soloist in these performances, but is the central figure of the group and the leader of the concerted movements of the party. Her dancing is one of the things about which her village boasts, in order to attract suitors; the poets of the village write verses about it, and sing them as they travel by canoe in front of other villages.
The siva is a dance of the upper body, which is performed sitting, and the feet and legs move only slightly to keep time. The number of possible motions of the body and arms is limited only by the flexibility of the muscles of the dancers and their ideas of what is graceful.
The natives of New Zealand, or Maori, have been—at any rate, as far as historical times are concerned—Polynesians; and though they have very much in common with the inhabitants of the islands to the north-east, their culture, nevertheless, exhibits important peculiarities. It will be noticed that in speaking of this people the past tense has been employed; this is because the march of civilisation, which has proved less fatal to the Maori than the rest of the Polynesians, has practically destroyed all their ancient customs.
The position of the Maori woman in the tribe was unusually high for a primitive people, and her influence was correspondingly great. The women took an active part in all the business of life, sharing in the work and the amusements of the men, assisting in the defence of their fortified villages, and accompanying war-parties on expeditions. Moreover, their advice was sought on all matters, public as well as domestic; in fact, it was by no means reckoned extraordinary for a woman to take part in the deliberations of the war council. Women of high rank were particularly important, since they brought both position and wealth to their husbands. In default of a male successor, a woman could become chief, transmitting the dignity to her children.
Maori women were very affectionate as sisters, wives, and mothers, and suicide upon the death of a husband or brother was a very common occurrence in the old days. But they were also passionate and jealous, and cases have even been known where a woman has killed her baby to spite her husband.
A few words must be said about an institution which played a most important part in Maori life—the institution called tapu. To say that persons, objects, or places were tapu means that they were sacred, but with a peculiar and dangerous form of sanctity; they became under certain conditions charged with holiness as with electricity, which was communicated to any person who touched them, and either rendered him equally tapu or even—in the case of persons of low rank-—killed him outright.
As a baby, the advent of the Maori woman into the world was not always regarded as a subject for rejoicing; as among so many primitive peoples—and others also—the parents were usually disappointed because she was not a boy. In fact, in certain circumstances, a girl was not considered worth rearing, and the unhappy infant was not permitted to live. If she were spared, she was dipped in the sacred stream outside the village by the priest. This ceremony rendered the mother and child tapu, and they were isolated for a few days in a special hut, called by the poetic name of “nest-house.” Then a similar ceremony, accompanied by invocations, was necessary to remove the tapu. Later a third “baptism” was performed, at which the baby received her name. As a child her lot was usually a happy one; she was treated with affection and kindness, and even “spoiled ” by her parents, and spent much of her time in playing various games with her companions, boys and girls together.
If a New Zealand girl belonged to a family of high position, she had to be tattooed; and since tattooing is an important ceremony, and performed in a peculiar manner in this country, it deserves a special paragraph to itself. In the rest of Polynesia, as in other countries inhabited by a comparatively fair-skinned people, a number of small punctures were made in the skin and the colouring matter rubbed in; but in New Zealand the process was far more painful: regular grooves were cut by means of an instrument pointed with bone and shaped like a diminutive adze, which was struck with a small mallet. The blood flowed freely, and was wiped off with a tuft of flax, the pattern being indicated by dark lines drawn on the skin. After this the dark pigment, in the form of powder, was applied. Girls were tattooed on the lips and chin, and occasionally on the breasts and thighs also. The education of the girl was left mainly in the hands of her mother, but there was one occupation closely connected with religion, regarding which special arrangements were made. This was the manufacture of the various mats which formed the principal clothing of men and women alike. Instruction in weaving was of a sacred nature, and the services of the priest were in requisition to pronounce the necessary incantations, by means of which the mind of the pupil was supposed to become especially receptive. The sacred nature attaching to the occupation was never subsequently forgotten, and many were the rules which the operator had to observe under penalty of supernatural punishment. The apparatus was of the simplest: two sticks supported the threads which formed the warp, and the weft was manipulated by the hand alone. The process resembled plaiting rather than weaving proper, the cloth being of the variety known as “tied-cloth.” The feathers of the Kiwi were often incorporated in the work, and, later, those of fowls.
From the question of weaving we pass naturally to that of dress, which consisted almost invariably of two of these mats, one fastened round the waist and the other round the neck, to form a sort of cloak, which could be discarded if the wearer wished to engage in work.
Perhaps the ornament most characteristic of the Maori is the jade pendant known as Tiki, which was worn round the neck. These Tiki were grotesque human figures of a prescribed and somewhat conventional pattern, and were beautifully worked and polished. Each one of them must have taken literally years of patient toil to produce. They were regarded as heirlooms, and the sentimental value attached to them was enormous. Though usually worn by men, they were frequently seen on the necks of females, especially heiresses or those of chiefly rank.
Cooking was usually performed by means of steam, in the manner general throughout Polynesia. This is described on page 25, in the chapter on New Guinea.
In war, the chief business of the life of the men, women played little part, except as an incentive. They accompanied expeditions as food-carriers, but did not engage in fight. In the defence of a fort they had a more important function—that of guarding against the risk of fire. It was the custom for the assailants to attempt to set the fort in flames by means of red-hot stones cast from slings, and the women were employed to guard against this danger with calabashes of water ready to hand. But usually, if an opportunity offered, they were sent away to a safe place before the attack.
It seems strange that among this people, where most events of daily life bore a semi-religious character, and were accompanied by incantations, marriage was purely a civil matter, and the services of the priest were not in requisition. Among the higher ranks polygamy was the rule; indeed, the importance of a chief was, in a measure, determined by the number of his wives. Each of them had her own farm and retainers, according to her rank, and contributed to the maintenance of his establishment. Among these wives slaves were frequently found, but the marriage of a high-born woman with a male slave was considered very disgraceful. Perhaps the reason was that a man became raised in status by union with a woman of superior rank, while the position of a woman remained unaltered by marriage. Girls usually married within their own nation. If members of two different nations desired to become man and wife, the consent of both nations was necessary. In any case, the brothers of the lady were the persons whose goodwill it was most necessary to cultivate. The most time-honoured method was for the man to assemble his friends and carry off his beloved, and even in cases where the affair had been arranged, a mock struggle ensued, in which the lady must have had rather a bad time. Where the resistance was genuine, the poor girl was often seriously injured out of spite, or even killed, by the members of the party who found themselves in danger of being overpowered.
As a rule, girls married young; brides of ten years old were not infrequent, and the girl had little choice in the matter—the match was usually arranged by her relations.
North of Melanesia and west of Polynesia lie countless little islands, sometimes forming large clusters, sometimes occurring singly, whose diminutive size has given to the whole area the name of Micronesia. The most important of the groups stretch in a large curve outside the west-to-south bend of Melanesia.
The islands are occupied by a very mixed population, probably based on an aboriginal Melanesian type, which has been constantly adulterated by subsequent infiltration of Malay, Polynesian, and Japanese elements. As a rule, the Micronesians resemble the Polynesians very closely, differing from them in being more hairy and shorter in stature, with longer heads; but great varieties are found throughout the area.
The Pimlingai tribe probably represent the dark aboriginal population of Uap (Carolines). This type was described by Captain Morell as follows :—
“The women are small in size, and very handsome, with delicate features and a dark, sparkling eye, expressive of tenderness and affection. They have round, luxuriant chests, slender waists, small hands and feet, straight legs, and small ankles. In short, they seem to be in every respect admirably ‘fitted for the tender offices of love’; and, setting aside our innate prejudices to certain complexions, their personal charms are of a very superior order.”
A feast—eating, drinking, and dancing—which may be continued for some weeks, constitute the characteristic features of Micronesian weddings.
In Ponape (Carolines) the wedding ceremony is rather peculiar. The bride is brought into the house of the bridegroom’s family, and her prospective mother-in-law rubs coco-nut oil into her back and shoulders, a garland of flowers is placed on her head, and the ceremony is concluded by a feast.
Turner tells of a curious custom of choosing a husband in Arorai, one of the Gilbert Islands. The girl sits in the lower room of the house, and over her head are her lovers, who let down coco-nut leaflets through the chinks in the ceiling. She pulls at one, and asks whose it is. If the reply is not in the voice of the young man she wishes to have, she leaves it and pulls another leaf, and so on, until the right man answers, when she pulls the leaf right down. The happy man then remains, while the rest slink away. The young couple go to their respective homes and prepare for the day of feasting, which is also the day of their marriage. The ceremony is performed by the father of either of them. The two bow their heads before him. He takes hold of their hair with one hand and with the other pours on them a purifying libation of the juice of the coco-nut palm.
Divorce is easy, since there is no bride-price to be reclaimed, and as a rule it merely consists in the wife returning, either by her own choice or by the will of her husband, to her own people.
The possession of many wives is, as usual, the privilege of the wealthy, and is enjoyed by the few. The women are usually well treated. Muqul, or “bad form,” is the most potent restriction next to tapu in the Pelew group, and it is “ bad form ” for a man to beat or abuse his wife in public, and punishable by a fine. The position of women is doubtless influenced by the fact that, as a rule, they do most of the work. It is said in the Gilbert Islands that the men are in such fear of breaking the Sabbath by mistake that they abstain from work, week in, week out, unless under the stress of hunger.
The portion of Oceania called Melanesia stretches from New Guinea on the northwest to Fiji on the south-east, over an area of several thousand miles.
It includes, besides New Guinea and Fiji, at least seven distinct groups of islands: 1, Admiralty Islands; 2, Bismarck Archipelago; 3, Solomon Islands; 4, Santa Cruz Islands; 5, Banks and Torres Islands; 6, New Hebrides; 7, New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands. These groups of islands are occupied by peoples possessing a sufficient number of common characters to warrant their being classed together under the race name of Melanesians.
The distribution of ornament between the sexes has been quoted as one of the tests of civilisation. “The grade of advancement of a race may, to some extent, be measured by the amount of expense which the men are willing to incur in decorating their wives. . . . The males in highly civilised communities revert to the savage condition of profuse decoration only as warriors or officials.”
In Melanesia the opposite obtains. The woman may, on grand occasions, be dressed up in all the family possessions, to display the wealth and importance of her husband; but in ordinary life the greater share of the ornaments is worn by the male. In the Admiralty Islands the decoration is confined almost to the men. Young girls sometimes have a necklace, arm-band, or leg-band. Old women have no ornaments at all. The women are even debarred from indulging in the universal South Sea method of decoration—wearing bright flowers in the hair—for their heads are closely shaven. The only outlet for their decorative impulse is in tattooing— “Having no clothes to embroider, they embroider their skins.” Tattooing is almost confined to the women, and with them it is universal. There are three types of skin decoration in Melanesia :—
1. Tattooing by puncture or incision, with the introduction of colouring matter.
2. Scarification or cicatrisation by gashing or burning, leaving raised scars.
3. Ulceration by blister-producing plants.
A Melanesian child generally has her ear-lobe bored while quite young, and a piece of grass keeps the hole open; the aperture is gradually enlarged by the introduction of thicker rods or discs and by the attachment of heavy weights, until the lobe is distended and hangs down to the shoulders, and often below. The edge of the ear may also be bored and hung round with ornaments.
As in Polynesia, the most extraordinary and conspicuous of ethnic deformations is the alteration of the shape of the head by means of pressure. In New Caledonia the head of the new-born infant is squeezed by means of the fingers, steeped in hot water. One tribe affects transverse pressure, with depressed forehead; and another narrows the head until it is no wider than the neck. In another part there are different fashions for boys and girls. A boy’s face is lengthened to make him look like a warrior, while that of a girl is rounded by raising the chin.
Fashions in dress vary considerably in Melanesia, both for men and women; of some of the former it is often remarked that absolute nudity would be more decent, but the latter are usually sufficiently and artistically clothed. In parts of the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, and the Banks Islands, women may be seen entirely naked, but generally a girdle, fringe, or petticoat is worn, varying in material, width, and ornamentation. The irreducible minimum is reached in New Caledonia, where the dress consists of a string round the waist, supporting a little rag scarcely the size of a penny; but the Eromangan woman wears an ample petticoat from waist to heel, and the Nitendi costume consists of a complete covering of mats from head to foot.
One of the most bizarre costumes is the oahi, worn by the women of the Anchorite Islands, consisting of two aprons made of the leaves of a species of turmeric. One wide piece folds round the body, almost meeting behind, and a back piece covers the join, reaching from the shoulder-blades to the ground. A girdle of plaited pandanus leaf secures the whole. The simplest form of costume occurs sporadically throughout Melanesia. A piece of fibre or liana is wound round the waist and tied over one hip, and a bunch of grass fibre or leaves, etc., tucked in before and behind. This type of costume can be donned at a moment’s notice, and a woman, paying a visit across an inlet or along the shore, would leave her own garment at home, swim to her destination, and provide herself with a new dress on landing. In the Admiralty Islands this is the ordinary form of clothing, but decoration is introduced by a brilliant red dye, with which the tufts of grass are stained.
In parts of the Solomon Islands a short petticoat of fibre is the fashion, varying from a depth of only four inches in Ulaua to a depth of a foot or more in Guadal-canar. In the Shortland group a special sort of sporran, called bassa, is worn, made with great care from specified plants, and both the plants and the garment are tapu.
In the interior of Fiji, which is still almost untouched by civilisation, the short frill of bast or fibre may still be seen, but European dress is fast superseding native garments elsewhere, and silks and velvets take the place of bark-cloth among the higher ranks of society. Often the adoption of the new costumes does not entail the casting off of the old, and the native and the imported garments sometimes appear in somewhat incongruous juxtaposition.
Bark-cloth is made and worn in some of the islands, although it does not play such an important part in Melanesia as in Polynesia, nor is it so artistically treated. It only comes into common use in Fiji, where Polynesian influence is strong. Here its preparation is one of the most important tasks of the women.
Throughout Melanesia, as a rule, less attention is paid to the birth of a girl than to that of a boy, and the feasts and pig-killing or other ceremonies designed to attract spiritual favours or avert spiritual malevolence are generally omitted. In the New Hebrides a pretty custom exists. When the child is ten days old, and the mother is well again, the father goes down to the beach to wash the things belonging to the baby. If the child is a boy he scatters toy bows as he walks along, so that he may be strong and a good bowman. If the child is a girl he scatters pandanus fibres on her behalf, in order that she may be industrious in the making of mats. Girls reach maturity early, generally before they are thirteen, often by the time they are ten; but they may be married at even earlier ages, ten being the marriageable age in New Britain, while in Ambrym girls are often married between seven and ten.
There are diverse customs in the various island groups to indicate when the marriageable age has arrived, generally consisting in the outward and visible signs of the donning of clothes and decoration by tattooing. The tattooing is usually done by a professional, and all the family and friends contribute towards the expenses, being rewarded by a feast when the work is over. In parts of the New Hebrides when a girl attains maturity her upper front teeth are knocked out, either by several small taps or one hard blow with a stone.
More curious are the customs in vogue in parts of New Ireland, which were seen and described by the Rev. G. Brown. The poorer girls wear a fringe crossed over their breasts and backs until they are marriageable, but those who can afford the expense keep the girls in tiny cages, from the age of eight or ten, until they emerge to be married some five years later. Several girls are generally kept together in a special house, in an enclosure, guarded by an old woman, and each girl is put in a separate cage made of the broad leaves of the pandanus tree, sewn quite closely together, so that no light and very little air can enter. These conical structures are built on piles, and they measure about ten to twelve feet in circumference at the bottom and for about four feet from the ground, and above that they taper off to a point. There is only room inside for the girl to sit or lie down in a crouched position. Yet here the girls remain for four or five years, never being allowed out save once a day to bathe in a dish or wooden bowl placed close to their cage, and they are not allowed to place their feet on the ground.
It is a general custom throughout the world that the man proposes marriage, but in parts of Melanesia the position is reversed, and the girl has to take the first step and make a proposal of marriage to the man. Among the Sulka of New Britain the girl chooses her future husband for herself. She “lays her heart on the man of her choice,” as they say. Her father, or other near relative in whom she confides, says to her, “Wait, we will invite him here, so that he may work for you.” Then the mediator goes to the young man, conveying the proposal of marriage. If he be willing, he is brought to the bride’s home, and she, at his entrance, presents him with baked taro and a neck ornament. The acceptance of these constitutes an engagement, and a general exchange of presents ensues; the bridegroom gives the neck ornament to his parents, who give him presents in return, and these he gives to the bride, who has to bestow them on her parents. This is the private betrothal. The young man remains with his bride’s family, and helps them by working for them, and during this time a plantation is made for the young couple. When this is finished, a day is appointed for the ceremonial handing over of the girl by her father to her future husband, and this is a feast day for all the villages round. This constitutes the public betrothal.
Until the wedding day the girl has now to live the life of a hermit. She is shut up in a little cell at the back of the house of her future parents-in-law, together with some young girls, her sisters or nieces. She may not eat taro baked between stones, flesh, fish, or certain fruits, or drink water; she may not cook her own food, or even feed herself. The girls who are with her prepare the taro, baked on the fire, and feed her by putting pieces into her mouth. She has to avoid the sight of men, and if she goes out she wears a long cloak of banana leaves down to the ground and whistles all the time, so that men shall keep out of the way. She is also decorated with scarifications by women specially paid by the bridegroom. He meanwhile is building his house. When these preparations are over the wedding day is announced, and there is much feasting, singing, and dancing, after which the young pair go to their new home.
The most pathetic description of marriage in Melanesia comes from Ambrym (New Hebrides). Here a girl is sold for pigs almost as soon as she can toddle, five or six pigs being paid in instalments. At an age between seven and ten the child-wife is delivered over to her purchaser, possibly an old chief. Sometimes she is allowed to remain with her parents until she is twelve; then, with tears and much crying, she is carried off to her husband’s village.
In parts of the Solomons, a wife generally commits suicide by hanging, drowning or stabbing herself, on the death of her husband.
In the New Hebrides widows were usually smothered or strangled, so that they might continue their wifely ministrations in the next world. The process had to be effected as soon as the man was dead, and the wife’s body buried with that of her husband, otherwise their spirits might miss each other on the way to the land of the dead. A conical cap, made of spiders’ web, was used for the smothering process. The women were by no means anxious to escape their fate, even where escape was provided by aid of the missionaries, and the fear of reproach probably restrained any show of natural reluctance.
At least two characteristic features of Melanesian social organisation may be noted as indicating the by no means insignificant position of women. These are the so-called mother-right, and descent of property through females. Under the system of mother-right, descent is reckoned through the mother instead of the father, and the mother's brother (i.e. the maternal uncle) is considered a closer relation to the children than their own father.
In New Ireland conditions of life are specially hard on the women, on whom the field work falls. In most parts they are heavily over-worked and entirely in the power of their husbands. A husband may kill his wife without the interference of her relations, who give up all claim to her at the marriage.
New Britain seems to form an exception to the greater part of Melanesia, from the fact that a sufficient stimulus has there been discovered to overcome man’s natural objection to work. This stimulus is the love of money (i.e. shell money), which is an overmastering passion, and though the root of much evil, is productive of much good. Another result, and one of great importance to the women, is the establishment of the right to personal property. The woman keeps for herself the money which she earns by her labours, and a wife may amass wealth independently of her husband. In the Solomon group conditions of life differ considerably.
In the New Hebrides the climate is as a rule very unhealthy, and in some of the islands the natives live in daily dread of malaria. The life of the women is generally a hard one, and they are practically slaves. The field work and all other work is done by them, while the men fish or hunt, and when they fish from canoes the women do the paddling.
In certain respects the Fijians represent the highest grade to which women have attained in Melanesia. The people are a mixture of Melanesians and Polynesians, for the route of the early Polynesian migrations of the fourth century probably passed through Fiji, and colonies from Tonga and Samoa are known to have established themselves in the islands some two hundred years ago, and their influence is noticeable in physical type, customs, and language. The women, like all Melanesians, are skilled in plait work and basket-making.
Fijian dances also show Polynesian influence. The dancers stand or sit, and the dancing consists in rhythmical movements and gestures.
TORRES STRAITS AND NEW GUINEA
The Torres Straits, which stretch between Australia and New Guinea, comprise a shallow and reef-strewn area dotted with islands, which for political and administrative purposes are regarded as belonging to Queensland, though the natives, once the islands within easy paddling distance of Australia are left behind, cease to show Australian characteristics. The inhabitants of the islands of Torres Straits are, in fact, thorough Papuans, and differ but slightly in general appearance and habits from' those of New Guinea in the neighbourhood of the mouth of the Fly River, with whom some of them intermarry. For the last twenty or thirty years the importance of the pearling industry has caused the Straits to be over-run by folk from the whole of Eastern Asia and many of the islands of the Pacific.
As the result of this invasion, combined with the influence of traders and missionaries, old habits of thought have vanished, and the natives are everywhere rapidly dying out; scarcely the memory survives of the condition of things which prevailed half a century ago, when an iron knife or a glass bottle was of the same value as a necklace made of dogs’ teeth, and any one of these articles was the usual price to pay for a wife. Some islands are already destitute of inhabitants, and in others scarcely half a dozen old men and women are to be found; while the number of the latter who bear upon the small of their back the scars cut in their youth to represent their old totem animals, such as the dugong, the shark, or the snake, can be counted upon the fingers of one hand.
In the old days the costume of the women of Torres Straits was a petticoat made of strips of the shredded leaves of the sago plant, and often dried brown and black; but at the present day this simple and cleanly costume is utterly extinct, and every woman now wears a hideous, loosely-made chemise-like gown, often of the brightest trade calico, clean only when it is first put on.
On almost all the islands of Torres Straits a girl formerly made the first advances, though a young man who desired to create an impression on any particular girl would take every opportunity of showing off in the village dances and otherwise posing before her. And, if the times were not too peaceable, he would make every attempt to procure a human skull, a feat of valour which no girl could resist. He would also probably prepare “medicine” by chewing up the leaves of various trees— some at least of which would be scented—and mixing these with the oil expressed from the leaf of a coco-nut. A little of this mixture would then be rubbed over his body in order to fascinate and attract the girl. If he were successful, the young woman would take an early opportunity of sending him a string by some younger girl, often a sister of his own, as a token that she wished him to come to her. The young man would then go to the girl’s hut. This state of affairs would go on for some time, the lover meanwhile making himself useful, as occasion arose, to the girl’s father. At first the father would not be supposed to know what was going on, and later, when the matter was more or less officially brought to his notice, he would not be angry, but the mother of the girl and her people might feel it incumbent upon themselves to make a fuss, which usually ended in a brawl between the families. This, however, ceased as soon as a member of the bridegroom’s people had been “marked”—that is to say, as soon as a little blood had flowed. After this, the girl—now considered a bride—and the bridegroom were dressed in their best, and were seated at opposite ends of a mat, while an exchange of presents of food took place between the two families.
On leaving the islands of Torres Straits for the mainland of New Guinea, a vast, scarcely explored region of low, swampy, and very unhealthy country is reached, and but little is known concerning the habits and customs of the natives of this part, the most interesting of whom are the Tugeri. This is the common name for a number of tribes living in Netherlands’ New Guinea. Their women are rather unusually well built for this part of the world, and instead of cropping their hair, as is common about the neighbourhood of the Fly River in the British Possession, wear it in long, frizzled ringlets. The abundance of ornaments worn by these women is also rather noteworthy, since in New Guinea the men and not the women are most decorated.
In the neighbourhood of the estuary of the Fly River, instead of the villages consisting of a number of family houses, a whole village may be represented only by four or five houses, each seventy-five or one hundred yards long, standing on piles seven or eight feet high. In many of the villages in which these “long houses ” occur the sexes are separated; all the men of a clan, or sometimes of a number of clans, live in one long house and the women and children in another; but although the women may on no account come into the men’s houses, each married man may visit his wife in the women’s long-house, which is divided on each side of the central public gangway into a number of spaces, each with its own fireplace, belonging to a family group.
The women of the coastal tribes, instead of resorting to scarification, beautify themselves by covering their bodies with tattoo. Tattooing is begun at an early age— perhaps as young as six or eight—and is continued gradually until shortly before the girl becomes marriageable, when the V-shaped mark, called by the Motu gado, the point of which is situated between the breasts, is pricked in.
A notable feature of New Guinea life consists in the feasts and the dances which accompany them. Although only unmarried girls take part in the dancing, married women also play an important part in preparing and serving the food consumed. The native “ovens,” in which, when they are properly arranged, flesh and vegetables are alike cooked to perfection, are prepared as follows: —
A shallow excavation is made in the ground, and its bottom lined with stones; upon these a fire is made, which is not raked away until the stones have become not far short of red-hot. Damp banana leaves are placed upon the stones, and upon these are put the pieces of meat to be cooked—vegetables are more usually simply boiled— wrapped in more banana leaves. More stones are piled over the food, and as these are being arranged and in turn covered with leaves, a little water is dropped into the “oven,” the steam from which is in great part kept in by the stones and banana leaves on top. The result is that the food is only slightly cooked by the direct heat from the stones at the bottom, the greater part of the effect being due to the steam which penetrates the leaf packets in which the food is wrapped.
The charms of the dusky belle of Australia have been sung, if at all, at most by aboriginal bards; for if the truth must be told, she is very far from being a belle when she frequents the neighbourhood of the white man and adopts whisky drinking and other civilised habits. In her native wilds she is a more presentable person, and Eyre, in his “Journals of Travel,” goes so far as to say that he had “ met females in the bloom of youth whose well proportioned limbs and symmetry of figure might have formed a model for the sculptor’s chisel.” But such cases are the exception, for whether it be from centuries of the hardest labour or from a deficient appreciation of beauty on the part of the male portion of the community, or both, the native Australian woman is seldom good-looking. Her charms, such as they are, fade rapidly at an early age, and both physically and mentally she is inferior to the sterner sex. The aboriginal woman is as a rule five feet high or a little more; her hair is generally said to be black, but whether this is not universally true or whether a liberal application of red ochre conceals the true colour, many of the specimens which reach England are rather reddish brown than black.
The inclement climate of the south compels the women to adopt some covering from the weather, and the opossum or kangaroo skin cloak was an effective one; the substitution of European blankets for it was a fatal error, and helped to extinguish the tribes of the south-east. Further north clothing is worn less for purposes of warmth than for decency, though native requirements in this respect are but slight.
The apron or belt, worn in some cases only by unmarried or lately married women, is a fringe of opossum or other hair, depending from a hair girdle. For decorative purposes, armlets and necklaces, head fillets and pendants may be worn; nor must the nose-bone be forgotten, which on state occasions is replaced by a green twig. Lumps of gum or dog’s teeth may hang from the woman’s hair, and in some tribes the belle, got up regardless of expense, wears artificial whiskers, formed of locks of hair cemented with beefwood gum; these hang some two inches below the jaw.
The girl’s education begins early; she soon knows how to help her mother in the quest for food, grubbing up roots, preparing yams, capturing small lizards, extracting larvae from beneath the bark of trees, and, in some of the tribes, accompanying her on fishing expeditions. But even in black Australia life is very far from being all work. Black children, as well as white, have their games; in some parts dolls are made of cane, split half-way up to represent the legs. Cat’s cradle, too, is a favourite diversion, and not for children only; grown-up women take part in the game, and many of the figures pass through eight or nine stages before they are completed.
But playtime soon passes away, and the serious business of life—wifehood, the only profession for women— is taken up. The baby girl is sometimes betrothed soon after birth, sometimes a little later. The ceremony may consist in decorating her head with swansdown, taking her to see her future husband—who is perhaps already a grown man—and transferring some of the swansdown to his head, at the same time telling her unconscious ears that he is to be her husband in fourteen years’ time.
But before she is married the girl who aspires to be chic and beautiful has to undergo various initiatory ceremonial mutilations. An old beldam takes the girl away from the camp and, as a preliminary, plasters her with mud; then she lights a fire of leaves, and makes the girl swallow the smoke, at the same time giving her advice as to her future conduct. The girl meditates on her lessons in private, and at most returns to the main camp once to see her betrothed. He must obstinately turn his back on her; so she throws leaves on his shoulders and shakes him, then turns and runs her hardest to her solitary camp, which she only quits some time later to become his wife. The initiation ceremonies, however, may be more severe, and involve painful mutilations, which are fully described in scientific works. Among the least of them is the production of so-called keloids—raised scars on the body or upper limbs.
Betrothal is, of course, not the only way of getting a husband, for a girl may be bartered by her brother against another man’s sister, by her father in exchange for another man’s daughter, and so on; or she may be allotted to her husband by a tribal council, and neither of them may have any intimation of the approaching happy event till the girl’s brothers take a piece of smouldering firewood to the bridegroom, and the same evening apprise the woman of the name of the man to whom she has to go.
The husband is the absolute owner of his wife. He may, in most tribes, punish her with death in case of grave dereliction of duty, and simple chastisement will never cause her relatives to interfere. If, however, the husband kills his wife for any reason not recognised as sufficient by the native code, custom demands in some parts that he should give up his own sister to be killed by his wife’s relatives, which seems a less than fair proceeding; but as it is by bartering his sister that a man gets a wife, the punishment is really more severe than it appears.
Broadly speaking, the wife has to do all the hard work, while her lord and master occupies himself with the pleasant business of hunting. To the woman’s lot falls the provision of wild roots and vegetables, the building of huts, the transportation of burdens and children on the march, and so on; her load may amount to a hundredweight—no light weight for a traveller who has to cover twenty miles. Following at a respectful distance behind the father of the family, she carries in one hand her “yam stick,” long and fairly thick, which is at once her weapon and her tool. In her bag or on her shoulders is a child or two, and the rest of her load is worthy of particular enumeration. It constituted the worldly wealth of an Australian household in the days when Grey explored West Australia. The list as given by him is curious and interesting: A flat stone to pound roots; earth to mix with them; quartz to make spears and knives; stones for axes; cakes of gum to make or mend weapons; kangaroo sinews to do duty as thread; needles made of the shin Bones of kangaroos; opossum hair for waist belts; shavings of kangaroo skin with which to polish spears; a mussel shell to be used in hair cutting; pipeclay; red and yellow paper bark as a water vessel; banksia cones or fungus tinder for fire lighting, and skins waiting to be dressed. She may carry her husband’s spare weapons, or the wood from which they are to be made; she has, besides, the roots she collects during the day, for her lord and master must be fed, and there are also knives, axes, grease, etc.
If it should chance to rain, the wife, before the journey is at an end, collects suitable sticks. Arrived at the camping ground, she makes with her digging-stick eight or nine holes in the earth, and plants in them the ends of the poles she has collected, the other ends meet in the centre, and keep their places without being tied in any way—thanks to her art in building—then smaller sticks are laced through the poles, and over them comes a layer of bark or, it may be, grass or leaves entwined.
Hard as is the life of the native Australian wife, her troubles are not at an end when she becomes a widow, for in a few months she passes, willy nilly, to another husband, very often a brother of her “late lamented.” In some parts she is required to mourn for her husband for a considerable period. In the Central tribes she must cut her head open, and is under a vow of silence till her period of mourning is ended, and two full years sometimes elapse before she regains her freedom of speech; meanwhile all her communications must be by gesture language, which in these tribes has been brought to a high state of perfection. Stranger still, but readily understandable when we remember the passionate love of an Australian mother for her children, is the custom of carrying the body of a dead child for months, and sometimes years; fortunately, it is often well smoke-dried first.
The true Malay appears upon the scene in relatively recent times. Before his advent the Malay Archipelago was peopled, in part at any rate, by tribes that are now known to anthropologists as Indonesians, a race typically of Caucasic affinities.
The Indonesian women are of short stature, compact and plump, rather than elegant, in figure when young; their complexion varies from a pale yellow to a shade that has aptly been compared to the colour of a new saddle. Beauty, according to European standards, is rarely, if ever, attained, for the high cheekbones, the absence of a distinct bridge to the nose, the thick and somewhat averted lips, forbid this; but the general cast of countenance is frequently gentle and pleasing, and the dark brown eyes and normally abundant hair are good features. The habit of chewing betel nut dyes the lips a brilliant scarlet, and the teeth are usually artificially blackened, so that the mouth looks larger than it really is.
Amongst most Indonesian tribes woman occupies an important and well-recognised position. In some of the islands she takes a part in village councils, whilst in the family her voice is often supreme.
If we glance at the marriage customs we shall gain a clue to the important position occupied by Indonesian women. Among the Menangkabau Malays a man is compelled to marry a girl of some other village than his own. When he has married her, he must leave his home and take up his abode with his wife in the house of his parents-in-law ; he is regarded so much as an intruder and interloper that his parents-in-law ceremonially ignore his presence, and he must ignore them; he has no voice in the up-bringing of his children, the office being performed by his wife’s brother; his property, on his death, goes to his sister’s children; finally, descent is reckoned through the maternal line. Here we have what is termed the matriarchal state, or matriarchate, at the height of its development. In Acheh, Sumatra, the laws are somewhat modified.
In Borneo and the Minahassa district of Celebes the matriarchate is in a degenerate condition. In Borneo at the present day a man, as often as not, selects his wife from his own village or communal house, and she either lives with him or he with her and her parents. It is forbidden for a man to mention the name of his parents-in-law, but he does not ignore them. In the Minahassa district of Celebes a young married couple set up house for themselves, and the only trace of a former matriarchal state is found in the custom which forbids a man to pronounce in full the name of his mother-in-law—e.g., if her name is “Wenas,” the son-in-law must abbreviate it to “We”; if “Mainalo,” to “Maina.”
The principal non-Malay tribes of Sumatra are: the Achehnese in the north, the Battaks in the north-east and east, the Rejangs and the Lampongs in the south and south-west. The Rejangs flatten the noses of their children and manipulate their ears in order to get them to stand out from the head, the front teeth are either filed almost flush with the gums or else are sharpened to points. Metal bracelets and belts are worn, and, in addition, the women of the Padang highlands adorn the lower part of the leg with a series of tightly-fitting brass rings. Enormous ear ornaments of tin are worn by the Battak women; the tin is cast in bamboo cylinders of suitable diameter, and cut to the required length, the cylindrical rod so obtained is passed through a large hole pierced in the upper part of the ear, and bent into a loop, the free ends of which are rolled up to form flat coils. Each ornament is about six inches long, and several ounces in weight; to prevent them from knocking against the face during active movement, they are clipped to the peculiar cloth head-dress worn by these women.
Achehnese girls are married when they are eight to ten years old, and “one sees children whom we should deem of an age to be taken on the knee making purchases in the market in the capacity of matrons.”
An engagement in an Achehnese village is a very public affair, for the head man of the village has to be consulted as to the advisability of the match; the engagement presents—which generally take the form of a gold ring or hair ornament, and which are regarded as tokens of good faith—are delivered by the prospective bridegroom to the leading men of the village, to be handed on by them to the parents of the bride.
The wedding day is preceded by three nights of feasting in the house of the bride’s parents, and on the third night an important ceremony, known as the andan, takes place. This consists of shaving off some of the bride’s hair, and is important because the bride, by submitting to it, openly declares that she is relinquishing her maiden state for married life. As long as she is unmarried, a girl’s hair is all drawn back off the forehead to the top and back of the head, but in the andan ceremony the shorter hairs are combed forwards and shaved off to the depth of one finger’s breadth.
Next evening the bridegroom is escorted to the bride’s house by a body of his friends. The bride is awaiting him in the inner room of the house, and the bridegroom takes his seat beside her on a mattress covered with cloth and finely-woven mats. The maiden is supposed to be so bashful that her face is constantly concealed from view by a fan held by an ancient mistress of the ceremonies. She gives now a token of wifely obedience in the form of a long obeisance before her husband, who thereupon hands to her a small present of money. The wedding guests and fellow villagers are then served with a feast in the outer veranda of the house, whilst the young couple partake of a meal out of a common dish in the inner room. After the meal, both are smeared behind the ears with glutinous rice, the idea of this ceremony being to confirm them in well-being and to ward off evil influences.
Divorce is a simple process. If a couple desire to separate, the man takes three pieces of betel nut, and hands them one by one to his wife, saying, “One divorce, two divorces, three divorces; thou art to me but as a sister in this world and the next.”
Amongst the Battaks, whilst exogamy is insisted on, marriage by capture is the universal custom, and a man will steal his wife by night from some neighbouring village, and carry her off to his own home, leaving behind him a small sum of money as a compensation for the theft. Nowadays the whole operation is purely ceremonial, and the parents of the girl are well aware when her abduction is planned and when it takes place.
Polygamy is the rule rather than the exception, and a man may have as many as six wives, who live all in one large room; to each is allotted a separate cooking place and cooking utensils, and it is their duty to prepare in turn the meals of their sovereign lord and master. Amongst these people the position of women is not nearly So advantageous as in other parts of the archipelago.
Men frequently sell their wives and children, and at all times treat them as little better than slaves. The Lam-pongs regard this form of marriage as disgraceful.
Fashion is a singularly hard task-mistress in Borneo, and there are few tribes whose women-folk do not mutilate some part of their persons or who do not wear some galling and irksome ornament. Amongst many of the Indonesian tribes—such as the Kanowits and Tanjongs, and amongst the Kenyahs and Kayans—distortion of the ears is carried to an excess. Girls at the tender age of two or three years have the lobes of the ears bored, and heavy weights are suspended from them, so that in course of time this part of the ear is pulled out into a slender loop of skin as many as seven inches long. The ideal aimed at is to stretch the loop until it can actually be passed over the head; but this is seldom attained, and often one of the loops breaks under the strain of the increasing weight of ornament.
The Sea-Dayak woman, if less of a martyr to fashion in the matter of ear ornaments than her Kayan and Ken-yah sisters, nevertheless finds it essential to wear on special occasions an ornament that must be—to the tyro at any rate—a veritable instrument of torture. It is known as the rawai, and consists of several circles of tightly rolled strips of pandanus leaf, on which are threaded innumerable little brass rings; the circles are pinned together with brass rods, and the whole forms a more or less flexible cylinder, which is worn round the bust and waist. Sometimes this corset is made so as to open down the front, fastening by means of a simple form of catch, in which case the donning or doffing of it is a simple matter; but more often the corset has no such opening, and it must then be worked into position over the head and shoulders, the arms being held up above the head during the process. If the corset fits at all tightly, the operation is a lengthy one, and a woman who has just undergone the pain and trouble of beautifying herself thinks twice about removing the embellishment until some days, or perhaps weeks, have elapsed. Since, in addition to the rawai, a Sea-Dayak belle will have also her arms and the lower parts of her legs encased in coils of brass wire, her dead weight is somewhat considerable when all her finery is worn, and it has happened that such a brassbound beauty, falling into a river from a bridge or through the capsizing of a canoe, has been drowned, notwithstanding her admirable swimming powers.
Some of the Land-Dayak tribes do not wear this corset, but sheathe the arms and lower part of the legs in brass wire rings, with white shell armlets interspersed; the rings on the legs fit very closely, and in course of time produce considerable distortion of the calf muscles.
The dress of a Bornean woman, apart from her ornaments, is not elaborate, for it consists of little more than a skirt which may reach no further than the knees. The skirt of the Kayan and Kenyah women is slit down the side, so that one leg is exposed to view during movements of any activity. Sometimes a short jacket is worn, but more usually the upper part of the body is uncovered. The Tanjongs and the Milanos wear a long jacket cut low at the neck and with tight sleeves, along the lower part of which a row of gilt or silver buttons is sewn. Unmarried Dusun girls cover the breasts with a strip of cloth, kept in position by coils of split rattan stained red. When working on their farms, large sun hats, one to two feet in diameter, made of palm leaf, are worn.
The Kayan women tattoo most extensively and elaborately, the whole of the forearms, the back of the hands, the thighs, and the upper surface of the feet being covered with intricate and, in some cases, beautiful designs. The pigment used is a compound of soot and sugar-cane juice or water, and the designs appear in a dark blue colour, producing a likeness to skin-tight knickerbockers and mittens.
The Sea-Dayak women weave from cotton thread of their own manufacture a strong cloth with a two- or three-colour design in it, the designs being produced by what is known as a “stop-out” process. The warp threads are stretched on a frame, and bundles of the threads are tied up here and there with strips of palm-leaf, the position of these tied-up bundles depending on the character of the desired design. The warp is then dipped into a red dye, and on removal from it the palm-leaf strips are cut off, and the design appears in the natural colour of the thread against a red background, or vice versa, according as the “stopping-out ” has been arranged. If a third colour is required, the palm-leaf strips are not cut off on removal from the red dye, but more are added, and the warp goes then into a blue dye, which, of course, acts only on the uncovered portions of the warp threads. Finally, the warp is stretched on a simple loom, and an undyed weft is woven in. The illustration facing this page shows a woman tying up the warp threads; frames holding the unwoven fabric in various stages are in the background ; the woman wears a petticoat of cloth of her own manufacture.
Java is the only tropical island in the world with a dense indigenous population. Thirty millions of people, not including Europeans, Malays or Chinese, occupy this island of 50,000 square miles in extent. Hindu and Mohammedan civilisations existed here for long ages before the advent of the European, but in spite of that, and in spite of their Mohammedan religion, the people to-day exhibit in a thousand ways the primitive characters of the Indonesian race. Women in Java, if they do not exert so powerful an influence in domestic and village affairs as in Borneo and Sumatra, are nevertheless far from occupying a menial position. The man in a Javanese household leaves much of the business of selling the produce of his land to his women-folk, and in the crowded market-places of the towns the majority of the stalls are kept by women; and, as the writer can testify, a Javanese woman can drive a harder bargain than her good man.
Children of tender years are frequently betrothed, but they are not married until they have reached a suitable age. As elsewhere in Malaya, a Javanese marriage contract is the subject of much discussion between the parents and relations of the contracting parties. If the match is considered suitable, the bridegroom sends to his prospective bride a present, the value of which is dependent on his position in life; if the bridegroom subsequently repudiates his promised word, the disappointed girl is allowed to retain this present, but, on the other hand, it must be returned to the donor if the obstacles to the completion of the marriage originate with her. On the wedding-day the bridegroom proceeds with his father and other male relatives to the mosque, and after informing the priest that he is willing to pay the necessary fees, the marriage is sanctified by the priest in words to the following effect: “I join you X---- in marriage with Y---- with a pledge of two reals weight in gold or silver. You take Y---- to be your wife for this world. You are obliged to pay the pledge of your marriage or to remain debtor for the same. You are responsible for your wife in all things. If you should happen to be absent from her for the space of seven months on shore, or one year at sea, without giving her any subsistence, and are remiss in the performance of the duties which you owe to your sovereign, your marriage shall be dissolved, if your wife requires it, without any further form or process; and you will be, besides, subject to the punishment which the Mohammedan law dictates.”
The much-despised Kalangs are one of the many savage tribes that regard the dog with great veneration. When a young man of this tribe demands the hand of a girl in marriage he must prove his descent from a pure Kalang stock. On the wedding day a buffalo’s head, covered with white, red, or black rice-powder, is placed on the ground near the place on which the nuptial couch is laid; the wedding guests dance in pairs, at the end of each dance presenting the bride to the bridegroom and making suitable offerings to them. The bridegroom, who is accompanied to the bride’s house by his friends, must bring with him as a marriage portion a pair of buffaloes, a plough, harrow, hoe, whip, and a sheaf of rice. The bodies of the bride and bridegroom are rubbed with the ashes of a red dog’s bones, and at sunset they both eat rice out of the same dish. On the following night they partake of the buffalo’s head, which is previously laid by the place where they sleep.
A young Balinese woman is a physically perfect specimen of humanity, and, by virtue of bearing loads on her head instead of on the back, acquires a carriage and deportment that would have delighted the heart of a Greek sculptor. This method of carrying loads, though common enough in Africa and India, is unusual in the Malay Archipelago, and it is interesting to notice that Bali is the only Malayan island in which the Hindu religion persists at the present day.
The only garment worn by a Balinese woman of the lower class is a long dark blue skirt; the upper part of the body is uncovered, though occasionally a light scarf is thrown round the neck. In Lombok, where many Balinese are found, a dark blue jacket is worn in addition to the skirt. The ear lobes are pierced, and in the enlarged hole a roll of palm leaf is worn by lower-class women and a gold or silver ear-plug by the wealthy.
Men carry off, or elope with, their brides, leaving behind them a compensation for the parents in the form of a money payment or in kind. Formerly it was customary for a widow to follow her husband’s corpse to the funeral pyre, and to seek death in the flames that consumed her dear departed. The death of a rajah entailed the sacrifice not only of his widow, but of many of the women of his household. Crawford relates that no fewer than seventy four women voluntarily sacrificed themselves at the burning of the corpse of a rajah of Boeliling; they were borne to the funeral pyre in litters, were then stabbed, stripped naked, and cast into the flames.
Much less is known of this island than of those that are collectively termed the Great and the Lesser Sunda Islands. The Minahassa district, in the north, is perhaps the most beautiful. The women nowadays wear the costume affected by Dutch ladies during the heat of the day. It consists of a short white jacket or kabaya, fastened down the front by brooches or pins, and a coloured petticoat or sarong, reaching to the ankles.
In pre-Christian times descent was traced through the female line, and the husband lived with his wife’s people, but now a married couple set up their own establishment.
A Minahassa maiden exercises much more freedom in the choice of a husband than is usually the case amongst the non-Malayan folk. The wooing generally begins in the evening of a mapalu or calling together of neighbours to assist in reaping the rice harvest. After the day’s work is ended, all repair to the house of the owner of the rice field, and are feasted; song and dance beguile the hours after the meal, and it is then that the Minahasser finds his opportunity. He steals from the festivities to the couch of his inamorata, and the two lovers converse till nearly daybreak, when the man leaves the house and goes forth to his labour. If the lovers decide to wed, then one morning the young man remains with the girl until all in the village are up and about, and it is understood that the couple are betrothed.
Formerly, the price paid by the bridegroom to the bride’s parents was so much land, so many saguier trees, and so many head of cattle; but nowadays it is paid in hard cash. The wedding ceremony takes place in the house of the bride’s parents; food is served to the guests, and the walian or officiating priest chews some betel nut and siri, and then hands the quid to the bridegroom, who finally hands it on to the bride for further mastication; the young couple partake of food from the same dish, and the ceremony is at an end. On the following morning there is another wedding feast, after which the walian takes the bride and bridegroom to the boundary line of the district, sticks a piece of bamboo in the ground, and says, “Here is a mouse; may your riches be as numerous as the hairs on the mouse.”
Many of these inland tribes have no knowledge of weaving, and their fabrics are obtained from the bark of a tree. The bark is softened for a long time in water, and then beaten with wooden hammers into long strips of comparatively thin texture; the strips are cut to required lengths, and stitched together. In Buol, North Celebes, the women are adepts at weaving, and make patterned silk sarongs, which are much prized in all parts of Celebes; they are in various brilliant colours.
The inhabitants of the Philippine Islands are a very mixed lot. It is probably safe to say that the oldest element in the population is the Negrito, known under the name of Aeta (i.e., black), and found in the interior of Luzon, in North Mindanao and elsewhere. Superposed on this is an older Malay stratum, and on this, again, a younger Malay stratum, which shows strong traces of Hindu influence. The Spanish intermarried with the aborigines and brought Chinese with them, and there was a small early Japanese settlement on Luzon.
It is natural that in such a mixed population there should be a great diversity of appearance, culture, and manners. To take the wild and shy Negrito first, the women, on an average, are about four feet high, with a variation of some six inches; they are chocolate brown rather than black, with broad flat noses, dark brown eyes, and kinky hair, sometimes burned by the sun to a reddish brown. They beautify their persons by filing their teeth, and explain that it enables them to eat corn with greater ease; they also decorate the breast, shoulders, and back with sears. Necklaces of seeds are worn, and in the hair bamboo combs; the only clothing is a strip of cloth round the waist.
We know little about these Aetas, but their marriage ceremonies have been described, and it appears that a wife is so invaluable that the whole wealth of the young man and his family is expended on the purchase of one. Of course, a dance and a feast are essential parts of the proceedings, but of actual marriage rite there is hardly a trace beyond the custom of exchanging food. The girls are often betrothed while very young to men old enough to be their fathers.
The Igorot (mountain people) are mountain agriculturists, and were until recently head-hunters. They are spread over a wide area, and the groups differ considerably. The women average four feet nine in height; they wear their hair long, and load their ears with heavy copper earrings. In youth they are supple and well formed, but by the age of thirty they are already old women, flabby, wrinkled, and unsightly. A great feature of Igorot society is the olag, or spinsters’ house, which, though primarily the sleeping place of the unmarried girls, is in reality the mating place of young people of marriageable age. In fact, when a man visits a maiden at the olag, he enters into a kind of trial marriage, which is so far recognised that the young couple take their meals at the house of the girl’s parents, the young man giving his labours to the family. On a rest day courting goes on all day long, and the happy couple spend their time gossiping, each with an arm round the other. It is asserted that all enter into this trial marriage, cripples and idiots excepted.
A girl begins to work at the age of five. Women weave and spin, make pots and sell them, and produce the salt; the men are the basket makers. Both sexes work at the plantations, but only women plant the rice and transplant the palay (seedlings). In digging, the women use a six-foot stick, some two inches in diameter. The soil is moistened by irrigation, and crumbles into the water as the line of toilers push the tools before them, and as it falls away the women begin to sing. When a small square is ready, the women level the soil, trample it to discover the stones, and then, in line abreast, slowly tread backwards and forwards, making the bed soft and smooth beneath the water. The work of threshing and winnowing falls to the women and girls, but cooking is often allotted to the men, unless there is a boy or girl not employed in the fields big enough for the work.
Like the Igorots, the Ilongots are an agricultural people. They are not a tall race; the skin is dark brown, with a dash of yellow, and the pupil of the eye is said to be veiled with a curious bluish tint, which suggests incipient cataract. Both men and women file their teeth, and, like many other peoples of the Philippines, blacken them. They are, perhaps, more savage than the Igorots, and a bridegroom’s present to his bride includes a human head, part of a breast or heart, as well as a finger or two; and without these no one can hope to wed. There is so little secrecy about the matter that the head of the victim —man, woman or child—is put on a pole before the youth’s house for all to see, and then, after nine days, interred under the house which the couple are to occupy.
The Magindanao, who are Mohammedans, and whom the Spaniards called Moros (i.e., Moors), from their dark colour, are said to be by far the most faithful and intelligent people in the archipelago. They are dark, with a yellowish tinge like many of the other tribes, and the women have well-formed hands and feet. Out of doors they wear trousers, very loose, but the jacket is cut so tightly as to show every line of the figure. Sometimes they use the sarong to screen their faces from strangers.
Mohammedan marriage is much the same everywhere. The middleman makes a pilgrimage to the bride’s house with gifts, and, according as they are accepted or rejected, the suit goes on or comes to an untimely end.
The jealous Mohammedan wife disposes of her husband by means of poison, which is said to be compounded of human hair, poisonous roots, and woman’s blood; and the first constituent, which is cut fine, is said to work up after death and show itself on the lips.
One of the most noteworthy of the Mindanao tribes is the Bagobo, a handsome people, whose bead-work possesses considerable artistic merit. They are fond of brass ornaments, which they make themselves. They usually file their teeth to a point, and blacken them. Below the knee they wear several strings of beads.
Also on Mindanao are the Tirurays, a small, well-made folk, with yellow complexions and slanting eyes. The lips are rather prominent, and women are given to adding to their charms by reddening them; their ears are pierced in seven holes—which are kept open by the insertion of pieces of wire—and artificially elongated. But their most extraordinary feature is the belt of brass wire, twelve or fifteen turns in length. In addition they have numerous tightly-wound bracelets—brass coils, with little bells at the end—large and heavy anklets of brass, and shell armlets on the left arm only. But perhaps the most typical female decoration is the neck ornament of strings of glass beads and shells, from which hangs a small case for tarrau. The women have a curious dance, in which, with a most doleful face, they revolve the hand in a circle, keeping the fingers all the while quite straight.
Marriages are secretly arranged, and a curious custom demands that the intended spouse who accidentally hears of the prospective marriage must pretend to commit suicide. The wedding is short and simple; the youth tears from his bride’s face the veil which conceals it, and runs away, imitating the call of the uya-uya bird. The mother of the bride chews some betel nut and lime, her daughter continues the process, and finally the bridegroom receives it; then the pair touch each other on the head, and they are married.
The long island of Palawan contains more than one interesting tribe. The Batak are a retiring folk, who never even fight among themselves, and if the men carry weapons, it is for sporting purposes only. The marriage ceremony is as brief as it can be. After the bride’s price has been paid, the girl gives the man three mouthfuls of rice, in the presence of the elders, and he does the same to her. They practise polyandry, but one imagines that it must need an ardent love to submit to the inconveniences entailed, for the second husband becomes the slave of the first. The Tagbanouas, on the other hand, practise plurality of wives, but not of husbands.
On the island of Mindoro live the Manguianes. They have flat noses, almond-shaped eyes, straight black hair, and a dark chocolate complexion. Both sexes file their teeth to the gums for some reason unknown. The women are said to be gentle and affectionate, and are noted for their beautiful figures. They are fond of ornament, and often wear a row of Chinese brass bells round the waist, hanging on the right hip; but their most characteristic feature is the rattan belt, buttoned behind, and the band of the same material over the shoulder-blades and under the breasts.
To obtain an idea of the present environment of woman' in the Golden Chersonese (the old and more poetic name of the Malay Peninsula), we may think of what Great Britain must have been in very early days, when the Roman power extended over the greater portion of the country, more especially that part inhabited by the Anglo-Saxon and Norse immigrants of an earlier period, when the Britons were left still undisturbed in the fastnesses of their hills and fens and forests.
There are in the Malay Peninsula Several distinct social strata, consisting of civilised aliens on the one hand and the semi-civilised and savage inhabitants of the woods and hills on the other.
The races of which we are to treat here are, firstly, the civilised Malays, and, secondly, the uncivilised representatives of the three jungle races of the Peninsula—the Negritos (or Semang), the Sakai, and the jungle Malayans (or Jakun). In the towns the Chinese greatly preponderate in numbers, and there are also, especially on the European estates, a considerable number of Tamils; whilst in the northern portion of the Peninsula the Siamese are dominant. Owing to the prevalence of wild and dangerous beasts, such as the tiger and the elephant, not only do many of the wild men make their huts in trees, and at times even form what may be called a “tree village,” but they also obtain from the jungle their only supplies of food, raiment, simples for the sick, and, indeed, the entire material of their life.
This dense virgin forest is by no means confined to the plains, but extends up to the very sky-line of the savage and precipitous hills that form the backbone of the Peninsula. In the rock shelters of these uplands the wild Semang make their lair, and thence descend the thousand rock-strewn torrents, Which, in the wilder parts of the country, serve as foot-tracks for the mountain dwelling Sakai.
The sarong, which is the national Malay dress, is a picturesque cotton or silk skirt, its name implying “wrapper” or “envelope.” It is of universal use, and is variously worn as dress either by day or night, for sleeping in, or as a hood or girdle. In technical dressmaking parlance, it might be described as a perfectly straight unshaped skirt, of the Same “fullness” at top and bottom, and reaching down, as a rule, to the ankles, though in some parts of the Peninsula it is worn much shorter—occasionally, indeed but little below the knee. It is fastened by holding out the slack part so as to form a broad pleat on one or both sides, folding the pleated part over the front or over the left hip, and rolling the upper borders of the sarong down upon itself; sometimes the ends of the slack parts are twisted or crossed, and occasionally a belt is worn to keep the garment in position. Except when in full dress, the women wear either this or a second sarong (or, on the east coast, a sort of broad, scarf-like cloth called kain lepas), crossed and folded over the breasts in front.
The hair, which is the chief glory of a Malay woman, is straight, luxuriant, glossy, and of a bluish tinge of black, the hue of the raven’s wing. It is cleansed with limes, and is drawn up usually in a simple roll or “knot,” tied at the back of the head, and fastened with a gold dagger in the hair or with silver hairpins. The bright yellow or red blossoms of the champaka, in a setting of the Malay woman’s night-black tresses, produce a brilliant and striking contrast.
The Negrito women, when they wear anything at all, put on wonderful fringed girdles, cleverly woven from the intertwined black, shiny, root-like strings of a particular kind of fungus. Elsewhere among the Sakai and Jakun the loin-cloth of beaten tree bark is worn almost universally by the men, and a kind of short bark-cloth apron by the women, except where the Malay sarong is found. On festal occasions they all deck themselves out with leaves and flowers and high fantastic head-dresses of woven leaf or bark. No face-painting, or scarification, or tattooing is practised by the Malay women, but among the Sakai the face is tattooed, or scarified in lines that converge on either cheek. Porcupine quills or short decorated sticks are worn by the Sakai through holes in the lobe of each ear and in the septum of the nose.
Among the civilised Malay peasantry the proper sphere of woman’s influence is still considered to be the home, although in the Europeanised settlements and in some parts of the east coast, in spite of all fanaticism can do, a considerable amount of independence is allowed her; but even in those parts of the Peninsula woman seldom plays quite so prominent a role as in Burma and Siam, where the women generally form the “business” portion of the community, and not infrequently support the men.
Among the agricultural Malays, the men perform the tasks that require their strength, and the women take the work for which their slighter and less sturdy build may seem to be adapted. The felling having been completed, they lop the boughs and prepare the fallen trees for the “burn,” which takes place when many weeks of vertical sun-blaze have sufficiently dried the piled-up timber. In the plains the rice crop (wet “padi”) is usually grown on the irrigation system; that is to say, in great square but shallow paddocks, divided by narrow embankments, into which water is led by means of small channels usually from some neighbouring stream. On the low hills dry padi is grown without embankments, and in either case the Malay woman takes her full share of the day’s burden. The men, of course, do the harrowing, rolling, and ploughing of the ground, but the women very frequently do the sowing, planting out of the young padi in the squares between the embankments, the weeding, and the scaring of birds. The plucking of the padi, a few heads at a time, with the primitive Malay reaping knife (tuei), the gathering, gleaning, threshing, winnowing, and husking all come into the work of the women.
When the morning meal is over, the Malay woman returns to her work in the clearing—if her man is an up-country Malay—or, otherwise, to her weaving, mat and rice-bag making, plaiting of creels and many-coloured baskets from pandanus leaf, bamboo, or rattan—the Malacca basket is known in England even—or, it may be, to her sail work, or to the shelter of her palm-thatch stall in the market booths of Kota-Bharu or Trengganu. On the east coast of the Peninsula she is the maker of the gorgeous produce of the looms of Kelantan and Patani. Indeed, cooking and embroidery (in which we might include weaving), are, as indicated in the marriage ritual, the Malay woman’s two greatest acquirements.
Among the wild forest tribes it may be said that, as among the Malays, the men perform the essential minimum of all such work as requires brute force, and the women do the rest. Among the nomadic Semang the men do the hunting, while the women erect their slight palm-leaf shelters (which show a regular course of evolution from the merely flat or beehive-shaped weather-screen sheltering a single family, to the elongated, oval shelter intended for a whole tribe), and perform the scanty apology for cooking that suffices the savage appetite of their lords and masters.
Contrary to what one might expect among a race leading the simplest of all possible lives, and one in which the most perfect equality might perhaps be anticipated, the Negrito women are compelled to feed on what the men have left them, and perhaps, on occasion, to dance for the men’s amusement afterwards, the men accompanying them with songs and by beating time with sticks, or upon strange musical instruments such as the nose-flute and other weird bamboo instruments. When the agricultural stage is reached, the women do the lopping of branches, the tilling of the soil (with a pointed stick), the sowing, reaping, and storing of the grain in miniature granaries on high posts built by the men. When the grain is once sown, the plantation takes care of itself. The women, having collected water in their long bamboo receptacles or gourds, fasten on the back-basket, and enter the jungle to collect roots and fruits for the early meal. When the food has been eaten, they spend their time in light work in or near the house, either in the collecting of jungle produce, in angling, in plaiting of leaf-work bags, mats or baskets, or in nursing their children. One or more slight snacks, usually of some vegetable food, are provided in the course of the day, should the men be at home, and in any case there is a late supper, which frequently takes place at midnight among the Sakai. For the rest they make the most beautiful leaf work pouches, and are adepts at the plaiting of bags, mats, and baskets. In districts where tin occurs women may not unfrequently be seen turning an honest penny by washing out stream tin in primitive fashion by means of wooden pans and sluices.
It is interesting to trace the gradual development of the marriage rite as we pass from the pagan races to the Mohammedan Malays, In its simplest form, it appears to consist of a mere mutual acknowledgment of the parties before witnesses, usually the elders of the settlement. Commonly some form of eating together forms a second feature of the rite, a third being what is often a mere survival, representing what had originally been a definite act of purchase. Among the Malays there is, of course, a certain amount of Mohammedan ritual, together with various ceremonials which differ according to the locality.
SIAM AND CAMBODIA
Woman in Siam was formerly a mere chattel, and was sold at marriage by her father or brother. The birth of a girl brought no joy to her parents; she was endured as a more or less valuable speculation, that might bring its price (the “price of the mother’s milk,” as it is called) at some future period. To-day the Siamese woman is as free as her Burmese, if not quite as emancipated as her European, sister. She often works hard, and is frequently the real bread-winner of the family, though she naturally lives when she can upon the exertions of her children, which she calls, in her own expressive phrase, “eating their strength.” If judged by the highest standards, it must be admitted that she is plain of feature, with lozenge shaped face, yellow-brown skin, short blue-black hair, and till recent times, in accordance with old custom, artificially blackened teeth, a practice which has, however, now gone out of fashion. Yet she possesses a not inconsiderable power of fascination, and her business-like instincts are shown by her preferring a wealthy and indulgent Chinese husband to what is only too often her indolent and impecunious fellow-countryman. Her national costume is not in itself attractive, but, like the Malay woman, she has had the good sense and taste not to stoop to the vulgarities of European attire. Though gentle and sweet-tempered, she is not incapable of boldness and enterprise; though inclined to be vain and devoted to jewels and finery, her general character remains simple, and makes an impression of naturalness that has a charm of its own. But her surroundings are often untidy and even insanitary to the utmost degree. The work that falls to her share includes the lighter agricultural labour, cooking, weaving, mat-making and basketwork, with embroidery as a change of occupation when her other duties permit.
There is probably no civilised city where the dress of a woman appears more like that of a man than at Bangkok, what with the cropping of the hair and the form taken by the national lower garment (pannung), which is so arranged as to appear not unlike a pair of knickerbockers or bloomers. To this is added for “dress ” purposes a bright-coloured scarf wound round the breasts; ladies substitute a white tunic with a sash worn bandolier fashion, black stockings and shoes.
Taking the country as a whole, the women of Siam are simple in their dress. Yet at the same time no people better understand the use of colour, the quality of material, or rich embroideries; and a Siamese tonsure ceremony, wedding, or nautch in Bangkok is a veritable feast of rainbow-coloured silks, of brilliant jewellery, and gorgeous gold-thread work.
As soon as a girl is big enough to work, she begins, if in the country districts, by scaring away birds from the rice, and gradually learns the use of the simpler agricultural implements. She is not taught to read or write until she is twelve or fifteen years of age, though she learns a few songs, usually love-songs, to sing in competition with other young people at the feasts. She also takes up weaving or silkworm keeping, and spins the silk on a country spinning-wheel.
The cutting off of the girl’s top-knot, at the age of eleven to thirteen, is the greatest pageant of her life next to her wedding, and is ushered in by a really splendid and gorgeous spectacle. The poorest classes have their children tonsured gratuitously at the expense of the government during the remarkable “swinging” festival at the harvest ceremonies.
A perennial leap-year is the result of the Champa custom, according to which it is the rule for the intending wife to ask her future husband’s hand in marriage. Among the Siamese it is arranged by an intermediary on more ordinary lines. In the capital the old customs are being continually modified, but a strange feature of the rite in the up-country districts is the offering of tubes of fermented fish mixed with pounded rice, sometimes exceeding a hundred in number, with presents of betel leaf and chewing bark, cotton stuffs and silk.
A buffalo and pigs are slaughtered for the feast, and the young girls deluge the youths with syringes filled with a “corrosive and stinking liquid,” to which the latter have to submit without retaliation, their retreat being barred by thorny stems, and from which they can only escape by paying ransom in kind, sometimes as much as a buffalo or a bar of silver, or so many tubes of fermented fish. A jar of wine, two eggs, and a chicken are set on brass plates between the bride and bridegroom. A sorcerer offers the right egg to the bridegroom on his left, and the left one to the bride, as a symbol of union; the same is done with the legs of the chicken. The wine is then drunk through two crossed pipes, while the priest utters good wishes. The bridegroom is introduced to the family spirit, and a feast follows. Among the very poor a man sometimes binds himself to serve his parents-in-law till their death.
The chief physical characteristics of the Japanese woman of to-day are a rather accentuated flatness of the forehead; a small but frequently well-formed nose, with Slightly raised nostrils; well-shaped ears; black eyes of below the average size, and slightly less oblique than those of the Chinese, eyebrows further apart than is usual with most other peoples; rather coarse, black hair; legs inclining to shortness, and low stature. Their skin is less sallow than that of the Japanese men, and this is more especially the case with the women of the upper class. Many Japanese women and girls, indeed, possess skins scarcely more olive than those of Southern Europeans. One curious circumstance distinguishes the race —whilst the complexion of the face is olive, and sometimes even sallow or yellowish, the skin of the body is frequently even whiter than that of the average Englishwoman. This is not the case with the Chinese, who are “yellow” all over.
Art enters very largely into the life of the Japanese; into that of Japanese women more especially. It is the art instinct of the race which is seen in the national love of flowers, in the fact that all girls of the upper and middle classes are taught flower arrangement, and in the costume and elaborate coiffures of the women. The native dress of girls and women of the better classes ranks not only amongst the most beautiful, but amongst the most truly artistic of the world. Beauty of colour and design of a high order is wedded to an artistic simplicity of form. There is a saying which, freely translated, reads: “The richest garments are often those which are in closest accord with Nature.” The beauty of a kimono is often to be found rather in its delicate embroidery than in its vivid tints or mere richness of material.
The dress of Japanese women consists of a hitoma, or under-garment, which all who can afford have of silk, generally of a bright colour. The other garments are the well-known kimono; loose-fitting, flowing, dressing-gownlike robes made of silk, crepe, or more substantial cotton fabrics, according to the social position and wealth of the Wearer. The under most fire of light and the outer one of dark colours, blue being the most popular. The kimono has no fastening; it is merely folded over on the right side (never the left on a living person), and confined round the waist by a broad sash, about ten to twelve inches in width, known as the obi, generally made of wadded brocade, which is folded several times and tied behind in a broad, flat bow. This sash is generally the most expensive item of a Japanese woman’s attire. Some are of extremely rich fabrics, and beautifully embroidered. Fifty pounds is by no means an unheard-of sum for an obi, and many are handed down from generation to generation as heirlooms. The tying of the obi is an elaborate ceremony, and to tie one well is by no means an easy matter.
Tabi, or digitated hose of white cotton, are worn in the house in the place of shoes or gheta (high wooden clogs), which are always taken off before entering a temple or house; but out-of-doors the feet are always protected by the gheta, secured to the feet by straps passing between the big and second toes, or waraji, sandals of straw, used chiefly when travelling, according to the time of year.
The dress of little girls is distinguishable from that of the boys from babyhood. A very young baby, whether boy or girl, wears gay colours, such as yellow, bright blue, green, and red, but as soon as it can run alone, or sooner, to the boy are relegated the soberer tints, while the girl continues to be adorned with the gayest of colours, which she only gives up on marriage.
From babyhood onward the life which comes to her proves a very bright and happy one as a general rule. It is, however, hedged around in all grades of society, save the lowest, with much etiquette and many rules of conduct. One thing a girl has soon to learn is the fact that from her earliest years until she passes away to the land of shadows, she is destined to be under the rule of someone or other of the opposite sex. She has also to realise that cheerful obedience, personal cleanliness, neatness, and pleasant manners are expected of her, and that her happiness and ultimate position in life depend very largely upon her cultivating these virtues. The Japanese girl is not permitted to grow up without the opportunities to acquire the knowledge which will fit her to meet the trials and perform the duties which will ultimately devolve upon her. She must, and does, generally learn all the details of household management—the washing, the mending, and making of garments; the ordering of food, and care of children—which fall to the lot of the mistress of a house, as well as acquire a working knowledge of mathematics, history, geography, and other subjects, which of recent times have become more and more common. From the day when she emerged from childhood she has been trained to take her share in the household duties, and to entertain and minister to the comfort and enjoyment of guests. And she must wait upon the latter herself unless she be a member of one of the highest families.
A male go-between almost always arranges the preliminaries and terms of a Japanese marriage, and it is he who takes the bridegroom-elect’s betrothal gift to the bride-to-be. The acceptance of this complimentary gift is held to seal the contract, from which the bride or her relatives cannot in honour draw back. The bridegroom’s presents to the bride are always numerous, and the prescribed gifts number three score, consisting of silk, silken girdles, sweetmeats, garments, wine, and other things. In addition to these many gifts, the bride of any position always receives from her future husband the white silk for her wedding gown, and a length of gold embroidery, out of which is fashioned the wedding girdle. Until the wedding-day the bride makes her future husband no presents of any value, but on the day itself she sends symbolic, carefully chosen gifts, as costly as her means permit or station in life demands.
The actual wedding ceremony is somewhat long drawn out. It is not until sunset or twilight that the bride leaves her old home for the new. Then she enters her kaga, or carrying hammock, clad in white and wearing a veil of the same colour, and followed by gift-bearers, many or few, according to circumstances. The most important of these latter is he who bears the bamboo or lacquer bucket of clams which every bride—with a handsome ceremonial dress—is expected to bring her husband, whatever else may be omitted. The gift of these unromantic shell-fish is made so that the bride and bridegroom may partake of clam broth together, which is believed to ensure that they will long dwell in happiness; whilst the taking of such a gift to her husband is believed to ensure dutiful as well as beautiful children. The other numerous gifts (including usually a fine sword, a fan, two silken robes sewn together, and no fewer than seven pocket-books) which a bride of any position is expected to make her husband are carried on trays by coolies.
When this procession arrives two fires or torches are found blazing on either side of the threshold, each tended by a man and a woman pounding rice. New matting leads up to the door, and as the bride, after alighting from her kaga, passes along it and enters her new home the rice from the pile at the left-hand side of the portal is mixed with that on the right. And at the same moment that she crosses the threshold two great candles are tied together by their wicks by one of the bridegroom’s near relatives, to symbolise the union of the souls and bodies of the contracting parties. Then follows a touching little ceremony. The joined wicks are lighted, allowed to burn for a short time, and then blown out, thus symbolising the wish that the bride and bridegroom may not only live in unity, but may, when the time comes, die together. At the marriage feast which follows much sake is consumed. The wine, which is hot and perfumed, is poured from beautiful little Satsuma kettles, to each of which are fastened three or more paper butterflies, so exquisitely and carefully painted that they often deceive the unwary into believing them to be real. These signify that the marriage shall be blessed with children, not only well favoured, but highly endowed mentally. One kettle of the number—furnished with two spouts—is especially beautiful, and from this the bride and bridegroom drink in company, indicative of their intention to take the good or bad things of life together.
After the feast is done and the bride and bridegroom have changed their other garments for the ceremonial attire, which they have given one to the other, the bride goes to the apartments of her husband’s parents to pay them homage, after which both bride and bridegroom pay like homage to the ancestral tablets of each other. And with this ceremony, which is perhaps the nearest approach to anything of a religious nature that enters into the marriage rites of the Japanese, the long-drawn-out ordeal for the newly-married pair is practically at an end.
The highest rank of Japanese women of the towns, represented by the ladies of the Court, lead lives of comparative ease and luxury, but by no means of idleness. A lady of the Court has a number of complicated duties to perform. The etiquette is extremely strict and intricate. In a measure as regards charm, intellectual attainments, refinement, and beauty, the women of the nobility are only typical of the women of the upper middle classes.
The Samurai, which was anciently the class coming midway between the nobles and those engaged in business, art, or agriculture, and was a distinctly military type, have always been fearless and brave, and the women have in a large degree inherited these qualities. Japanese history and legend are full of the gallant and heroic deeds of men and women of this class. Not a few women belonging to Samurai families have of recent times risen to positions of importance in the Court. They are almost certain from their ancestry and up-bringing to be possessed of high intellectual character, steadfastness of purpose, and unswerving loyalty.
Perhaps no greater contrast could be presented to women of the Samurai class than by the geisha, of whom so much has been written in modern times. It is not easy to overstate the charms of these, but it is possible to overexaggerate their importance in Japanese social life. And, although they do not loom so large in the eyes of the Japanese themselves as in those of foreigners, these little “butterfly” charming creatures add much to the colour of every-day existence, and an entertainment of any importance is scarcely regarded as complete or successful without the attendance of these dainty little maidens.
The Japanese dances in which the geisha excels are modest and graceful; and she is a past mistress in the supple and pantomimic swaying of her little body, and the skilful arrangement and management of her garments and draperies during the various movements of the dance. The dances most favoured are those which depict some picture or incident of a dramatic or artistic character, such as the story of the plum or cherry trees from the time they were planted until the blossoms burst into flower; or some legend, or a dramatic event, or stirring, warlike incident. Every movement of a geisha is perfection. The natural ease and grace has been acquired only by long months and even years of training.
The women of the lower class in the towns follow chiefly the occupations most closely identified with indoor and domestic work. In many of the smaller stores or shops, however, the wife and daughter of the proprietor assist him in the conduct of the business.
The women of the countryside play a very important part in the bread-winning occupations of the land. There is, indeed, little work performed by men in the rural parts of Japan which is not more or less shared by women. Industrious as the small farmers and cultivators of the soil undoubtedly are, it is a keen struggle with most to make both ends meet, and it is recognised that the women and girls of the household must play their part in the battle of life.
In the rice fields the women and men work side by side, the former with their kimono tucked up round their waists, and their lower limbs either bare or clad in blue cotton trousers, standing in the none too sweet-smelling mud in which the tender rice plants thrive, tending the delicate green shoots from morn till eve. The silkworm industry is practically worked by the women.
In the tea-fields, too, and in general farming, and the cultivation of flowers, women also play a prominent part. Many of the women gardeners have won considerable fame quite outside the particular village or town where they happen to reside. It is amongst the peasant classes of Japan that women enjoy the fullest independence and freedom. It is in the peasant woman, in consequence, that one often finds the happiest nature and the smiling face.
In common with all the Oriental races, an Ainu girl is the most unwelcome creature ever thrust into being. She is but another burden-bearer among a peculiar people, doomed to a life of hardship and toil. A curious custom of tattooing the lips of a girl in infancy has always obtained among them. No one seems to have any idea of either its origin or meaning. It is probably as ancient as foot-binding in China, and its purpose, beyond that of a tribal badge, is completely lost in the dim ages of the past. When a girl is about two years old, the mother begins the painful process of tattooing the lips, without which mark she could never hope to win a husband. The work, being very painful, is done a little at a time, and a period of two years is covered before it is completed, the result being a large diamond-shaped patch of dark blue completely surrounding the mouth and extending in points well towards the ears. In height the women about average their sisters of Japan, although they are greatly superior in physical strength, and can endure no end of hardship—a lot to which they are born. They are most abject slaves to men. If a woman meets one on the highway, she at once turns aside and covers her mouth with her hand, so that the air may not be polluted for a man by a woman’s breath; the cloth head-gear is instantly removed, and, bowed in the attitude of humility, she stands until the man has fully passed.
When a woman marries she is not honoured by bearing the name of the man of her choice, but is designated by her maiden name, or as the wife of So-and-so. If widowed, she takes the name of her son, if she has one. It is considered a great disgrace for a woman to remain childless, a fact which forms sufficient ground for a man to refuse to live with his wife. In such a case it is supposed that the gods are punishing the woman for some of her evil deeds, and, without trial by judge or jury, she is declared an unfit companion for any man, there being no court higher than the will of her husband.
Everything is most primitive. The manufacture of cloth is a household matter, and every married woman is expected to produce the family supply. After she has helped in the field, and the scanty supply has been gathered in, she hurries off to the woods to gather nuts and bark. The nuts are stored for winter, and the fibre of the bark is twisted into thread, used both for weaving and for sewing. Roots are gathered, and indigo grown for dyeing purposes. The chief pride and delight of every woman is to bedeck her husband in garments “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Although quite grotesque when taken apart from the wearer, they well become his unique style. The background is usually a dull, almost dirty, blue; and upon this irregular designs wander at large over the entire surface. From childhood to old age the Ainu woman has but one mission—that of spending her life to minister to the comfort of man.
The life of a Korean woman depends largely upon the special class into which she is born. The difference between the high and low class women is so wide that they almost belong to two worlds.
Of education, the Korean girl requires none. Until quite recently, schools for girls among the common people—usually called “low class”—were considered wholly unnecessary—that is, if any consideration were given to the matter; and even now, apart from the free instruction given at mission schools, this class is almost wholly neglected. Of necessity a girl must learn how to cook and to help in the tobacco field, for almost every house has a patch of “the weed,” and women as well as men —and even children—are given to smoking.
If a girl’s help is not required in the home, and the parents live in or near villages and cities, the girls at a very early age become burden-bearers or vendors of flowers in the market-places. While young they wear trousers and a short tunic, which enables them to move quickly about in search of work.
Tradition and superstition have relegated the girl to a place where she is not considered even worthy of a name, and the luxury of any individual designation from other girls is not hers. She merely sustains her relation to the district from which she comes. She is simply “it” or “that” until married. Then her identity is completely lost in that of her husband. Her own people call her by the name of the district from! which her husband comes, but when a boy is born to her she is called the mother of that boy.
The life of a high class girl is superior in that she has better clothes, is surrounded by a larger degree of comfort, enjoys a limited amount of education, and cultivates such gifts as a taste for painting or needlework, which has at least the advantage of giving her mental occupation.
The upper class women arrange matters of dress with great care, and when leaving the house, even in a closed conveyance, are always accompanied by one or more women attendants. Those who belong to the best families never venture from the house unless properly veiled.
A newly-married couple form a most picturesque sight. The groom is clad in white, with only a coloured tunic. The acme of originality is reached in the hat, woven from the hair of his lamented ancestors on his father’s side. At the passing of each generation a lock of hair is woven into a braid, which is added to the hat, often of fantastic shape, but usually of ordinary pattern, with high crown and broad brim.
It is easy enough to catalogue a Chinese woman’s clothes, to describe her appearance and the customs to which she must conform, to explain her legal and social status and the duties she must fulfil. But, when we have done all this, we have merely the shell; of the living, breathing woman we hardly catch a glimpse. Writers who adopt this photographic method leave us with the impression that the Chinese woman is so hemmed in with restrictions that she scarcely has a personality, that she is so brought up by rule that she can hardly have a soul to call her own. Human nature, however, is the same all the world over, and there are reasons for believing that, although etiquette not only enforces the seclusion of the Chinese woman, but forbids even the mention of a Chinese wife in society, yet women occupy, whether as mothers or wives, a position of great importance and considerable influence in the Middle Kingdom.
A new-comer to China will be Struck at any of the Treaty ports with a crowd of active, brown-faced coolie women—dressed, like their men folk, in black or blue cotton tunics and trousers, and only distinguishable by their head-dress—who are swarming about the streets and adjacent country, doing every kind of work. On the rivers of the south he will see these broad, sturdy creatures working the heavy boats, their babies strapped on their backs. If he journeys into the interior, he will meet them in every village and market-place, buying or selling, doing field work, Carrying weights, and generally taking a share in all rough work. At the same time he will note the almost complete absence from all public places of women of the better classes. These, he is told, are secluded, not with Mohammedan rigour—even when the Chinese profess Islam, they are far from orthodox—but prohibited by public opinion from going abroad to be seen of men.
It is obvious that the greatest difference must exist in every relation of life between the woman who shares her husband’s work, and perhaps supports him, going abroad freely to do it, and her sister who lives in the seclusion of the woman’s court, engaged in household work and endless embroidery.
It is the aim of every Chinaman to have a male descendant to carry on those rites of ancestral worship which he believes to be essential to the prosperity of his family, not only on earth but already in another sphere. A daughter cannot do this. As soon as she is marriageable, therefore, she passes into another family, and can worship only at the ancestral shrines of her husband. The complete break between a girl and her parents, when she marries, can only be realised when we remember that she becomes the absolute property of her husband, and is bound to render implicit obedience, not merely to him, but to his parents also. The fact that a daughter is only a temporary resident in her father’s home, and that any care bestowed on her will, in the end, only benefit her husband’s family, makes the advent of a girl baby an affair of moderated rejoicing. Among the poorest families the event is sometimes a calamity; and it is the thought of the future, in which it may be impossible to provide for the little girl’s marriage, which leads so many parents to practise infanticide. There is no reason to suppose that the Chinese are callous to their offspring; indeed, they give every outward sign of tenderness while their children are in the baby stage. The little girl, therefore, though her father may not mention her with pride to his friends, is carried in his arms, fondled, and played with, and as soon as she can walk is dressed in clothes which are exactly like her mother’s in miniature. On the great feast of the New Year she will be decked in garments of red and yellow, her little face painted, and her chubby wrists and ankles hung with beads. She will enjoy a certain amount of liberty while still a child, and will not be pestered with many attempts at education. At the age of seven or eight she will be separated from the boys, who then go to school. If she is the daughter of a well-to-do family, she will learn to read and write and to do fine embroidery; but among the working-classes she will run about wild, or help her mother in the housework and (among the peasantry) in the fields, until she arrives at an age when her marriage must be thought of.
It is not etiquette, even in the poorest classes, that the future husband or his relations should see the prospective bride, and therefore the moment she is betrothed she is obliged to stay closely at home. To avoid a possible breach of propriety, the custom is to choose a fiancé from another town or village.
Marriage customs vary greatly in different parts of China, but there are some which are invariable, and the chief of these is the employment of the inevitable go-between, who arranges every detail. This important intermediary settles the principal conditions before the heads of the two families actually meet, advises concerning the respective circumstances of the families, and reports on the characters of the mothers-in-law.
The essential part of the Chinese wedding ceremony is the arrival of the bride at her husband’s home, when she is carried across the threshold over a charcoal brazier, or red-hot coulter. The journey to her new home is made by a Chinese bride in the red sedan chair which she can only occupy once in her life. She is dressed in her best clothes, covered with a red silk veil, and then bundled into this close, red chair. Brides have been suffocated, or (in bad weather) even frozen to death, during this bridal journey, so that the experience must be one which few girls would wish to repeat.
The Chinese bride does not, like the European, expect to have a “good time” while she is young; she simply looks forward to the day when she herself will be a mother-in-law. The first few years of her marriage are the most trying of her whole life. The husband is her master. Her duty is to be merely “a shadow and an echo.” Even the affection of her husband cannot protect her against his parents, and she may be scolded, punished and beaten without hope of redress.
From the time the Chinese girl—herself almost a child —becomes the mother of a son she is a much more important person, but as long as her husband’s parents live she will be subject to them, and in many cases will continue to reside with them. The patriarchal custom, whereby several sons and their wives and families may be all quartered under the parental roof, is by no means conducive to a peaceful and well-ordered home; nor are the family habits sociable. Wives and husbands do not eat together, nor, in the poorer classes, are there any set meals: rice and millet are boiled by the women and eaten by the menfolk, sitting outside in the sun or squatting on the k’ang (a sort of divan of bricks heated by flues, which forms the family seat and bed), and the women eat afterwards with the same lack of formality. Among the better-to-do the women eat in their own court, and the men in theirs, and any guests are entertained separately. But, at the same time, outside the house the wife can claim a certain amount of consideration. The man must harness the horse or donkey, and must walk alongside while she rides.
We have already spoken of the boat-women in the south of China, who seem to do the hard work while their men-folk sit and watch them. To our ideas, however, even a life of hard labour is more tolerable, if spent in the open air and amid changing scenes, than the monotonous confinement which is the lot of the better-class women. Many of these never leave, what we should call, their “backyards,” save to go to the parks once a year on New Year’s Day or to pay a visit to their maternal home.
The clearest evidence of the opinion of the Chinese themselves as to the comparative happiness of the free coolie wife and the secluded middle-class one is found in the custom known as “ foot-binding.” By a system of binding the feet and ankles tightly in extreme youth, the former are converted into little more than pegs, the toes being tucked under the foot. The girl, thus crippled, is incapable of any work which involves standing or walking, and this is exactly what is aimed at. To have a “lily-footed ” daughter —that is, one brought up to a life of comparative ease— is a mark of social distinction, and until quite recent times no girl could expect to marry into a family of good social position or to become the wife of one of the “ literati ” without possessing this trade mark of gentility. The practice is the more curious because the ruling race has never conformed to the custom, and Manchu women have ever been large footed.
Perhaps in no respect are the women of China more to be pitied by their sisters of the West than in the great matter of clothes. Not for them is that perennial source of amusement—the changing fashion. Should they happen to belong to one of the two classes of women who alone wear headgear of any kind, they cannot let their imagination play round fresh “ creations ” for the form, and even the material, are rigidly prescribed by custom. The lady of the court must wear a round hat, like her husband’s; it must be lined with dark satin or cloth, and surmounted by a tassel of red silk. Only women of a certain rank are permitted to adorn it with a golden ornament. The coolie woman, at the other end of the social scale, has a hat of straw or bamboo, like a mushroom.
The style of dress, with slight differences in such matters as the breadth of sleeves and length of coats, is the same everywhere and for all classes. It consists of two essential garments—the trousers, tied round the ankles in the north and loose in the south, and the loose coat or tunic, fastening on the right side. The better-class women usually wear a petticoat, which is shaped like two aprons, one in front and one behind, and they have under-garments of fine white material, and white woven socks, over which they draw shoes of embroidered satin or cloth with thick white soles. What a Chinese woman misses in variety of fashion she makes up in attention to detail, for all these garments (except in poor families) will be made of silk, satin, or cloth, elaborately embroidered, and every garment is made by hand.
One of the important features in a Chinese woman’s toilet is her hair, and in every class above the humblest great attention and care are bestowed on the coiffure. When the smoothly-oiled loops have been symmetrically arranged, they are secured with jewelled pins, and the head-dress is adorned with artificial flowers or jewels. In ranks of life where such adornments are unattainable there will usually be pins of shell or semiprecious stones, for a set of hair ornaments is part of the outfit for every bride, as are also earrings, which may be of gold and pearls, or of jade, or of glass beads, according to the means of the bridegroom. A custom which seems more strange to us is that of letting the finger-nails grow, and protecting them with metal sheaths. Only the wealthy and aristocratic can cultivate this habit, which renders the hand almost useless.
Even among the poor, artificially whitened faces and reddened lips and cheeks are frequently seen, and the eyebrows are carefully blackened to come up to the ideal of beauty which likens them to the silkworm moth. The complexion of the Chinese belle is said to be “like congealed ointment,” her lips “red like the dawn of day,” her eyes limpid, her teeth like melon seeds, and her fingers like the blades of young grass, while her ungainly gait, as she totters along on “lily-feet,” is likened to the waving of willows.
There is no doubt that many women hold sway over their husbands by reason of their superior character and force of will. Except in rare cases, this superiority is natural, and is not aided by education, but at the same time it is by no means uncommon. In one of the Chinese encyclopaedias three hundred and seventy-six books out of sixteen hundred and twenty-eight are devoted to famous women, and eleven chapters deal with female knowledge and literary works; but, except in the regions where foreign ideas are gaining ground, few women have any real opportunities for enlarging their minds.
It was native force of character and shrewdness which gave the late Dowager Empress her ascendancy, for though she was not a poor slave, as is sometimes asserted, but the daughter of a respectable family, she had no educational advantages in her youth. She was the second most famous woman ruler of China, the other being the Empress Wu, who, in the seventh century, was the consort of the emperor and ruled both him and his country. After his death she deposed his successor, and was sole ruler, her sway lasting some thirty-five years.
When a Chinese woman becomes a mother the traditions of filial piety secure to her more consideration than heretofore. A son or a daughter must reverence their mother almost equally with their father. Chinese children are regarded as the chattels of their parents, and no duty or obligation can supersede that of filial obedience and care. By middle-age the worst of her troubles are over, and she has not the dread of a lonely old age, or the possibility of being supported by strangers, so long as her sons can work for her. Among well-to-do families she will have the satisfaction, denied to many of our own women whose sons must seek fortunes abroad, of having her children with her, and presiding over the nursery of her grandchildren.
MANCHURIA, MONGOLIA AND TIBET
Outside China proper there are three great countries belonging to the Empire, the women of which have, naturally, much in common with their Chinese sisters. In writing of Manchu and Mongol women, therefore, it is only necessary (especially with the latter) to remark those points in which the native customs and ideas still persist, and have not been altered by contact with the civilisation of China. Both Manchus and Mongols were originally Tartar tribes of kindred stock and pastoral habits. But, whereas the former inhabited a rich country of mountain and river, the latter were mostly dwellers on the vast Mongolian steppes. There are distinct differences between the customs of pastoral people and of those who, like the Chinese, are essentially agricultural, or given to congregate in towns. A pastoral life, whether nomadic or settled, is always hard on women, and that in quite a different way from the hardships of a Chinese woman’s position. The idea of seclusion for their women is not convenient to a people living largely on horseback and in tents, and so we find that, outside China proper, woman enjoys considerably more freedom, although it by no means follows that her position is better.
The Manchu women, retaining their natural liberty, and never having adopted the “lily-foot” custom, go abroad freely, and have an independence of carriage which marks them out from the Chinese. They still wish, however, to mark their aristocratic birth by foot-gear that precludes much walking, and accordingly they have boots with thick white soles, narrower at the base than directly beneath the foot, sometimes six inches high, and so giving the wearer a most impressive height. The Manchu women also have a peculiar style of head-dress, profusely decorated, with two bunches of artificial flowers over either ear.
In all civilised Manchu communities the domestic arrangements are similar to those in North China, and the legal and social position of the wife is much the same, though modified by the sturdy character of the women and their comparative freedom from the etiquette of seclusion. There are, however, many semi-civilised or nearly savage tribes living in Manchuria, especially on the coasts and rivers of the north.
When we turn to Mongolia we find among the tribes which still maintain nomadic habits more distinctive forms of social customs and family life.
The Mongolian nomad of the steppes lives in a felt tent, called by Europeans “yurta,” and his sole occupation is the care of his cattle. The tent is formed of a skeleton framework of wooden laths, which is fastened to a round hoop at the top, and thus forms a rude chimney and allows escape for the smoke from the fire continually burning in the centre of the tent. Round this are spread felt or skins or, in well-furnished tents, rugs and carpets. The wife sleeps next the door, on the thinnest rug or poorest skin. No one undresses to go to bed, but simply fastens up the outer coat. When the Mongol lady wishes to wash, she may fill her mouth with water and squirt it into her hands as she rubs them over her face. Her dress is like that of her men-folk, except that he wears a belt and she does not, and consists chiefly of a long loose coat, which is buttoned up or left open, according to the temperature. Usually of a sombre colour, this garment may be of a bright red or yellow on festive occasions, and will, furthermore, be adorned with a perfect curtain of bright-coloured beads. The one great vanity of the Mongol woman is her head-dress, which is most elaborate, and varies with her status as maid or wife and with her family. The hair is frequently smeared with glue to keep it in order, and from it depends an array of silver ornaments, coins, and beads. No description of her equipment would be complete without mention of the snuff-bottle—often a flat stone, without much holding capacity, and frequently empty, but carried, nevertheless, with dignity in emulation of the sterner sex, and offered in politeness to all guests.
Once married, the Mongol bride becomes the household drudge. The Mongol can have but one lawful wife, but he can divorce her without much difficulty if he is not satisfied with her. The Mongols have proverbs similar to those in Russian : “Love your wife as your soul, and beat her like your fur”; “It is my wife, my thing.” Woman’s work is all that is hardest and most monotonous. Their industry collects all the argol (dried dung), which serves as fuel; they herd the cattle, and milk them; make the felt rugs from camel’s hair; drive and ride bare-backed over the steppes, and do the same work as men in addition to their domestic duties.
When we turn to Tibet, whose people are closely akin in race to the Mongols and Manchus, we find a domestic and social structure of a rather different character. Tibet borders India, and derived a great deal of her civilisation, as well as her religion, from Indian sources. The influence of religion has been the paramount factor in this most priest-ridden state, for here, alone among the countries of the world, the supreme ruler is a spiritual, and not a temporal, monarch. The power and influence of the Dalai Lama are far in excess of those enjoyed in the nineteenth century by any spiritual Pontiff.
It is, therefore, of peculiar interest to find that in this priest-ridden country women enjoy a freedom and independence only equalled, among Asiatic women, in Burma. They not only trade freely, carry on businesses, and take a full share of all commercial enterprises, but are allowed to manage them. In religious life they play a most important part. One of the most sacred personages is the abbess of a nunnery, who is believed to be the re-incarnation of one of the goddesses of the corrupt pseudo-Buddhist Pantheon of the Tibetans. She is treated with veneration by men and women alike.
Women mix freely with men, receive them in their rooms, and join in their parties of pleasure, and even take part in their ceremonial dances. As for marriage customs, it is notorious that Tibet carries the emancipation of women so far as to permit of polyandry—a woman may have more than one husband, the most usual form being that the sons of one mother share a wife between them, the eldest brother retaining ultimate rights over her, and all children being regarded as his.
It is interesting to find that a Tibetan woman, even when she loves finery, does not lose her practical spirit, for an account is given of one who, wearing a head-dress covered with pearls, which was estimated to be worth as much as £225, yet superintended personally an inn and restaurant, and, although the daughter of a noble family, did not think the work beneath her. Another Tibetan wife complained that although her husbands’ family (she was wife to two brothers) was rich, they all worked like ploughmen, and she particularly was the victim of a mother-in-law who thought she was made of iron.
A good many girls, even in the Burmese kings’ time, learnt to read and write; but, as girls are excluded from the monastery schools, they do not share with their brothers the benefit of a universal system of free education, and special arrangements have to be made for them. It is true that there are convents of nuns, who undertake the teaching of little girls, but they are very few. The census returns show six in every hundred of the female population of all ages as able to read and write, while the proportion of males is forty-nine. But their capacity for mental arithmetic must needs be considerable, seeing that nearly all the petty trade of the country is carried on by women. The writer has seen a little girl, who could not have been more than eight years old, sitting by herself at a stall on which quite twenty different kinds of goods were displayed. She had to remember the price of each one, and to calculate the amounts due in payment, without any assistance from her elders.
While her brother is at the monastery school, the little girl makes herself useful at home. She minds the baby, learns to cook and to weave, accompanies her mother to market, and perhaps even does the marketing herself. In the country she may tend the cattle or help in the fields. As soon as she is strong enough, she is taught to fetch water for the house, balancing a round pot on her head; and this is a pleasant duty, for it is at the well or the river-side that the village girls meet for gossip and their daily bath, and exchange chaff with the young men.
She is now approaching the marriageable age. The young men treat her with respect—not perhaps in their language, for delicacy of language is not a strong point with the Burmese—but none other than a favoured suitor would dare touch her hand, and for even him to do so in public would be esteemed an insult. This strict propriety of behaviour between the sexes seems to contrast strangely with the looseness of the marriage tie. The fact that it is often difficult to say at what precise point a couple are married does not appear improper in a Burman’s eyes. No ceremony is necessary. All that is needed is that the couple should live together. It is usual, however, for the bridegroom, or someone on his behalf, formally to demand the girl’s hand from her parents; and the old people meet together and invite a few friends, whom they regale, if they follow the old custom, with pickled tea. If they can afford to pay a company of actors and give an open-air play in front of the bride’s house, so much the better.
This somewhat casual way of entering on the marriage contract is often thought to imply a laxity in morals, which by no means exists. There is probably no country in the world where married women are given so much freedom, and yet are so faithful to their husbands. The fact that a man has taken a second wife does not in itself give his first wife a legal right to divorce him, although polygamy is not looked upon with favour. Divorce, for which mutual consent is sufficient, is also a simple matter, but is often more formal, as a division of property may be necessary.
The doctrines of Buddhism, which are Indian in their origin, teach that every man is a potential Buddha, while a woman, though she may attain Nirvana in the next existence, cannot become a Buddha without first existing on earth as a man. In everyday life, too, she is in some respects made to feel her inferiority. She ought not to walk about upstairs when there is a man below, though this rule is frequently neglected; she may not bathe in water from the same jar as her lord, and at public feasts the women wait till the men have eaten, though in the house the members of the family eat together.
On the other hand, not only do sons and daughters inherit equally from their parents, but a married woman has an absolute right to dispose as she pleases of property acquired or inherited by her either before or after marriage. She is usually a partner in her husband’s business, and as such has just as much right to sign for the firm as he; but she may have a business of her own, with the proceeds of which he cannot interfere. Even in matters in which she has no part, she is usually consulted before an important step is taken.
The Shans, who are closely allied in race and language to the Siamese, are fairer than the Burmans, and rosy cheeks are to be seen in the mountainous regions which they inhabit. The women, when they enter Burma, are easily recognised by their wearing a turban, which among the Burmese is the privilege of the male sex. No jacket is usually worn, but the tamein (a species of skirt), which is sewn up as in Lower Burma, is fastened over the bosom. The people are described by Sir George Scott, who knows them best, as quiet, mild, and good-humoured.
The Karens, also, are lighter in complexion than the Burmans. They are a shy, retiring race, living in isolated houses in the depths of the forest, or eking out a scanty subsistence in the hills. They are spirit-worshippers rather than Buddhists, and many have adopted Christianity, and with it a degree of civilisation, which enables them to hold up their heads among the Burmese, who once oppressed them, and still treat them with contempt. Ropes of beads or seeds are hung round the neck and waist by the Red Karen women, and lacquered rings surround their legs in such number that they are described by Sir George Scott as walking like a pair of compasses.
The Chins are on a far lower plane of civilisation than the Shans and Karens. They are, in fact, savages, and are described by Messrs. Carey and Tuck as all liars and thieves, cruel and cowardly, without respect for age, and debauchees from childhood; but they have a great reverence for birth, and in this they differ from the races surrounding them. The women are little better than slaves. They are priced according to their capacity for work or their pedigree, and sold to the highest bidder. The sole garment of the women is usually a strip of cotton cloth, so short that, to make the most of it before strangers, it is hung below the hips. Marriage is celebrated by a drunken orgy, in which the low-born, and even the slaves, become for the moment the equal of the chiefs, and all crimes are condoned.
The Kachins of the North, like the Chins, show much diversity of type. The face is usually Mongolian and unattractive, but the nose is sometimes aquiline and the features regular. They are primitive in their habits, but are, on the whole, a finer race than the Chins. Among the ruling classes the business aspect of the marriage ceremony is concealed by the bridegroom going through a form of abduction.
THE KUKIS AND NAGAS OF THE NORTH CACHAR HILLS, ASSAM
The hilly and mountainous district that separates the two valleys of the Brahmaputra and Surma rivers, in the province of Assam, on the North-Eastern frontier of India, offers to the student an interesting field for ethnological research. It was the writer’s privilege some years ago to accompany her husband on survey and location work through the hill-section of the Assam-Bengal railway. There were no roads nor food supplies; the railway survey parties were dependent on the hill tribes for the labour necessary to “ blaze the trail ” through the dense forest, to transport the baggage and stores, and to build the “bashas,” or grass huts, that in Assam generally take the place of tents, for camping purposes. On our section this labour was supplied by Kukis and Nagas.
The ordinary costume for a Kuki woman is a narrow kilt of dark blue cotton cloth, reaching from waist to knee; a second cloth is wrapped tightly round the upper part of the body, under the arms, and is kept in place by one end being tucked in under the other across the breast. The cotton is grown in the village clearings, and the cloth is woven by the women in a primitive hand-loom. Indigo is the predominating colour, but saffron and madder are occasionally used. Gaudy colours have always exerted an irresistible fascination on primitive people. One evening we received a visit of two women arrayed in gorgeous saris (a muslin drapery, some six yards long by one yard wide, worn by the ordinary coolie women in India) of bright red, ornamented in one case with a design of £5 Bank of England notes, and in the other with a series of black and white chess boards! The wearers were evidently very proud and conscious of their finery! We wondered how these cheap Manchester goods ever came to find a place in the scant trousseau of a Kuki belle, and discovered that twice a year the men-folk go down to the plains for a supply of salt. They take with them from their villages lac, chillies, cotton, etc., and by the sale of these articles obtain, not only sufficient salt for six months, but an extra rupee or two to spend on one of these hideous products of Manchester enterprise that so charm the vanity of their womankind.
Numerous bead necklaces, adorned with silver rupees, eight- and four-anna bits, are worn by the women as well as bracelets, armlets, and anklets of brass. Curious silver earrings, the diameter of an ordinary serviette ring, are worn both by men and women.
To the Kuki woman falls a large share of the work of a village community. She gathers wood, spins, weaves, and toils in the village “jhooms,” or clearings, where are grown sufficient food crops for the year. A large number of women were employed on the railway for clearing the undergrowth, carrying in loads of grass for thatching, and in transporting baggage; indeed, as porters they did well, for notwithstanding the rough, steep path, a 6o-lbs. bag of rice was a very usual load. The loads are carried on the back, attached to the ends of a broad band of plaited cane, that passes over the forehead.
Far more interesting than the Kukis, however, are the Nagas. The Nagas are divided into many tribes, each tribe speaking a different dialect, and these dialects differ so much that the inhabitants of villages in adjoining valleys are often unable to understand one another. Fifty years ago the Nagas were savage head-hunters; this was specially the case with the Angami Nagas. The girls of this tribe would not marry a man unless he had heads to show as proof of his courage. Having slain an enemy, a warrior may wear a kilt decorated with cowrie-shells. Collars are also worn, ornamented with cowries, tufts of goats’ hair dyed red, and locks of hair from the heads of persons killed. Helpless women and children are often the chief victims. Some tribes wear a curious wooden tail, decorated with hard white seeds and goats’ hair.
Naga villages are built on almost inaccessible hills or along a steep spur. Their huts differ entirely from those of other hill tribes; they have high gable ends, and the roof slopes down and back till it nearly touches the ground; the eaves also almost touch the ground. The hut is divided into three compartments; the large one in the centre is used as a sleeping- or living-room, the small division in front serves as a grain store, and here the women pound the rice for making the rice-beer, which is the favourite drink of the Nagas.
The Naga girls wear their hair cut short, but after marriage it is allowed to grow long. They wear necklaces, bracelets, and anklets, but on marriage these are discarded. A married woman no longer joins in the dances; for her the serious business of life has begun, such as helping her husband in the village “jhoom,” gathering firewood, and carrying water.
Although of varied origin, the Hindus possess a characteristic which is common throughout India. This is caste. It links the people even while it divides them; draws them together whilst it keeps them apart. How caste arose is unknown. It is defined as “a collection of families or groups of families bearing a common name, which usually denotes or is associated with a specific occupation.” The divisions and sub-divisions are literally innumerable. In the census of 1901 it was shown that there were two thousand three hundred and seventy-eight main castes and forty-three races or nationalities.
In the hill tracts, however, the home of the most primitive races of India, the people are divided into tribes. On the slopes of the Himalayas they are of a Mongolian type, and though some of them have shown a tendency to merge into castes, they retain many of their savage customs; this is especially the case with their marriage ceremonies. The girls are wedded by capture, purchase, and the servitude of the bridegroom. The women of all the tribes wear uncouth jewellery. Their necklaces are formed of carved wooden beads, carnelians, and fragments of turquoise.
All Hindu women, whether they belong to castes or to tribes, have to work, unless they are wealthy. In addition to their duties in the kitchen, a great number give assistance to their husbands in their various trades; others labour in the fields and look after the cattle, or they may spin and weave whilst the men of the family are occupied with their trade. They are clever at basket and mat making and in dyeing cotton cloth. In agricultural districts they gather opium and cotton, and they help to plant out the grain, harvesting it, cleaning and husking it ready for the market.
Although the Hindu woman is intensely interested in all matters of religion, she is not allowed to take any active part in public worship at the temples; but it is she who prompts the pilgrimage and who puts together the offering. It is she who relates the legendary histories of the sacred books to the children. In these days, when many Indian women of the larger towns are educated, they are able to read the Puranas to the younger and less well-informed girls. The wonderful stories of the deeds of the gods have a strange fascination for them, and they will sit for hours to listen, storing up the tales in their memories that they may pass them on in course of time to the succeeding generation.
Whether she is of high caste or low, it is part of the duty of the woman to see that the rules of her caste are kept by the various members of her family. If the rules have been broken, she informs the guru—the religious adviser and domestic chaplain of the family—of the fact on his periodical visit. He orders the necessary ceremonies for restitution, naming the sum of money which must be paid; and the woman sees that his directions are carried out. If there has been illness, he perhaps prescribes a pilgrimage, with an offering at the temple in some large town. If children are desired, he suggests that vows should be made, as well as the pilgrimage.
The high-caste Hindus of the North of India who are wealthy keep their women behind the purdah. The ladies are called purdashin. This seclusion has the same effect as the gosha system of the Mohammedans. It narrows their lives down to a little world that is confined within the four walls of a house. The windows are jealously screened with Venetian shutters or with pierced marble.
Marriage is the most important occurrence in the life of a Hindu man or woman. It is the fulfilment of the sacred duty enjoined by their religion to raise children. Large sums of money are spent upon the ceremony, and it is talked of from the very birth of a child. Having settled on an auspicious day, with the help of the astrologer, a Hindu marriage proceeds according to the rites usual with the caste. Although the ceremonies vary, they have certain features that are common to all in the rites that are performed to keep away bad fortune and to ensure fertility. Another class of ceremony provides for the admission of the bride into her husband’s family. The pair partake of food, and the forehead of the bride is marked with vermilion. “This is a survival,” says Crooke, “of the original blood-covenant entered into by the pair. Thus the Haris of Bengal draw a little blood with a thorn from the fingers of the bride and bridegroom, and each is smeared with the other’s blood. Lastly, they march round the sacred fire which consecrates the union.”
There is much feasting and wearing of new clothes and jewellery, which the women, whether shut up or in the zenana or allowed their liberty, greatly enjoy. Another pleasure connected with the wedding throughout India is the presence of the dancing-girl and her musicians. As the Hindu finds the astrologer indispensable, so he considers the accompaniment of music equally necessary at every function. No ceremony can proceed without it. Marriages, funerals, religious festivals, must all have their drums and cymbals and their stringed instruments.
The dance performed is not of the nature of an agile springing step, such as is shown on the European stage. It is a swaying motion, that recalls the movement of a graceful palm bending to the breeze in the sunlight, every leaf instinct with vitality and swinging in rhythm to the sighing of the wind. As the music rises and falls, the nautch-girl sways her body, lifting her arms, extending her hands, and treading on her heels, that, like the base of the palm, seem rooted to the ground, in spite of the slight locomotion that must take place in the nautch.
The Hindu women do not consider it respectable to dance themselves, although they have no objection to looking on, nor are they permitted to sing; they are content to leave such accomplishments to the nautch-girls.
Of quite another character is the dancing of some of the jungle tribes. These performances are of a religious nature. They are executed at the sowing of the seed and the harvesting of the crops, in the belief that the earth will be gratified and will yield her fruits. The women of the tribe take part in them without any loss of prestige.
The triumph of a Hindu woman’s married life—be she a high-caste Brahmin or a member of one of the least civilised of the aboriginal tribes—is the birth of a son. It is the fulfilment of all things, and it places her in the highest and most honourable position possible to obtain in the household. In the north the family system has a firm hold upon the people. The zenana, whether purdashin or otherwise, is always under the rule of one woman, whose word is law. She may be a mother or a grandmother or a great-aunt. Her office is to perform the domestic religious ceremonies, to make the daily offering to the household deity, to chant the hymn, and to light the little lamp before the domestic shrine. She is autocratic to her finger-tips, and governs the destinies of a horde of relations. Although she may have suffered herself in the matter of child marriage, she does not spare the rising generation. Through her instigation, the tender, half-grown maid—perhaps her own daughter or granddaughter—is united to the middle-aged man, and handed over to him before she is ripe for motherhood; by her orders the unfortunate child-widow is stripped of her jewels and degraded to the position of a slave in the house.
The practice of magic is universal alike among the Hindus, Buddhists, and Mohammedans, and it is the woman who finds it most attractive. She consults the magician on every occasion and for every complaint or misfortune. She employs him to weave spells that she may obtain an influence over her husband or other members of the family; that she may cause personal hurt, in the shape of blindness, deafness, and disease, to those who offend her; that the property of her more prosperous neighbour may be destroyed. Most common of all is the demand for love potions. The magician finds a ready sale for amulets among the women, who not only wear them themselves, but take care to fasten them on the arm or round the neck of brother, husband, or son when he takes a journey. Magic squares written on paper are chiefly used for these, and enclosed is a claw or whiskers of a tiger, the feather of a particular bird a tuft of hair, or a bone, sewn in a covering of silk.
Foremost in civilisation and culture stands the Parsee lady. In primitive days the Iranian wife held a position that was not inferior to that of her husband. In these times she comes nearest among Orientals to the European wife and mother. She is not secluded, but may be seen walking and driving abroad like an Englishwoman. The man marries late in life, and the woman is permitted to attain her full growth and maturity before she leaves her parents’ house and takes upon herself the duties of motherhood. The advantage is seen in the fine figures of the ladies. The influence of Western civilisation is shown in their dress—which is Europeanised-—and also in their occupations. They pay visits to England and the Continent, and are intelligently interested in most of the topics that attract the attention of their Western sisters.
The Mohammedan is to be found in most of the large towns of Northern India. It is to his advantage that he is not hampered by caste rules. There are no restrictions in the matter of food, and he eats meat as well as grain and vegetables. The re-marriage of widows is permitted, and he is no advocate of the child-wife. The girls are allowed to attain their full growth before they become mothers. The result is that families are larger and the children are stronger and longer-lived. On one point the Mohammedan retains his conservatism—the seclusion of his women. It is not the master of the house so much as the mistress who insists upon it. The breaking of gosha is a dire disgrace. It is only the very poor Mohammedan woman who cannot keep her gosha, and she veils her face as much as possible when she goes abroad.
The races of Europe have been segregated under separate governments, and the line of demarcation can be drawn territorially. The races of India have never succeeded in segregating themselves in like manner. Until British rule was established, India had always been the scene of invasion, of the subjugation of one race by another. The aboriginal was overcome by the Dravidian; in turn the Dravidian was conquered by the Aryan; and in course of time the Aryan had to submit to the Semitic race. The aborigines, the only savage people of India, sought an asylum in the impenetrable recesses of the hills and forests, where they may still be found under the name of hill tribes. The Dravidians exist in the south, classed collectively, under the name of Hindus, with their Aryan conquerors. The Semitic Moslems formed colonies in every district that was accessible, and are to be seen in every large town.
In the north the Hindu confines the ladies of his family to the zenana. This rigid seclusion is not practised in the south. The Hindu ladies observe a certain amount of retirement, and shrink from publicity, but they are not disgraced should the eye of man fall upon them. The wife of the late Maharajah of Mysore and the late Princess of Tanjore did not go abroad unveiled or receive visits from gentlemen, but both ladies were willing to be present at social functions, behind a semi-transparent purdah. The light behind the curtain was shaded, so that their forms were not distinguishable. Their vision through the curtain was unimpeded; they could see all that was transpiring in the Durbah Hall. The Princess of Tanjore was a Mahratta by birth. The Mysore Maharani was a Hindu of the Deccan.
Marriage with the Hindu woman comes early in life. The higher the caste, the younger the bride. The Pariahs and some of the lower castes are content to' allow their daughters to wait until they are fully grown. The higher castes believe that their re-birth in a future life is imperilled by neglecting to marry their children before they attain maturity. The law has been brought to bear upon this subject, and of late years there have been fewer child marriages. The marriage rites vary in detail with the different castes. The dowering of the bride and the tying on of the Thali are common to all. The dower is generally in the form of jewels and clothes, unless the parents’ property consists of cattle, sheep, or pigs; then it is given in the form of animals. The marriage badge—the Thali—corresponds with the wedding ring of the European. If possible, it is made of gold, even if the people are very poor. It is in the form of a circular or oval pendant, on which figures are engraved or worked in relief. In Christian marriages among converts the use of the Thali has been retained; the heathen symbols, which are sometimes actually indecent, are replaced by others suitable to Christianity. At the ceremony it is attached to a wreath of flowers, and the bridegroom throws the garland about the neck of his bride, saying: “With this Thali I thee wed.” In the heathen ceremony the bridegroom’s sister or some other relative fastens the Thali about the bride’s neck. After the ceremony it is removed from the wreath and suspended upon a cord or necklace made of gold or glass beads, according to the means of the bridegroom. It is worn constantly, and is the very last ornament with which a Hindu woman will part, no matter what her caste may be. The Hindu, with whom polygamy is instinctive, as it is with the Mohammedan, is allowed to have more than one wife. If his first wife proves childless, he probably marries a second at the suggestion of his mother, or perhaps of the wife herself. His happiness in a future life is in jeopardy if he leaves no son to perform his funeral rites.
The women of the lower castes and the Pariahs have more liberty than those belonging to the higher castes, especially where there is poverty. The man cannot afford to keep more than one wife, and the pair spend their, days in labour: he in the fields or at his trade, and she at her cooking and housework, perhaps assisting her husband in his occupation at busy times. The woman plucking tea on the hills comes from one of the villages on the plains. It is possible that the season has been bad, and that she and her husband are glad to find employment for a while on a tea estate.
To every Hindu temple of importance is attached a certain number of women and girls called Dasis. Dasi means servant. They are better known, perhaps, under the name of nautch-girls, as it is from their ranks that the dancing-girls are drawn. A Dasi takes part in the daily pujah of the temple. She has to sing and dance before the idol whilst it is being washed, anointed, and garlanded. She is bidden to every wedding and entertainment at the houses of the rich. She is at the service of every worshipper at the temple who can afford the necessary gifts. Men and women still continue to give their daughters, often the eldest of the family, to be enrolled in the band of Dasis at the temple which they frequent. They wear the richest of silk drapery and jewels of great value, all of which belong to the temple, and are kept by the authorities for the use of the Dasis.
Although a Hindu wife sees no shame in the profession of the Dasi, and will even go so far as to give her own daughter to be trained as one, there must be an instinctive knowledge that the life is dishonourable. This is shown in her care not to imitate the manner and bearing of the nautch-girl. She is careful never to sing or dance; to do so would be a sign of immodesty which would scandalise the neighbours and disgrace her family. It took some time to persuade the wives and daughters of India that education was not equally immodest and unbecoming, for the simple reason that Dasis were the only women who received instruction in reading and writing.
The aboriginal tribes of South India form but a fraction of the population. The most interesting are the Todas of the Nilgiri Mountains. Theirs is a kind of nature-worship, wherein a shrine or image is not necessary. A sacrifice is offered to the ruling spirits, who are supposed to govern the elements. A marked and peculiar feature of the hill tribes on the Nilgiris is the practice among them of polyandry. The women are permitted to choose and to have more than one husband. Polyandry also exists on the west coast among the people of Cochin and Travancore. It has been suggested that the custom belonged to the aborigines, and that it arose from the necessity of sending a certain number of the tribesmen out with the herds. It was impossible to leave the women unprotected. They were therefore married to two or three men, who took it in turn to attend the herds and to stay at home.
There is a strange custom still preserved among the women. Its origin, like that of polyandry, is shrouded in mystery. The supposition is that it was imposed upon their Dravidian ancestors by the conquerors. Women are not allowed to clothe themselves in public above the waist. Within her house the woman of the west coast may envelop her figure up to her neck; when she is abroad the sari must be dropped to the waist. If by chance she is covered, and sees a stranger of the same or higher caste approaching, she is obliged by long-established rule to remove the drapery until he has passed.
The Sinhalese women are not secluded in the manner of many Orientals. There is, in fact, no -purdah, or veiling, in Ceylon, except among the Mohammedan Moor men and the very few Malays, who are likewise Mohammedan in religion. Thus the women and girls of the lower classes may be seen passing amid the busy hum of the streets, going to market, to and from coir and plumbago mills, selling fruit and vegetables, or plying their household occupations in the open verandas of their houses. Those who can afford it drive out in carriages to go shopping, or to give their children an airing.
The mixture of races in the population of Ceylon is a matter of general knowledge. There is a sharp dividing line in type, dress, customs, and religion between Sinhalese and Tamils, Moors, and Burghers (Eurasians of Dutch descent), and their daily contact does not really merge them;. These are the principal races inhabiting Ceylon. Mention, however, must be made of the Veddahs, the aborigines of Ceylon, who, isolated in the forests of the interior, have remained for ages untouched by civilisation. This diminutive people subsist on wild fruits and honey, and the spoil of their bows and arrows. Nomadic in their habits, they dwell now in caves, now in trees or rude huts of leaves. Their dress consists of aprons of leaves thickly strung together; they are strictly monogamous, and their women are remarkable for conjugal fidelity and devotion to their children.
The Sinhalese population greatly preponderates, except in the north and east of Ceylon, conquered and colonised centuries ago by Tamils of Southern India. The immigrant Tamils, especially those employed on the up-country tea estates, are of the coolie caste, so that few Tamil ladies are usually met. There are, however, some who in good looks, charm of manner, and education, need not fear comparison with their European sisters. Their dress is rich and they are loaded with costly ornaments.
The women of that mysterious Mohammedan race called the Moors of Ceylon are, like their co-religionists all over the East, kept in strict seclusion. The purdah falls for the little girl when she is eight or ten years of age. Thenceforward her life is quite uneventful till her marriage day, when, amid endless ceremonial and prolonged feasting on the part of the male members of the household, the girl-bride, tottering under the weight of all the family jewels, is borne, half insensible with drugs, to her husband’s house. There she spends her days in much the same monotony as before,’ unless she has children to occupy time and thoughts.
The Burghers are intelligent and enterprising, and while their men have been specially distinguished for long past in the departments of law and medicine, and are the backbone of the clerical service, their women are not behindhand in cultivation, and may boast of attainment both in arts and letters. Many of them are admirable as school teachers, and others devote themselves to music or painting with a great measure of success.
The Sinhalese, or “Lion race,” are interesting people; proud, capable, and artistic, but with a full measure of Oriental indolence, accentuated by the passiveness accompanying, though not inculcated by, Buddhism. The Sinhalese are now practically monogamous, so that the status of women is good—in fact, best among Oriental nations except the Burmese. Polyandry used to prevail, mostly in the form of one wife between two brothers. It is still practised to a small extent in the Kandyan districts, though gradually dying out under Government discountenance.
Marriage is of two kinds: (1) Diga, (2) Bina. In a diga marriage the husband takes the wife to live with him; in a bina marriage the husband goes to live in the wife’s house, and is dependent on her or her relations. His case is not without its anxieties, however, as the wife may turn him out of doors at her goodwill and pleasure. The Sinhalese girl is not married very young, but she changes her state as a rule before she has left her teens.
In a well-to-do Persian household, before the birth of a child, two cradles, one of common material and the other gaily bedizened, stand in the prospective mother’s room, while two little suits of clothes, the exact replica of those worn by adults, are in readiness. One suit is only of cotton, while the other is of silk or satin, usually handsomely embroidered. The cradle and clothes of rich material are for the baby if it happens to be a boy, while the cheap ones are to be used if it be “only a girl.”
The father of a Persian girl will in all probability ignore her, unless he happens to be the proud possessor of sons, in which case he may not object to a daughter, and may even play with her in the seclusion of the “Ande-roon,” or women’s apartments. The little thing begins to grow up with her brothers, and is given some perfunctory schooling with them until she is eight, after which, save in the higher classes, her education ceases— at least in a literary direction. A Persian woman who can read and write is looked upon as a kind of wonder. Our little girl, however, is taught to sew and embroider, to make sweetmeats and sherbert, and she seldom leaves the house except to go with her mother to the public baths, or perhaps to picnics with her in some garden during the heat of the summer, being carried there by a servant on a donkey, while her mother sits astride a horse which is led by one of the retainers.
The Persian bath is practically the club of the women. Here they meet their friends and spend the day in the steamy, hot atmosphere, eating their lunch and indulging in any amount of gossip. They are very particular to bring handsome cushions on which to repose, and elegant cases in which to carry their toilet requisites, as they have usually all too few opportunities of social intercourse. Before bathing a lady sits on a huge brass tray, and is covered from head to foot with fullers’ earth, after which she descends into a tank of hot water. A cold plunge in an adjoining room finishes the bath proper, and she is then rubbed dry and massaged. Her hair is dyed with henna and indigo, giving it a black hue, glossy as a raven’s wing; her eyes and eyebrows are decorated with antimony, and her finger-tips and nails painted with henna.
Indoors the ladies wear loose-sleeved jackets of gauze or velvet, and have short, much-stiffened-out trousers, which do not reach to the knees, the toilette being finished off with coarse white stockings or socks. A square of stiff, white muslin is bound round the head, a corner hanging down to hide the hair, which is either worn loose or in long plaits. Out of doors all women of position are concealed from head to foot in a shapeless black chadar, their faces are covered with a white silk veil, with only a strip of lace-work before the eyes, while purple or green trousers ending in stockings complete the costume. As they shuffle along in heelless slippers they are unrecognisable, and it would be very “bad form ” for a Persian to salute his wife or mother did he happen to know that she was some particular waddling bundle of clothes. If any man dare to lift a woman’s veil the penalty by Mohammedan law is death.
When a girl reaches the early marriageable age of Persia, her parents begin to look out for a husband for her; her own inclinations being hardly ever taken into account. There is much marrying between cousins in Persia, but often the betrothals are planned by a professional go-between. The formal betrothal by the priest is a solemn ceremony. A lighted candle, the Koran, and a mirror, together with a tray on which are tapers, perfumes, dried seeds and dates, are placed close to the girl, and a green covering thrown over her. She may not speak to anyone. A lighted lamp is then put beneath a large brass bowl, turned upside down, and on this latter a saddle and pillow are placed. The girl sits on this pile, which proceeding is supposed to symbolise the mastery of her future husband over her. The same green covering used at this ceremony also conceals her later on during the marriage ceremony, and when wedded she is given a piece of gold for luck, and carries bread and salt into her husband’s house to ensure plenty, kissing the hearthstone of her old home as she leaves it.
From early youth a Persian is taught by the priests to pay no attention to the counsel of a woman; indeed, he is admonished to act in every way contrary to the advice of that inferior being. He also believes that women have practically no souls, and that he will never meet in the other world those whom he has known on earth. When he attains to the material Paradise of the Mussulman, he will be tended by fair “houris,” who sing entrancingly as he sits beside the “River of Milk,” or stretches his hand towards the delicious foods with which the boughs of a certain wondrous tree are laden. She, on the contrary, may be writhing in hell, as the Prophet told his followers that when he was permitted a glimpse of the Infernal Regions, the vast majority of the victims there were women ! Only by constant effort, and by the making of pilgrimages, can a woman be admitted into the paradise reserved for her sex, which is a place of residence very inferior to that which her male relatives will inhabit, with apparently but little trouble on their part.
Persian women frequently give parties, and on these occasions wear their best dresses and jewellery, a man being looked upon as a good husband according to his capacity to provide finery for his wife. There is an elaborate etiquette observed at these parties, each lady exchanging the most polite salutations with her hostess, who advances to meet her just the distance which her rank demands. “Your place has long been empty,” “May your shadow never grow less,” “May your nose be fat,” are a few of such greetings, and then the guest takes a place on the carpet of honour. She will, however, alertly make way and kneel upon a spot further removed from the giver of the entertainment should a lady of superior position make her appearance, while any poor child-bride is usually treated with scant ceremony. Tea, sweetmeats, and the inevitable water-pipe are handed round by servants. The tea is served in small glasses without milk, but so many lumps of sugar are put into the drink of a favoured guest that a little island of sweetness stands up out of the thick, syrupy mixture. Almond paste, sugar pulled into thread fine as silk, toffy and candy are among the eatables, while the passing of the kalian or water-pipe is fraught with much tedious ceremony.
At Tehran, the capital of Persia, a lady will pay a large sum at the European shops for a piece of brocade, and will wear it ostentatiously in order to excite the envy of her guests. Retribution may, however, overtake her, for one of her visitors will perhaps buy more of the same material, and have it made up for her slave-girl. She will then invite all her acquaintances, and tea and the waterpipe will be handed round by the servant dressed in the rich silk in which the quondam hostess is probably arrayed, and later on the same girl will dance before the assembled guests, to the intense mortification of the one and the keen amusement of all the Others! The dancing at these entertainments is accompanied by singing and playing, and is unlike anything to which English people are accustomed. The performers posture and come forward with bent legs, progressing by pushing their feet from side to side in most ungraceful fashion. They will also stand and bend backwards until their heads touch the ground, and then slowly raise themselves, becoming scarlet in the face from their extraordinary exertions.
Though Persians are allowed four legal wives by Mohammedan law, yet they do not avail themselves largely of the permission, and the country is gradually becoming monogamous. Persians themselves say that it is unfashionable and provincial to have more than one wife, but it is probably the poverty of the country which is chiefly answerable for this change in Mohammedan custom.
When a Persian woman is advanced in years she often thinks of that inferior paradise to which she can so hardly attain, and she will sell her valuables and persuade her husband to let her go on a pilgrimage. If possible, Mecca or Kerbela will be her goal, though, if lack of means puts these shrines out of her reach, she will perforce renounce the coveted titles of Haji and Kerbelai, and be content with that of Mashtadi, the title gained by those who visit the famous shrine of Imam Reza at Meshed.
Russian Turkestan is peopled partly by a sedentary people called Sarts and partly by nomads. The chief Sart towns are Tashkent, Samarkand, Kokand, Margelan, Andijan, Namangan, Chyust, and Bokhara. The Sarts are descended partly from an Indo-Germanic race, the earliest inhabitants of Turkestan, and partly from a mixture of other races that has taken place there during the last two thousand years. Persian slave-mothers have left to the Bokhara and Samarkand women a heritage of Persian beauty, but in most of the towns Mongol and Chinese features have been handed down from Uzbeg and Chinese parents, and Sart women have, as a rule, high cheek-bones and flat noses, with somewhat slanting eyes.
The Sarts are Mohammedans; they adhere more strictly to the tenets of their religion than any people of Islam; their women are kept in closer seclusion than any women in the world. No respectable Sart woman is ever actually seen out of doors, for when she does venture forth she is wrapped in a sombre grey garment, and her face is completely hidden by a black horse-hair veil.
The women of every Sart home have their separate apartment, opening into a separate courtyard. No windows look into the street, but the rooms are open to the courtyard on one, and sometimes on two, sides, so there is plenty of light and air. From fear of earthquake the houses are all built with a ground floor only. The reception room of a Sart lady is also her living room and her bedroom, and it invariably contains a gorgeously painted, metal-bound trunk, in which her jewellery is carefully stowed away except on high-days and holidays. At one end of the room there is always a pile of neatly-folded pillows and quilts, which at night are spread out on the floor to serve as beds.
Elderly ladies swathe their heads in turbans of transparent muslin, the long ends of which are brought round over the shoulders like a shawl. Unmarried girls wear no head-covering in the house, their straight, black hair is parted in the middle, and hangs down their shoulders in plaits. Black silk plaits are added to the natural hair, and these terminate at the ankles in a tassel of coloured glass beads. On one girl’s head the writer counted fifty-five plaits of her own hair. The hair is very thick and very luxuriant; it is never cut, and only brushed once a week. A Sart woman merely puts her hand through her hair for the morning toilet, but she washes her head regularly every Thursday. The hair is washed in boiled sour milk, and combed while wet. The richer women wash the milk out with warm water, but poor ones leave it in, and a strange odour is in their case very noticeable. Sart girls have beautiful teeth, and they attribute this to the fact that they eat very little meat. After every meal a finger is dipped into water and the teeth are rubbed with it. After twenty-five they begin to lose their teeth, and, to hide the gaps thus caused, the remaining teeth are often painted black, as in Northern Japan. A herb is used to blacken the eyelashes, and the eyebrows are also painted and joined together by a black line over the nose. All Sart ladies wear trousers, and over these their high boots are drawn; stockings are unknown. Indoors the ladies wear many-coloured silken tunics over long silken robes or loose jackets with wide sleeves.
Silk-weaving is one of the principal industries of Turkestan, and women and girls hatch silkworms’ eggs in the folds of their dresses to make a little pocket-money; they often keep fowls for the same purpose. Sart women are not good at plain sewing, but their embroidery is extremely beautiful. Kokand work is especially prized, and fetches a high price all over Central Asia. Embroidery is the only kind of work a Sart woman may do on a Friday (the Mohammedan Sabbath). The thimble is worn on the third finger.
The Sarts never let their women engage in agricultural work, but many women of the poorer class go with the children to the cotton-fields and help to pick the pods.
The nomadic Kirgiz, who settle in camps outside the towns in winter and wander in the mountains and the steppes in summer, are also followers of Islam, but they are far less fanatical than the Sarts. Their women are given much more freedom, and they do not mind showing their faces. All the hard work in a Kirgiz household is done by the women; they put up the -yurtas, or tents, and they make the felt with which they are covered. Hard work makes these women very strong, and they look like sturdy men when they come riding straddle-back to the Sart bazaars.
Between Bokhara and the Caspian Sea there stretches the wide and sandy steppe of Trans-Caspia, which is inhabited by another race of nomads—the Tekke Turkomans. These people live in felt-covered kibitkas, or round tents; a rich man generally has a tent for himself and one for each wife. Turkoman women may go where they like; they are unveiled, and mix freely with the other sex from their earliest years. They are not beautiful, and the purer their blood the flatter their noses and the higher their cheek-bones.
There is no country in the world of similar extent where greater diversity of race prevails than Asia Minor. It has now been for more than four centuries under the dominion of the Ottoman or Osmanli Turks. The people are the descendants partly of the foreign conquerors, partly of more peaceable invaders pressing in from all directions, and partly of the races who inhabited the country before the time when history begins. They are classified politically according to their religion—Mohammedans, Christians, and Jews. The Christians are the various sects of Armenians and of Greeks, the Roman Catholics, and a few adherents of other sects.
Both the Christian and Mohammedan women of the wealthier class are often remarkable for their beauty, especially in Smyrna and on the shores of the Bosphorus. Whether dark or fair, tall or short, nearly all have fine eyes and eyelashes, delicately pencilled eyebrows, and soft, clear complexions. The Osmanli women show greater variety of type on account of their mixture of race, and are, on the whole, more elegant and graceful.
Mohammedan ladies have not yet adopted European fashions in their outdoor dress as they have indoors. The hat' to them is still anathema. The veil retains its place and power, but the shapeless perigee—a sort of full double skirt drawn round the waist, the under half reaching to the feet, the upper turned up over the head—has been modified into a fashionably cut skirt and a dainty cape covering the head and pinned at the waist behind, the material being usually a rich brocade of some dark colour or combination of colours. A small square of stiff, but fine, black buckram is worn as a veil. This sedate costume is worn when shopping or visiting in the town. At picnics and other open-air parties, in which Turkish women of all classes—-and, indeed, Oriental women generally—delight, it gives place to a long coat, not unlike a dressing-gown, of silk or alpaca or other light material, and of pale colour —blue, pink, grey, green, or white. The stiff black veil is replaced by one of transparent white muslin, which, worn over the head, enhances rather than conceals the effect of the elaborately dressed hair, with its jewelled combs and pins, and by no means conceals the charming face of the wearer.
Judged by the same standard as the Mohammedan and Christian women, native Jewish women have small pretensions to good looks, even when young; but the national costume worn by those of the lower order in Smyrna might make even a beauty look plain. Besides the usual Turkish trousers, it consists of as many voluminous coats of different material and colour (and generally dirty) as can possibly be put on at one time. The head-dress of the married women is a solid-looking bag of black silk or cloth, which entirely conceals what hair they have, and hangs down the back, surmounted by a ridiculous little cap that looks like a caricature of a Scotch “Glengarry.” The Jews are, in fact, the most abject and degraded race in Asia Minor. At the same time, Jewish women have, among their own people, a higher status comparatively than Christian women have among theirs.
Education has in recent years made considerable advance, although generally it is still in a .very backward condition. Many daughters of wealthy Mohammedans have the advantage of resident foreign governesses, and speak, read, and write one or more European languages. Considering their circumstances, the number of Osmanli women who have produced literary works is by no means insignificant.
Among the native Mohammedan peasants the woman does the greater part of the work. She spins both wool and cotton by means of a simple distaff and spindle; she weaves the carpets and the material for clothing her family or for making tents and sacks. She grinds the corn and milks the flocks and prepares the yahoort—a thick curd— which, with a paper-like bread that she bakes, forms the chief article of diet. She assists in the ploughing, and does most of the reaping and threshing. She sometimes helps to build the houses of sun-dried mud-bricks, the commonest building material in Asia Minor. Of course, the women cover their heads, but as a protection from the sun and weather; the face remains unveiled. There are, however, many districts in which even the poorest peasant women are closely veiled. In the towns of the interior, where the Mohammedan element predominates, both Christian and Jewish women often veil in public as a protection from possible molestation. The condition of both Greek and Armenian women in agricultural districts differs little from that of the Mohammedan women.
Early marriage is the universal rule. Girls of whatever nationality generally marry in their teens—sometimes when they have barely reached that period. The parents or guardians arrange the match, the girl having little or no say in the matter, though there are exceptions to this rule. The actual rite of marriage varies in character among the different races, but in every case the ceremonies and festivities cost a considerable amount of money, and occupy at least a week. The Jewish marriage ritual is long and complicated, and both the Armenians and the Greeks have an elaborate religious ceremony. Christians and Jews alike provide a dowry for their daughters. The trousseau in each case consists of personal clothing, bedding, carpets, pots and pans, and other household gear.
Among the women of Turkey and Greece may be found representatives of no fewer than thirteen different races. The Mohammedan women include, in addition to members of the ruling race, Albanians, Kurds, Circassians, Tartars, Turkomans, and Yuruks.
Although the law of Islam allows a man to marry four wives, and to be the owner of an unlimited number of slaves, as a matter of fact, at the present day, among the working classes of European Turkey one wife is the rule, and among the wealthy more than one the exception. For, in addition to the various other considerations which make a plurality of wives undesirable, there is also the grave question of expense. The legal position of a free Mohammedan woman compares favourably with that of her Christian neighbour. As a daughter she is entitled on her father’s death to inherit his property, in common with her brothers, in a proportion determined by law, according to the number of inheritors. As a wife she has uncontrolled possession and disposal both of the wealth which was hers before marriage and of any subsequent inheritance. A husband, on his side, is bound to support his wife and her slaves according to his wealth and rank, and though great facilities may appear to be given to a man in the matter of divorce, wives are, on the other hand, safe-guarded from a too arbitrary exercise of this privilege by legal enactments, which, in practice, largely modify this facility.
Marriage with a free maiden is an expensive matter in any rank of life, owing to the lavish outlay in gifts and entertainments, made obligatory by custom on such occasions. All Turks marry young, and consequently if a father cannot afford to take a wife for his son in his own class, he purchases a slave who has been brought up with that end in view in some great lady’s harem, and no expense is incurred beyond the purchase money. There is, too, the consideration that a slave, having no position of her own, is submissive and obedient to her lord, and has no interfering relations. Should a slave bear a child to her master she cannot be re-sold, but has the right to bring up her offspring in its father’s house. It is also considered legitimate, and inherits equally with the child of a free wife. In all probability the father will set his child’s mother free and marry her, and thus bestow upon her the status of a free-born woman. Ladies of high rank often carry on a traffic in female slaves, purchasing children born chiefly in the tents of the nomad Circassians, and bringing them up in their own households.
A Turkish dwelling, however humble, is invariably divided into haremlik and selamlik. The latter, in an average house, consists of a couple of rooms on the ground floor, in which the master transacts official business and exercises general hospitality. The haremlik, which has its separate entrance, courtyard and garden, constitutes the sanctum sanctorum of the women—the place, secure from all intrusion, into which not even the master may enter should a pair of overshoes at the door announce that his wife has a visitor.
Paying calls, attending wedding, birth, and other family ceremonies, promenading and driving, form the chief amusements of all ranks; and going to the public baths is made an occasion of great festivity and ceremony. Osmanli women are also passionately fond of country excursions, and the number of charming resorts within easy reach of every considerable town, as well as of the capital, added to a magnificent climate, offer every facility for the indulgence of this taste. Curiously carved and gilded springless carts, drawn by a pair of oxen decorated with multi-coloured tassels and fringes, are the favourite mode of conveyance for these picnics.
The Christians of European Turkey belong to five different nationalities—Greek, Wallachian, Bulgarian, Servian, and Armenian. Social life among the wealthy class in the large towns is very similar to that of Greeks of the same position; and the Bulgarian and Armenian ladies of the same standing, though less highly cultured, perhaps, are not as a rule deficient in manners and attainments.
Women of the middle and the lower classes of all nationalities lead, in the provincial towns, somewhat secluded lives, as it is considered an impropriety for girls and young women to be seen much out of doors, and their lives are passed, for the most part, in a dull-enough routine. Occupation in shops is not open to girls, nor, unless compelled by sheer necessity, will they become domestic servants, who are drawn mostly from the peasant class, and from the islands of the AEgean. The majority of girls occupy themselves with needlework, lace-making, and other home industries.
Peasant life differs little in Greece and Turkey. In Macedonia the Greek women, though not employed in field work to such an extent as are their Bulgarian sisters, take an active part in much of the labour connected with the farm and vineyard. To the Greek peasant girl is also committed the care of her father’s flock of sheep and goats, which she leads every day to the pasturage, and secures at night in the stania, or sheepfold. The voskopoula, or shepherdess, is one of the most prominent figures in rural folk-song, and many a charming idyll has been composed in her honour. Little time, however, is at her disposal for sylvan dallying, for, in addition to milking, and cheese and butter making, it falls also to her share to bleach, dye, and spin the wool, and to weave this, as well as the produce of the flax and cotton fields, into stuffs for clothing the family, or for sale in the market of the nearest town.
In some districts the silk industry keeps the women fully occupied during the spring months. In Crete, for instance, this constitutes the chief domestic industry, for each family cultivates its own little crop. Cyprus is also famous for its industries in linen, cotton, silk and wool, and the Cypriote women of to-day maintain their renown for cunning needlework which pertained of old to the island. In some districts of Bulgaria the culture of the roses, of which the famous “otto” and rose water are made, forms an important branch of industry. Gathering the blossoms is quite a festal affair, for which the women don their picturesque gala costumes.
THE WESTERN BALKAN PENINSULA
Servia is by far the most advanced of the West Balkan peoples. Old customs are fast passing away. Modern methods of work and cultivation are spreading. And the nation desires to learn.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the contrary, the people cling closely to their old customs and adopt new ones with the greatest reluctance. In Montenegro, too, old customs have remained intact till quite recent days. By incessant fighting the Turks were kept at bay, and the Montenegrins in their mountain fastnesses were quite isolated from the outer world, and lived on primitive tribal lines. The tribes were and are divided into large groups of cousins, called “bratstvos.” Each bratstvo is made up of several large household communities, each with its head man and head woman, who direct all the work of the household. A man can marry within his clan, but not Svithin his bratstvo. All the South Slavs are exogamous, as are also the Albanians, and there are bratstvos still existing that boast that they have never married into a drop of their own blood.
As it was desirable to obtain strong allies, and as all a woman’s relations were classed as the blood relations of her husband’s relations, it was customary for all marriages to be arranged by the men of the bratstvo. Indeed, until modern days, it was of frequent occurrence for the bride and bridegroom; never to have seen one another till they met in church. Infant marriages or betrothals were common, and children were sometimes betrothed before they were born.
In those times, too, all the work, both domestic and agricultural, fell to the lot of the women. Men were occupied almost entirely in repelling and making frontier raids, and in guarding the flocks. Custom in this respect changes very slowly, and all the heavy work of carrying wood and water and luggage is still performed by women. Nor will they often accept help from a man, for they consider that such work would degrade him.
Even now, women sitting by the roadside, however tired, will scramble to their feet and stand respectfully when a man passes. Nor do the women in the up-country parts ever think of sitting down to table with the men. The women of the household eat up what is left after the men have finished. It is not etiquette for a man to speak to his wife before strangers; if he is obliged to do so, he speaks over his shoulder, with his back to her. Husband and wife in many parts never call one another by name, but address one another as “he” and “she.”
All tribal business is strictly masculine. No woman is supposed to give an opinion on any but domestic affairs, nor, indeed, to offer an opinion on anything at all unless she is asked. It has frequently happened to the writer, when asking a woman a question, that the master of the house has roared at her, “Hold your tongue, woman! I will tell it.”
“Long hair, short wits, a woman’s head,” is a very favourite proverb.
Until recent years every family group throughout the South Slavonic peoples made practically everything at home. The wool was spun on a distaff, with no wheel or other aid. It was then woven on hand-looms, and dyed with native dyes, many of them very stable and very beautiful. Particularly in Servia, the art of weaving rugs and carpets has been carried to great perfection. Native traditional designs are used, many of them of high, decorative quality. Bosnia also has a native carpet industry. For ordinary garments the wool is woven undyed, and taken to a fulling mill and beaten into a hard felt by wooden hammers worked by water power. This felt, or thick flannel, still forms the chief wear of the peasants of the larger part of the Balkan Peninsula. The garments are often very beautifully embroidered. Every district has its own patterns. The dress of most South Slavonic women consists of the long shirt, which is worn both by day and night, and an embroidered waistcoat, with or without sleeves, and a long sleeveless coat, the koret, which is open in front. In Bosnia and parts of Herzegovina, many women, both orthodox and Moslem, wear the large Turkish “bloomers,” but with these they do not as a rule wear the koret.
The Balkan woman, whether she be Servian, Bosniak, Montenegrin, or Macedonian, has plenty to do. But it must not be supposed that she regards herself as a slave, or that she has no privileges. Women, for example, were exempt from blood vengeance, and in parts where the vendetta still prevails it is considered very wrong to kill a woman. Thus it may happen that most of the marketing is done by women, as they can pass freely to the bazaar when the man of the family would run the risk of being waylaid and shot.
Women throughout the South Slavonic lands are not without holidays and amusements. On the principal feast days large gatherings of peasants take place, when the women appear gorgeous in their best clothes, gay with embroidery and glittering with coins and ornaments. Many of these dresses are immensely heavy and very hot, but this does not deter the sturdy Balkan maiden from dancing the national dance, the kolo. The dancers, men and women, form a long chain by holding each other’s hands or belts, and serpentine and circle round with great energy, singing lustily the while. Each district has its own kolo song.
Women play an important part at funerals, as it falls to them to sing the death-songs that celebrate the virtues of the deceased. The women who thus sing are called Pokajnitza. When, as is the case with the funeral of a celebrated man, there is a very large assembly, the wailing all takes place out of doors. The guests sit in a large circle, two women of the tribe then walk quickly back and forth within the circle, chanting in a loud wailing voice. One corroborates the statements of the other, and they lament together. Many stock phrases are used, but many women are well known for their power of improvising, and their recitals are very dramatic. When two are exhausted, two others take their place. Only married women perform this duty. Until recent years women cut off their hair in sign of mourning, and hung it on the grave of the deceased. In some districts they still tear their faces with their nails.
Medicine is largely practised by “wise” women, who possess herbal remedies in great variety. “Every disease has its herb,” they say, They also employ many charms.
In North Albania pre-eminently are preserved the primitive modes of life. The same tribal system prevails as in Montenegro. The women do all the heavy work, the burdens which they can, and do, carry are enormous. The men carry only their weapons. A man may often be seen riding, while his wife carries the luggage and the baby. The majority of Albanians are Moslem, and for the most part are very lax. In many villages where the people call themselves Moslem, the women are all unveiled, and go about freely among the mien. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic women of Scutari wear huge “bloomers,” and are closely veiled.
The Moslem women of Scutari and neighbourhood very often dye their hair a deep red. When Moslem women are veiled they are often most effectually veiled— completely hidden, in fact, under a huge hooded cloak.
As we have said, women are exempt from blood-feuds and vendettas, but among the Northern tribes a woman can, if she please, rank as a man. She must take a vow of celibacy. She can then dress as a man, have her head shaved as a man, carry arms, and inherit property. When a man has several daughters and no son, he can allow one of his daughters to rank as a son. In case of the father’s decease, she is then the head of the family, and has to make suitable marriages for her sisters. It is said that these “men” women are not uncommon. We heard of one who served for many years in the Turkish army. They are not allowed to become women again and marry. Such a woman can carry on the blood-feuds of the family. In cases where all the men of the family have been killed, they have often been avenged by a woman.
Two hundred years ago the women of Russia lived in as much seclusion as if they had been Mohammedans. It was Peter the Great who first commanded them to lay aside their veils. Every house had its woman’s apartments quite separate from those of the men, and girls were prisoners until their marriage. In Russian villages there are still old women who act as professional match-makers, and the peasant women still keep their heads covered out-of-doors, even in the warmest weather. But in the towns and in the vicinity of factories, modern ways have taken the place of old customs, and, discarding the neat handkerchief, girls now exhibit elaborate puffs, curls and coils of hair stuck all over with combs of imitation tortoiseshell. It is to the rural part of Russia that we must look for the remnants of ancient Slav customs, and even then they are so mixed up with traces of Mohammedanism and with the ceremonies and laws introduced by the Greek Church that wide study is required before we can separate one from the other.
One of the chief industries among the peasant women of Great Russia is lace-making. Girls begin to learn it at the age of seven, and at nine they can almost support themselves with their earnings. Children may be seen working at cushions large enough to conceal them, but a good deal of lace is made by the needle. This is the lace far excellence of the aristocracy, while cushion lace is worn by all classes. Russia got her lace-making from Asia, long before the industry was known to the rest of Europe. The high head-dresses, still worn by the great ladies of Russia, and even by the Empress on state occasions, are mostly of lace covered with pearls. Chasubles and stoles of velvet, covered with pearl-stitched lace, are still presented to the monasteries by royal visitors. Some fifty years ago the women used to spin and weave most of the clothing worn by their families, but since factories have sprung up they find it' cheaper to buy their material. Wives of artisans in Western Russia still do a good deal of embroidery on frames, and by its sale help to support their households.
The women of Little Russia have many customs quite different from those of Great Russia, and, indeed, they might belong to a different nation. They wear much brighter colours and clothes of quite a different cut. The young girls, who are often very handsome, wear the hair in a plait tied by long ribbons, and generally have several necklaces of glass beads or coral. A girl’s wedding-dress is got ready for her as soon as she is thought old enough to be married, and, in the event of her early death, it becomes her shroud.
A few years ago we used to hear that there was no middle class in Russia, but to-day there is a large and increasing middle class. It is to this section of society that the numerous Hebrew and German families belong, and those once wealthy Russian families who were ruined by the freeing of the serfs in 1861. It is from this class that the Russian girl-students come.
Medicine is one of the most popular professions among Russian women, but they are taking up nearly all the callings formerly occupied only by men. Although they are not yet allowed to practise at the Bar, numbers are studying for that profession in the full assurance that they will, ere long, be allowed to follow it. There are’ women-clerks in many of the largest banking houses, in the Custom House and in the Post Offices.
The women of the upper classes in Russia are among the most thoroughly educated, the most intelligent, and the most charming women that can be met with anywhere. Their knowledge of three, four and five languages, and their wide reading in those languages, have broadened their sympathies and given them a wider outlook than is often the case with English and German women. Convents for women are to be found in every part of Russia. The nuns engage in some kind of useful work, such as embroidering military and naval uniforms with gold thread, lace-making, painting Ikons, candle-making, embroidering linen, gardening, cooking, and so on.
Russia is making great efforts to colonise Siberia with Russian peasants. Land is given to the colonists, and they are free from taxes for the first three years. Both the men and the women improve greatly in their new homes; they leave behind their Slav indolence, and become industrious and thriving.
The German element among the women of Austria can soon be dismissed, since the Austrian German, whether Saxon or Swabian, generally preserves her native characteristics. It is rather the women of the Slavonic races, together with the Magyars or Hungarians, and the Roumanians or Wallachians, who have most claim to be considered as the women of Austria.
Varieties of custom, individual taste and character exist among the numerous subdivisions of the Slavonic race, but on the whole the main characteristics are the same. “Let us sing and dance,” says one of the popular songs of the women, “as long as we have no husbands, for as soon as we have one we must forget our songs and only mend his shirts and trousers.” Indeed, the fate of the woman in Slav-land is to work and suffer and obey in silence. The Slavs of Southern Austria regard the birth of a girl as a punishment from Heaven. Needless to say, a daughter has no part in the paternal inheritance. The most she has is the dowry of a cow on her marriage, and the cow, of course, goes to the husband, who probably would not marry her without it. As for the marriage itself, the whole ceremony is symbolical. The would-be bridegroom presents the girl with a bunch of flowers as she comes out from mass on Sunday, and if she accepts it he calls a few days afterwards at her home with a friend, has food and drink, makes sure that the girl is healthy, and a month afterwards the wedding takes place. On the wedding-day the bridegroom comes to the house, with friends and musicians, to fetch his bride, who is supposed to come out of the house alone and walk last in the train of friends around the bridegroom. Even at the wedding feast she begins her submission and service, since it is her part to serve the guests. When a girl is married she is called sneha, when she has a child gena, when she is forty baba (i.e., grandmother), and when she is over fifty starababa (i.e., old decrepit one).
It is suggestive to turn from the Slav proverb—“That household is 'threatened with ruin in which the distaff rules and the sword obeys ”—to the Magyar saying, “ It is the chignon that must rule,” for though both are exaggerated, and the truth lies between the two, the note of contrast is struck between the position of the Slav and the Hungarian woman. The Hungarian is the companion of her husband, not the servant or slave, and she retains much of her gaiety in her married life.
The Hungarian peasant who would “a-wooing go” comes at night to the house of his beloved, and knocks at the door until the girl’s mother says, “He has knocked so long, open the door to him.” The girl obeys, and the young man then enters the kitchen wrapped in his long cloak, which envelops them both. On the wedding day the bride walks to the church accompanied by two of her friends, already married, and six young girls in white carrying crowns. The bride’s crown Sparkles with spangles, and is ornamented in the middle with a little mirror and the national colours, red, white and green. At the wedding feast each guest dances with the bride, giving her a few kreutzers in exchange for a kiss, and a present in kind, a fowl, pigeon, or some fruit.
The Hungarian women of all classes are generally brunettes, with slender, supple figures, and are strong, healthy and graceful, and noted for their physical beauty. Unlike the Slav women, who are content to wear one garment, the Hungarian peasant who wears less than three petticoats imagines herself half-naked. The chief garment of the national costume is the rekli, or jacket embroidered with braid and silver buttons, and ornamented with flowers and lined with sheepskin, with its warm soft wool. In summer the rekli is often packed away, and replaced by a chemisette, with short embroidered sleeves, which leave the arms bare.
One word of the gipsies of Hungary, those lazy kings and queens of solitude whom the Hungarians alone welcomed when in the rest of Austria they were reckoned among “Turks and infidels.” Free and wayward as the wind, the women of the gipsies keep their “splendid vices,” and are untouched by the manners and customs of the Hungarians. They are the fortune-tellers, the jugglers, the dancing-girls of the country, and are full of the language which the Hungarians have caught from them—the language of music.
Hated by the Hungarians as a lower and despised race, the Roumanians of Transylvania are an Italic people, dark-skinned, black-haired, black-eyed, indolent in temperament, and thriftless. Among the aristocracy the women are said to pass their time dressing and adorning themselves, or driving in the public promenades. The peasant women are the chief workers on the Helds, and are far more industrious than the men. They are commonly employed as navvies and road-menders, and often a gang of women can be seen working on excavations, etc., on equal terms with the men. Like the women of the Slav races they are beautiful in their youth, but are worn out before middle age comes by the overstrain of being both child-bearers and field-workers.
Modern Italy may be said to be pre-eminently a land of contrasts and anomalies, and in no respect, perhaps, are these contrasts more marked than in the social usages determining the position of women in the various provinces which have, since 1860, formed a united kingdom. The legal code is now, of course, uniform for the whole country; but as each province still tenaciously adheres to its own ancient customary law in all matters connected with domestic and social economy, the status of women, determined by these customary laws, in the industrial and progressive provinces of the north may be said to differ almost as much from that obtaining in Sicily and Sardinia as the status of English women differs from that of Chinese.
By statute law a married woman’s property is absolutely her own, and is immune from any interference or abuse on the part of her husband. She has a right to the guardianship of her children, and, as a daughter, to an equal share with her brothers in any patrimonial inheritance in case of intestacy; and only in a few instances are woman’s legal rights inferior to those of a man.
In Italy, as in other countries where few careers are open to women, marriage is looked upon as the end and aim of their existence, and old-maidism as something of a disgrace. It is only also as a wife that a woman obtains any degree of personal liberty, as custom does not allow a spinster to traverse the public thoroughfares without a duenna, even if she have attained the respectable age of forty.
In Southern Italy—and especially in Sicily—even married women are subjected to many restrictions, and, indeed, to a quite Oriental seclusion from intercourse with the other sex; for in some districts of this island a man may have lived for twenty years on intimate terms with a neighbour without even having exchanged a word with his wife or daughter. In these localities when a husband goes abroad, he leaves his wife, should she be young, under lock and key; and the women appear to be gratified by this exceeding care for their safety, as its neglect would imply want of regard. In the great industrial centres of the north, however, and generally in localities frequented by foreigners, native customs in this respect have been considerably modified, and girls and young women are allowed greater freedom. Such changes in manners are the natural concomitants not only of changed social conditions, but also of higher education; and facilities for this in Italy are not inconsiderable.
The classical and technical courses in all the state-provided institutions are open to women, as are also the universities. The number who avail themselves of these advantages is as yet, however, but small, and in the universities the faculties most frequented are those of literature, natural science, and medicine. The women graduates comprise several lady doctors in good practice, and a certain number of professors and lecturers on literature and science. As actresses, Italian women have attained a high level of excellence, while in the domain of opera it need hardly be said that they stand in the foremost rank. The intellectual attainments of middleclass women generally are, however, by no means on a level with those of men of the same social standing; while the vast mass of the female population of Italy may be said to be wholly illiterate.
The manifold favours bestowed by Nature upon Italy have made of her an essentially agricultural country. Even the industrial towns and cities of the north, in which life now presents many features common to other countries, are mere isolated spots surrounded by great pastoral or agricultural regions. It is in these vast rural districts that the Italian woman can best be studied. A peasant family often continues to occupy the same farm for centuries, the married sons living with the housefather, and, with their wives and children, assisting in the farm work. In addition to spinning and weaving, many rural home industries are carried on in which the women have often the most considerable share. The silkworm culture, for instance, is undertaken almost entirely by the women and children. It occupies less than two months before the beginning of harvest, and forms one of Italy’s most lucrative exports.
Where the system of mixed crops is followed, and each crop is small, the grain harvest is reaped by hand in primitive fashion. The women and girls follow the men and bind up the golden sheaves, singing meanwhile their strange plaintive stornelli or ripetti.
Probably the very day after the corn has been carried, the stubbles will be turned for a new crop, for as much is got out of the land by these thrifty peasants as it can be made to yield. While the husbandmen and his sons guide the plough drawn by a yoke of long-horned white oxen, the women and children follow, collecting into little heaps for burning the weeds and roots turned up. Next comes the fruit harvest. The daughters of the soil, with wide circular baskets poised securely on their heads, carry into the historic market-place of the ancient hill towns their figs, plums and pears, their peaches, pomegranates and apples, or, it may be, Nature’s wild crop of strange fungi, unknown in our isles but much appreciated by the Tuscan and Umbrian housewife. In September comes the vintage, and then the gathering of the olives, which is essentially a winter industry, and which lasts from November to February. The ripe olives are picked either directly from the branches into a deep basket strung round the waist of the picker, or beaten from the trees with long switches. As the crop is gathered, the olives are carefully sorted by the elder women into three categories, as on this depends the quality of the oil they will produce. The first, according to a Tuscan saying, “is gold, the second silver, the rest nothing.” The olives are then conveyed to the mill to be crushed, and, after undergoing some further processes, the oil is stored for household use, or sale, in orci—great earthenware jars of classic shape.
On the Italian Riviera the large flower farms afford occupation in winter and spring to considerable numbers of women and girls; but the chief female industry of these regions is lace-making. In certain localities embroidery, artistic bookbinding and leatherwork, as also the manufacture of beads, mosaics, etc., afford employment to women and girls either at home or in workshops.
The chief industry of the women of Tuscany, however, is straw-plaiting. The straw market of Florence is the great centre of the trade. Whether standing at their doorways gossiping, or walking along the country roads, with their burdens poised on their heads, the fingers of the Tuscan women and girls are ever busy weaving the yellow straws; for so small is now the return for their labour—owing to Japanese competition—that it is only by ceaseless industry that a living wage can be earned.
SPAIN AND PORTUGAL
There is a legend current in Spain that at the creation of the world the Spaniards begged three boons of Heaven : a beautiful country, beautiful women, and a good government; but the last boon was denied by Providence lest that happy land should prove a serious rival to Paradise.
Physically the women of Spain are long-lived, healthy, vigorous and well-developed. They are generally about middle height, and are renowned for their graceful carriage and the beauty of their feet and ankles. Black hair and eyes are not nearly so general as is commonly supposed; soft brown eyes and hair of a rich glossy brown are much more common. Grey and green hazel eyes are also numerous. Blondes are fairly numerous, especially in the northern provinces. The complexion of the Spanish woman is one of her greatest beauties, the transparent texture of her creamy skin, through which the red blood glows brilliantly, defies the heat of the climate, and is often retained long after child-bearing and advancing years have spoiled the beauty of her figure.
It has sometimes been suggested that the high standard of beauty in Spain was due to the charming national costume, and that a basquina and mantilla would make a plain woman pretty and a pretty one irresistible; but though the basquina has practically vanished, and the mantilla is relegated to special occasions, the beauty is still conspicuous. Women of the upper and middle classes now wear the ordinary Paris fashions. The lower classes and the peasantry are still faithful to the picturesque costumes of the different provinces. As her waving feather is to the English coster-girl, so is the bright flower in her hair to the Spanish work-girl. The wearing of a hat is the badge of the upper and middle classes. The writer heard a manservant proving the superior station of his promised bride by calling her a senorita de sombrero—a young lady with a hat.
The Spanish girl develops early, and escapes the awkward age; the English high-school girl, with her hockey stick or tennis racquet, scorning sentiment, adopting her brother's slang, and eager to shine in some impending examination, has no prototype in Spain. We have instead a little woman ripe for marriage, but of an engaging innocence, who begins to attend social functions in her early teens, and displays a keen interest in her own possible novios and those of her friends. No frank good fellowship is possible between the young people, owing to the disastrous notion that a girl cannot be alone with a man, however old a friend or near relation, without being compromised. Even an engaged couple, though they may whisper in corners or dance together all the evening, are never allowed out of sight of their elders. After marriage the Spanish young woman is generally quite content with domestic cares, and makes an exemplary wife and mother. Marriages are generally love matches; the young people are allowed to choose for themselves, and the idea of allowing commercial considerations to weigh in such a matter would be abhorrent to the average Spaniard, who is generally free from the snobbishness of valuing his friends according to their fortunes.
Though the field of woman’s labour is more restricted than in other countries, she has still many ways of earning an honest livelihood. Women are largely employed in agricultural labours. Many are employed in factories, notably in the celebrated cigarette factory of Seville and in the lace and other factories of Barcelona.
Many women, too, earn a living as street vendors of fruit, flowers, etc., and the aguadoras—with their cry of “Agua! agua fresca! Quien quiere agua!”—sell cool drinking water in the streets and railway stations. There is also the resource of sewing and laundry work; the Spanish needlewoman is a mistress of her craft, and the laundresses are unsurpassed in any country. Domestic service is not unpopular in Spain, for it can be undertaken without loss of personal dignity. No undue servility is shown or expected; the servants treat their mistresses as “even Christians,” speak their minds freely, and identify themselves with the family interests.
That a woman of gentle birth should make the least effort to earn a penny is considered quite out of the question. She may be as poor as she likes, and still retain her social standing, but let her grow weary of existing on a miserable pittance, and use her brains and energy to increase her income, and she will lose caste at once. Inconceivable as it may appear, the Spaniard considers it preferable for intelligent and able-bodied young women to live upon the charity of relations or friends than that they should endeavour to provide for themselves even by intellectual or artistic pursuits.
Strangely enough in a country where difference of station is so sharply defined, Spain has achieved liberte, egalite ei fraternite in human intercourse in a greater degree than any other civilised country. Difference of rank is admitted, but personal superiority not at all. The noblest gentleman in the land will doff his hat to his charwoman as though she were a duchess. Beggars in the streets demand alms with, “Brother, for the love of God,” and expect a “Pardon, brother” in return. If this courtesy, at least, is not forthcoming, the Christian brother or sister is liable to burst into quaint and original invective. “May you have swollen feet, and be made a postman,” was the inhuman wish hurled by an old gipsy woman after some such offender.
The Portuguese, especially in the central and southern parts, are of a very mixed race; there is a strong Semitic element, and a strain of negro blood that has not tended to beauty. The standard of female beauty is not nearly so high as in Spain. The women are vigorous and well developed: coarse black hair and black eyes are the most common. The healthy open-air life of the peasant women gives them a brown and ruddy comeliness of complexion, but their sisters of the upper and middle classes, who take no exercise and lounge their lives away in vapid idleness, are far behind them in good looks. It would hardly be too much to say that all the beauties in Portugal are to be found among the lower classes. Some of the Ovarinas, the bare-footed women from the port of Ovar, who sell fish in the streets of Lisbon, are strikingly handsome. These are almost a race apart, and are said to be of Phoenician origin.
The costume of the peasant women varies slightly in the different districts. They generally go barefoot, their heavy skirts drawn up through a girdle below the hips for better convenience in walking. A bright-coloured kerchief is worn over the shoulders, and another twisted round the head under a soft round black hat, very unbecoming, but convenient for the carrying of heavily-laden market baskets. Nearly all the peasant women possess chains and pendants of fine gold, which are handed down from generation to generation.
There is comparatively little distinction among the Portuguese peasantry between the work of men and women. The climate is so beautiful, the necessities of life so cheap, and the women so thrifty and industrious, that dire poverty is hardly ever to be seen. Though the women work hard, they find leisure on Sundays and holidays for many simple open-air amusements, and are generally pictures of health and contentment.
Speaking roughly, one may say that, so far as physical types are concerned, the French are divided very sharply into at least two sections : those of the north and those of the south. Frenchwomen—say, of Brittany and Provence —differ fully as much as those of two distinct nations, just as the Channel climate and that of the Mediterranean are entirely dissimilar. The Bretons are taller of stature, generally light haired, with blue or grey eyes, and an oval-shaped head; they possess a finer physique and are more Teutonic or stolid in disposition, less susceptible to outside influences, retaining even in this twentieth century their ancient dress and customs in a marked degree, with less refinement and beauty of feature. Whilst south of the Loire, in Provence, there is a race of women of smaller build, less height, possessing softer contours, rounder heads, and generally both dark hair and dark eyes. The Provencal women are, indeed, not only smaller, but are more often pretty, and have not fair but dark and rich complexions. There are, of course, several modifications of these two types in different parts of France, but on the whole the differences are well marked and serve the purpose of division.
“The Frenchwoman of to-day is the product of many influences, some of which have been antagonistic, and by reason of this she has many contradictions of character as well as not a few excellences.” Thus are his countrywomen summed up by a modern French writer of some distinction. One characteristic which cannot, however, fail to impress itself upon the mind of even a casual observer is the vivacity and mercurial nature of the Frenchwoman’s intellect. She is quick-witted, possessed of the gift of repartee, and in conversation brilliant rather than solid. But withal as a housekeeper, rather than as a home-maker, she shines, and as a business woman she has probably, take her all in all, few feminine equals and scarcely a superior.
By the changes which France has undergone since the Revolution of 1789, the aristocracy, as such, has practically disappeared, and left remaining only the great class known as the bourgeoisie—which comprise the professional, mercantile, trading and public official classes— and the peasantry. The bourgeoisie form the great backbone of the nation in the towns; the peasantry in the country; and whether they be men or women of those classes, their lives are much more conventional and more closely hedged round with les convenances than are ours. In a word, the Frenchwoman has much less freedom than her English sister, and is more a slave to custom, more subject to the opinions of her relatives, friends and neighbours.
It is the Parisienne proper, however, with her air of chic, whether she be a “society woman,” spending annually a large fortune on dress, or a work-girl earning ten to fifteen francs a week, who may be considered typical of the women of France as a whole.
Let us consider for a moment the woman who is well off, is married, and has an assured position in “Society.” Her life, provided she enjoys good health and is of an even temperament, is not far from ideal. She has been trained for her ultimate place in the world at the convent school, or at one of the fashionable “finishing” schools, and then she is launched on the sea of married life to sink or swim as her fate or temperament ordains. She becomes, as a rule, a finished woman of fashion in an astonishingly short time. The Parisienne dresses well, not only from any innate good taste, but because she has been taught to recognise the fact that dress is a potent weapon in the defeat or discomfiture of other women.
As for the types of the street—which are met in most large provincial towns as well as in Paris itself—how many there are 1 First, there is the superior demoiselle de magasin, or shop-girl, who trips along with a huge paper carton slung over her arm. Not less picturesque is her sister the little milliner, who, in a neatly fitting dress and as often as not hatless, with carton also on arm, comes from some tiny slip of a shop where skill in designing and trimming fascinating hats makes up for lack of plate-glass display. The flower girls of Paris are another well-known type. They stand with their trays or baskets of button-holes and posies, almost always neat and smiling, and in sharp contrast to their frowsy sisters of the London streets and pavements. Other types are: the bonne, or servant, neat as her mistress, generally wearing a spotless linen cap with goffered frill and equally snowy white apron; the bonnes des enfants, with their neat distinctive dress and wide ribbon streamers to their closefitting caps; the Sisters of Charity, sometimes in pairs on some mission of mercy bent, or at the head or end of a procession of schoolgirls. But one could multiply almost endlessly the types of the Parisienne, and one well-known type must close our list. The blanchisseuse is truly national: she of the spotless cuffs, apron and cap, trim of figure even though stout, making her way along the street, with her basket of snow-white starched linen.
The French peasant proprietor and his womenfolk are probably the most independent and self-respecting class of toilers in Europe. With them one seldom finds any aping of their social superiors in either dress, pretensions or ambitions. The French peasant woman, like her husband, has been accused of meanness and of having a miserly nature; and there is some ground for the accusation. Doubtless, as a general rule, she is close-fisted and keen at a bargain, who would rather part with some of her own blood than loosen her fingers which have clasped themselves tightly over a franc. But however such miserliness is to be condemned, there can be no doubt whatever that the peasant’s frugality and stern economy have largely made France what she is. These things materially helped her after the terrible national tragedy of the years 1870 and 1871, to regain her financial status. Saving in all departments of the household is the one guiding spirit of the women-folk of France, whether they be wives and daughters of peasants, artisans, or bourgeoisie.
Amongst the peasants and artisan classes in the country districts honesty and sobriety are of a high standard. There is very little extreme poverty or drunkenness; and although marriages are very frequently contracted early, thrift and industry prevent the disastrous results that so often follow such unions in our own and other lands.
Swiss women are, as a rule, of medium stature, stoutly built, and generally plain. The reason for this general unattractiveness of type is doubtless the terrible hardness of the life lived by them in the past. By way of compensation, the Swiss woman shines most in all the qualities that are best and lovable in woman. The one ideal of duty prevails. The Swiss woman’s place is in her home, and here she lives and works. Not only does she have the care of the children and of the house, but she frequently aids in the bread-winning by embroidery, lace-making and weaving.
Swiss women of the better class are noted for the general tone of intellectuality which prevails among them. They can, as a rule, talk intelligently not only on politics, but on literature, science and education. The latter is a favourite topic. This is natural among a people who have played so important a part in the mission of education, and whose daughters, from necessity as well as predilection, devote themselves to the art of teaching. No country in the world produces better governesses than Switzerland.
The educational system of Switzerland is very near perfection; all children must go to school, but their curriculum may be settled by the canton which saw their birth. Geneva exacts that three hours a week shall be devoted to manual work. The girls are instructed in the occupation which will surely be theirs, whatever be their individual destiny. In most of the cantons dressmaking is a compulsory subject, and from two to eight hours a week are devoted to “cutting out.”
In wandering through the forest cantons, one may find the distinctive dress now and then, though even in the more conservative of the cantons, such as Unterwald and Schwyz, it is not often that a glimpse is obtained of the cantonal costume, except for the head-dress of the women. Generally speaking, the girls wear short skirts and elaborate bodices. The mountain maid of the Bavarian Tyrol still treasures her “tracht,” the national dress for gala occasions, and more particularly her wedding-day; but in Switzerland the traditional costume is worn by few but waitresses and itinerant musicians. In certain districts, when engaged in agricultural work, women wear a distinctly masculine costume, trousers included.
The present-day inhabitants of Belgium are undoubtedly a mixed Celtic and German stock. The Celtic ancestry is traceable chiefly in the Walloons, who are thought by many to have descended from the ancient Belgae; whilst the Flemings, who form the other part of the population, are as Teutonic to-day as they were many centuries ago. Thus in Belgium we still have two distinct races living side by side, though differing entirely the one from the other in blood and language, forming a single nation, and even a united one.
As regards physical differences existing between the Walloon and Flemish women, the Walloon women are not only bigger and taller, but usually present a distinct contrast to the Flemings by reason of their darker hair and pale, though often swarthy, complexions. In Lidge and Luxemburg, and in some other districts, one finds fair-haired Walloon women, but, as a general rule, they are dark, whilst the Flemings are the opposite. The women of the latter race are more actively industrious and energetic; whilst the former have better heads for business, and are also better cooks and housekeepers.
There is little, except in certain districts of the Ardennes and less-frequented parts of the country, in the now prevailing costume of the Belgian women to distinguish them from women of the same class of any large town in Eastern France, or even of Paris itself. In Antwerp, however, and in several other towns on the German and Dutch frontiers, one still sees many, of the older women more especially, wearing the deep white collars of former times, velvet bodices and “coif’’-like caps with lace wings.
Tidiness in dress and absence of cheap finery is one of their most prominent virtues. The Belgian women of the working classes might, indeed, well be held up as an example to those of our own land in this respect. They are singularly bright, cheerful and contented in disposition. Their industry and thrift cannot be gainsaid; indeed, so many of the businesses appear to be in the hands of women that it would at first sight tempt one to say that Belgium is a nation of feminine shopkeepers. Most of the “milkmen” are women, and a large proportion of “light” businesses—such as groceries, greengroceries, haberdashery, floral, and similar undertakings —are managed by women. Often, indeed, the husbands have occupations quite apart, and find that their womenfolk are capable of controlling and making good incomes in commercial undertakings of considerable size. Many of the cafes and cafe-restaurants have women, known as patronnes, as their presiding geniuses, who are often the widows or the wives of the proprietors.
In the home the Belgian woman is literally a host in herself; she is frequently a good cook, can usually make most of her own clothes, and, except in the richest families, usually does so, with or without the help of a sewing-maid or a hired sempstress. But this is with the exception of the two or three good dresses which almost every Belgian woman—save the very poorest—expects her father or husband to give her each year.
In Holland, more than any other country, women have found their earthly Paradise. There, woman’s influence and activity meet with full appreciation, and she reigns paramount over all matters which fall within her sphere. “The Daughter of the Sea,” as their country is so appropriately named, may well be proud of these her children. The Dutch woman is a citizen with the welfare of her country at heart, her husband’s trusted helpmate, and her children’s best friend.
The eleven provinces which compose the Netherlands vary very considerably in scenery, race, dialect and religion, and naturally great differences are to be noticed in the features and character of the people. The Frisian differs from the Zeelander, and both differ from the Hollander. More especially does this difference show in their womenfolk. The tall, graceful, fair-haired, blue-eyed Frisian girl in no way resembles the laughter-loving brunette of North Brabant; the vivacious petite Amsterdammer, who has the blood of the French Huguenot in her veins, is with difficulty recognised as a fellow countrywoman of the stolid, flaxen-haired, pink-cheeked, dumpy Hollander. It was of the latter that the stranger who made the following polite remark must have been thinking: “The Dutchman has no legs, his wife no waist, and his daughter no ankles.” In Zeeland, velvety brown eyes and clear dark complexions testify to the long Spanish occupation.
Throughout the land, however, we find the same simplicity of manner, the same love of gezellig (cosy, sociable) home; the wife a thrifty housekeeper and a devoted companion, trim and tidy in her person, zealously, even hypercritically, clean in her surroundings. The weekly washing of the outside of the houses with a big brass squirt amazes the tourist, more especially when he sees the servant carrying on the operation in a heavy rain shower, and holding an umbrella in one hand to keep herself dry.
In spite of her domestic capability, the Dutch woman must not be considered a mere household drudge; she invariably takes an active part in some branch of public work. She visits or nurses the sick poor, inspects and controls the cottage hospitals, free schools of needlework. etc., and is an energetic worker in one of the many philanthropic institutions which are admitted models of practical administration and efficient help.
The helmets of Friesland, the imposing caps of Brabant, the gay kerchiefs, and the voluminous petticoats of the islanders of South Holland are known all over Europe. The best opportunity for seeing a collection of national costumes is market-day in a busy town. Women from the outlying villages, little girls like walking barrel?, and boys with their full trousers and wooden sabots, mingle with the townsfolk, intent on bargains. Caps of every sort, shape and size may be seen, the wide flaps of the "cornet” caps standing out like the snow-white sails of a diminutive windmill. Caps, varying in shape according to the locality, are worn over metal head-irons (to use the old name)—close-fitting helmets of gold, silver or copper which gleam through the lace— or placed upon the tightly bound and almost hidden hair. The present Frisian head-dress is a modification of the crown or head-ring worn ten centuries ago by their ancestors. The head-dress is still worn by all classes in the Northern Province, contrary to the custom in other parts of the Netherlands. There are distinctions, of course, and the helmets vary considerably in value, but even among the peasants the gold casque is a cherished heirloom, and real lace caps are a matter of family pride. The aristocrat is distinguished by the pin with its long end coming down over the forehead, against which it fits closely. The women of the islands of South Holland pay particular attention to the knobs of their head-irons. In Zeeland a Protestant may be recognised by her round knobs; a Roman Catholic’s are square.
Of the 2,819,000 women in Holland, 80,000 are engaged in husbandry and agriculture, their average wage being one shilling a day in summer, and from eightpence to tenpence in winter. Robust-looking women may be seen towing barges, at work in the brick-fields, in the peat-beds of Drenthe, and in the Zeeland oyster-pits dressed like men. Sturdy Dutch fraus unload sugarcane at the quays, load and unload bullet-like cheeses and tubs of butter at the landing-stages, throwing them about with a fine indifference to their weight and unwieldiness. At Hoorn, women otherwise unemployed devote their energies to weeding the streets, and throughout Brabant woodcarving is a favourite occupation.
The various ceremonies attendant upon every domestic event, great and small, in Holland, are the very breath of life to the women of the country. A wedding provides occupation for leisure hours for months ahead, and a funeral means indulgence in regret, tempered by the prospect of substantial refreshment. “Eat as much as you can, my girl; you’ll get nothing more from Uncle Klaas,” is a straightforward expression of the general feeling at a peasant funeral. Cakes and drinks of different kinds figure at the birth, wedding and funeral feasts, also at the kermesses or fairs.
In Groningen, at kermesse time, it is the custom for an engaged couple to eat ellekoek together. Face to face at either end of this fancy bread, an ell long, they both begin to eat, and continue to do so without a stop until their lips meet. If either vrijer or vrijster is unable or unwilling to swallow his or her share, it is a proof that the marriage would be unsuitable. Ginger-bread, made with honey instead of treacle, figures prominently in the joen-piezl or “night sitting.” When a suitor is approved by the parents, he is invited to spend an evening alone with the daughter. The young man makes his appearance carrying a large cake, and is shown in by the expectant maiden, who watches him put the ginger-bread on a table, often without saying a word. If she is favourably disposed, the girl goes at once and puts more peat on the fire; the question thus decided, the cake is cut, and the couple proceed to discuss the future. If, however, the fire is neglected, the rejected suitor picks up his cake and retires with as good a grace as possible. In some parts of Holland the young couple are deprived of the excitement of sharing a cake. Seated at either side of the table, with a lighted candle between them, they must decide whether they really love each other before the light gives its final splutter and dies. The offer of a Gouda pipe on arrival is decidedly encouraging, but if the maiden complains of headache and takes off her cap and head-iron, the would-be lover must be gone. It may be mentioned that a long clay pipe is generally offered by the fiancée to her lover on the wedding eve.
On the whole, there is little song or dance among the Dutch country folk; the fun of the kermesse is apt to degenerate into rough horse-play, and careful mothers see that their daughters go home early when the fair is on. The art of growing old gracefully is not yet a lost art in Holland; the old ladies depicted for us by Rembrandt still remain the best portraits of their descendants of to-day.
It is necessarily difficult to generalise as to the women of Germany, since the connotation of the word “German” covers such varying types as Prussian, Saxon, Bavarian and Rhinelander. But, properly speaking, Germany divides itself into two large groupings of Swabians and Saxons, or High and Low Germans. The Saxons, the fair-skinned, flaxen-haired Germans, occupy the plains of the north, which are here and there encroached on by mountain ranges such as the Harz. The Swabians, the swarthier, dark-haired type, occupy the mountainous tracts of the south, mostly in Bavaria.
But whether Saxon or Swabian, there is no race of women more thrifty, more frugal, more hard-working than the German peasants. However poor or hard worked they may be, their own clothes are scrupulously clean and mended, their children’s stockings are darned, and their cottages clean and tidy.
Then, besides their thrift and cleanliness in their homes and persons, the way the women work! The bare-footed carrier women bent under their heavy baskets, tramping in and out from the neighbouring towns or larger villages; the workers in the fields, threshing, ploughing, yoked with the oxen, digging potatoes or harvesting, are familiar sights throughout Germany. In former years women were still more terribly overworked in the fields than they are now; they used to begin at four in the morning, and work on until nine— seventeen hours of solid work. When the family at the manor house had a half-yearly wash, the village women were called in to help, and were kept at the wash-tub from the midnight of one day to eight o’clock the next evening. In 1880 the working day was shortened, and the normal hours are now from five in the morning till seven at night, with two hours for dinner and shorter pauses for breakfast and vespers.
Among all classes in Germany the betrothal ceremony is of great importance, and among the upper classes the event is announced on silver printed notices, sent round to friends and acquaintances. Between the betrothal and the wedding, the bride and bridegroom—for they are bride and bridegroom in Germany as soon as they are betrothed—are royally entertained amongst their friends, if they both happen to be living in the same place. If, however, the bridegroom lives far away, the bride is invited to no parties, and is expected to join in no dances, but to live quietly and in retirement until he comes again. A few days before the wedding, the young friends of the bride and bridegroom portray in scenes and dialogues, composed for the occasion, all the events they know of the past lives of the two, before a large gathering of friends and relatives. Laurel-leaves and bouquets are brought in abundance to the bride, and in some districts bunches of flowers are brought by her friends and relatives on the day the Aussteuer is hung on the line for good luck’s sake. The bridal wreath of myrtle is woven by two or three of the bride’s best girl friends. The bride herself gives a bride “chocolate,” or “bean coffee,” to all her girl friends. At this function the cake of honour has a bean in it, and the girl who gets the bean in her slice is supposed to be destined for a braut herself before the year is out.
For the civil marriage the bride was in former days attired in a black silk dress, and she still wears a dark, plain costume. In the religious ceremony the bride wears the conventional white silk or satin, and white veil with a wreath of myrtle. The wedding guests wear evening dress, and no hats. A familiar sight among the peasantry is to see the braut-wagen, an open cart, in which the bride herself often sits among her furniture and wedding presents, going to the new home. The hochzeitsmahl, the feast and dance after the wedding, is a great institution among the peasantry. Dancing is, in fact, a great feature of their every gathering. Singing is also one of their forms of enjoyment, especially among the young girls of the richer peasantry, who often ramble about the fields and hills arm in arm, singing part songs that they have learnt at the village school.
According to Tacitus, the Germans esteemed something sacred and prophetic in woman, followed her counsels and exalted her as a goddess. But the stern evidence of the early laws, shows another side. Woman was treated as a household slave, bought and sold, and let and lent. Her life was given her, as it has been said, “by the capricious generosity of her father, and when her husband died she was expected to burn herself on his body as of no more use in the world.” And this, with the semi-refined moderations that necessarily came with later civilisation, has been the typical attitude of the Germans to woman. She has been the wise angel and goddess of the poem, the submissive hausfrau of real life. “German marriage,” cries Heine, “is no true marriage. The husband still goes on living his intellectually isolated life, even in the midst of his family.” In the higher and middle classes, of which Heine was then speaking, this is changing with the awakening of the women of the twentieth century, and the growth of their moral and intellectual independence. Yet even so, it is rare in Germany to find a man who has not some sneaking, if not open, sympathy with the attitude expressed in Herr Riehl’s “Die Familie” in 1854. The family, he says, is all important; the individual, if a woman, is of no importance at all. As long as a woman is working for the family all well and good, but she must not enter any profession which would make her independent of the family. Even Goethe, in spite of his spiritual insight, and in spite of ten years of intellectual companionship with Frau von Stein, had the typical German ideal for woman, that of service, self sacrifice and submission. “ Let woman learn betimes to serve,” he says, “ for by service only shall she attain to the command and authority in the house that is her due.”
The Danish woman usually stands on a high intellectual plane; as a rule, she is more the equal of man than in other civilised countries. In the course of the last twenty or thirty years she has developed with astonishing rapidity. When in 1877 the university opened its doors to women students, the other colleges in the country followed suit. It was not only in academical studies, however, that the young woman sought to advance, but in all branches of practical life she tried to obtain independent occupation. Nowadays it is considered almost reprehensible of a young girl, even if she be rich or belong to the higher circles, to have no occupation by which she can earn a living; and this not only in the higher professions, but in book-keeping or general office work. These workers have organised themselves with remarkable ability, and have formed their own unions and clubs.
Danish women, as indeed Danes generally, are of a gay and bright temperament, quick of comprehension, and with a well-developed aesthetic sense. In no other country is there such a sale for the works of belles lettres as compared with the number of the population. However, the Danes are not exactly hard working; they like to take life easily, and it would be better if the English proverb, “Time is money,” were more widely recognised.
The high school founded by the famous Bishop N. F. S. Grundtvig, exerts great influence in the country, and almost every young man or young girl has attended for one or two terms. Much as the high schools have raised the status of the rural population, they have also contributed in part to the deplorable fact that manual help on the farms is becoming more and more difficult to obtain; in many cases the daughters and sons of the wealthier peasants who are studying in towns are called home to work, most unwillingly, on the parental farms. Farm-work is much lightened nowadays by the presence of co-operative dairies, which are found in each village, and by machinery. The women, nevertheless, find plenty to do with housekeeping, cooking, and attending to the poultry, for eggs are an important article of export.
The celebrations of weddings on the large farms in many parts of the country last for two days or more. The ceremony takes place on the first day, and is followed by the great wedding dinner. The men and women—groom and bride excepted—sit apart, arranged according to rank and degree of relationship to the bridal couple. Funeral ceremonies last only one day, and are also accompanied by much eating and drinking. The coffin rests in the middle of the state room, surrounded by the nearest female relatives clad in black. Their headdresses are covered with black veils. The chief among them stands at the head of the coffin and removes the “eye-cloth” (pjenkladet) every time a fresh guest approaches.
As the old customs are gradually disappearing, so also is the national dress. Of this, originally, there were many varieties, for each district had its own. Common to all is the heavy gathered skirt of homespun wool, and the large apron of black wool or silk, with broad, flowing ribbons. The head-dress, which entirely covers the hair, is usually richly embroidered with gold, silver or linen thread, and bears long bows of coloured ribbon. The costumes are now only found in occasional use, but in most places at festivals the elder women may be seen in them. Strangely enough, most of the women in two villages quite close to the metropolis, Amager—called “the kitchen garden of Copenhagen”—and Skovshoved, a fishing village, retain them, and so dressed bring their goods to market. In the little island of Fano, in the North Sea, near Esbjerg, and in parts of the West Coast of Jutland, the women when working in the fields wear masks of black satin, to protect them from the sharp sea breeze.
In the numerous fishing villages along the Danish coast the women help the men to mend the fishing-nets, a task which involves considerable labour. They also sell the fish not suitable for export or for the great markets; they carry it in baskets on their backs, and go from house to house, often for long distances.
The Swedish woman shares her chief characteristics with other branches of the Germanic race, and her nearest relative is undoubtedly the Finn. Both Finn and Swede are honest and fair dealing, frank and loyal; perhaps rather phlegmatic in temperament, but at the same time of a lively fancy, and gifted with a great propensity for dreaming. If there is a difference between the two, it lies in the mote earnest nature of the Finn, in her more serious view of life and her deep interest in social questions; while the Swede is more refined, more highly cultured, and takes broader views of things in general.
If we compare the Swede with the women of less closely related races, we may say that while both she and the Norwegian are industrious and independent, the woman of Norway is more wide-awake mentally, and has a more breezy manner; while the Swede has more natural tact and a finer feeling of modesty. The Swede shares with the women of Germany the love of home, but not the delight in daily work; she resembles the Englishwoman in her love of the open air, though she lacks her endurance, her patriotism, and her interest in politics.
The hair of a Swedish woman is generally brown, her eyes are grey or blue, and her active love of sport gives her a fresh complexion and a well-developed figure above medium height. What she lacks in classical beauty she makes up by her temperament, which gives brilliance to her eyes, an ever-changing colour to her cheeks, and deep soft tones to her voice. To this must be added that the Swedish woman dresses well; better, indeed, than any other daughter of the Germanic race.
The Swedish woman was one of the first whose position was improved by the emancipatory movement of the last century. Fredrike B renter put an axe to the root of those prejudices which hindered the poor but educated woman from doing anything better for her living than working as a governess. The question of wages is the dark side of woman’s life in Sweden. She is paid starvation wages, and there are few instances of women receiving as good a salary as men.
Higher education for women is a reality in Sweden; at the age of eighteen or twenty a girl passes the high school examination and goes to the university. The philosophical faculty counts the greatest number of female students; then comes medicine, then law, and last of all, with very few, theology. The university course finished, girls pass on to their work in life as teachers, midwives, instructors of home “sloyd,” and so on.
Few beings are more pitiable than poor Swedish peasant women; their whole existence is children and cooking, children and mending, children and children without end; and withal not the shadow of a notion of how to care for children or household as they should. In places where home “sloyd” has begun to blossom again, there is some dawning of prosperity. Weaving or lace-making brings in a welcome addition to the pittance to be earned by agriculture. But in some places the soil is so poor that the married women have to leave their homes and children in winter under the care of the old Women, and themselves go away to richer parts to earn money, returning in spring to till and sow the land.
Sweden, by the way, is not rich in women of distinction : a few of its authors and singers are known outside the frontiers, but most enjoy, at best, a home reputation only. Such artistic ability as there is, is utilised mainly in the arts and crafts, especially the textile industries. Many women devote their lives to art embroidery, lace-making, tapestry-weaving, etc. Another field of work in which the Swedish woman stands first is gymnastics and massage.
If the married woman in Sweden is over-burdened with household duties, it is not because she has too many children, but because of the unpractical way in which she arranges her life; her spheres of interest become limited, and in social life she has a dangerous rival in the wide-awake, interesting young spinster. There is nothing more characteristic of Sweden at the present day than the growing influence of the “mam’selle.”
A free, untrammelled comradeship between the two sexes has always been a distinctive feature of Norwegian life, and this, together with the newly-won social independence and outdoor life of women, has set its mark upon the younger generation. Those who visit Christiania in winter will see a sporting life in which the young women share to an extent that is unknown in other countries. They are to be seen going out in troops, accompanied by friends and brothers, or the women by themselves, as the case may be. Two or three together, sitting on the long, sleigh-like toboggan called a kjoelke, steering with a stick, fifteen feet in length, they rush down the steep roads and round the neck-breaking curves.
But skiing is the favourite amusement; it was first introduced into the towns from the outlying districts, where skis are often necessary as a means of getting about, and it has won the chief place among winter sports. Thirty years ago it was considered a mark of eccentricity when a lady went out on skis, but now it has become a universal custom amongst the younger women in all classes of society. Many women are excellent ski-runners, and often go with their friends for a trip lasting several days to the ski-huts on the hills.
Norwegian women occupy posts in the civil life of the country which are not open to their sisters in other lands. In a local court of justice it is not uncommon to find women there as jurors chosen by the people, and doing their share of work with thoroughness. In many of the town and county councils women may be seen sitting side by side with men, and the same is the case on school boards and other municipal bodies.
The woman’s cause has advanced with great strides during the last generation. In 1901 women obtained the municipal franchise and the right of election to local boards, and on June 14th, 1907, they gained the political franchise, with the right to election as members of the Storthing (Parliament); but they have not got it on the same terms as men, who have universal franchise.
There is great variety in the national costume, which is still worn in Norway, both on weekdays and holidays. In some of the country districts of the west the bridal costumes are very beautiful indeed; they are trimmed with silk ribbons woven in colours, or in gold and silver with long chains. Other ornaments are worn round the neck and a crown upon the head.
In olden times there were numerous customs connected with courtship and marriage, of which only a few remain; but the marriage ceremonies still occupy several days, and the evenings are spent in dance and merriment. It generally happens that the bride enters upon a life of hard work, for during the last few years it has become more difficult to procure labourers to do the farm work, and the women are kept hard at it from morning till night.
As St. John’s Eve draws nigh, the mountain districts are filled with life and merriment. The cattle have to be driven up to the mountain pastures, and the girls are delighted when it falls to their lot to live at the teeters, where their voices can be heard echoing among the hills as they call the cows. Sometimes a girl is obliged to live quite alone in one of these setter huts, but she does not mind it in the least; she enjoys the mountains and the solitude. Saturday evening is a holiday for her, and she takes pride in seeing that everything is tidy and in good order; then if the right man comes, he is sure to be well received. Strangers, however, are also welcome, and treated to cream and porridge, and other good things.
Women lead a very different life on the sea-coast, among the fisher-folk, from that passed at the farms and sceters. When the herring fishing is in progress the women take their share of the work, and crowds of them may be seen standing in their yellow oilskins, cutting up herrings with a speed which is almost incredible.
Further inland, in Nordland and Finmarken, we come upon a different race of people, who are not troubled with work of this kind. These are the nomadic Laplanders, whose whole occupation consists in looking after the reindeer, and preparing all with which the deer provide them for food and clothing. During the short summer months the little Lapp women may be seen, dressed in their picturesque cloth garments, busily employed round about their tents, with their babies on their backs in small cradles manufactured out of bark.
The inhabitants of Iceland live principally by sheep rearing and fishing, and the women, as well as the men, must labour hard to gain their modest livelihood.
Life is very primitive, the houses, except in the towns —of which there are but four m the island—are built mainly of turf and wood. The rooms are constructed separately, each under its own roof, and are connected by corridors. Along the wall of the principal room are arranged the beds, which serve as seats during the day. Two individuals sleep in each bed, the men on one side of the room, the women on the other; for the head of the family and his wife a corner of the room is screened off.
The food is prepared in the apartment called the ildhuset (ild, fire; huset, house), and the women, who eat by themselves in the kitchen, serve the meals to the men in wooden bowls as they sit on their bedsteads in the badstofa. The fare is very plain, consisting of porridge or milk-soup, fish, and sometimes meat, which is nearly always dried, salted or smoked.
Cows are found on every farm, and these are milked by the women, who also make the butter and cheese. From the sheep’s milk they prepare, during the summer, the national dish, called skyr; the whey is separated from the curd and the latter stored for the winter when milk is scarce. The work of a woman is very hard in winter; she often has to fetch water for the cattle from long distances; she must assist the men with their fishing implements, and dry and mend their clothes. In the evenings and in her spare time she is busy spinning, weaving and embroidering in gold and silver; for the state-room is decorated with woven carpets, and the woman’s dress on festal occasions is richly ornamented. In distinction from the men, the women wear national costume, of which there are two separate varieties: one for every day, and one for times of festivity. The headdress is quite characteristic. It consists of a small circular piece of black cloth (formerly tightly knitted), six or eight inches in diameter, which is fastened with pins to the crown; in the centre of this is a projection of cloth, like a glove-finger, ending in a brass or silver tube, which terminates in a black silk tassel, about twelve inches long, hanging down over the ear.
Common to all Icelanders, men and women alike, is a strongly developed independent nature. They have a natural antipathy to subordination, and but little respect for authority; they are remarkably democratic, and cling to their individual rights.
The Englishwoman, it has been said, lags behind her husband, the American woman strides ahead, the Frenchwoman walks beside him. Of the American and the Frenchwoman the reflection remains true; of the Englishwoman it is becoming less true; and of the Welshwoman apparently scarcely true at all.
Taunts, that had the sting of truth some years ago, that women could not initiate, could not organise, could not hold together, now fall impotent to the ground. Not to mention the women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, the high schools for girls have revealed a wealth of private enterprise on the part of women that is the constant theme of praise. Proof also of this can be found in the ladies’ clubs; in the professions, of which, despite opposition and sometimes obloquy, they have pushed open the door; and in the many occupations which they have entered or have actually created.
As to politics, there is not an organisation in this country among men but has its keenly alert counterpart, quite as far-reaching, among women. And the militant suffrage societies, acting on the principle laid down by Coke, that Ministers only yield when goaded, have let loose explosive forces unsuspected in the women of the country, to which there are no exact parallels in history, unless it be certain episodes in the French Revolution.
But the background to all this intensity of life is the same as in the past. There is the English home; and “the comfort, the organisation and the unbroken peace of a well-managed English household are not surpassed, in some details not equalled, anywhere in the world.”
One foreign critic amongst us says the Englishwoman is a better friend of her husband than of her children; that Englishmen take themselves far more seriously than their womenfolk, who, instead of retaliating, yield a largely unsolicited loyalty, whilst the children are left far too much to the care of nurses and of schools. Max O’Rell, too, has pointed out—though the picture is almost out of date—that the woman here is to man a necessary evil, and her submission lies at the basis of the social system.; that when the Frenchwoman marries her good time begins; when an Englishwoman marries her good time, which might include flirting, ends; her function is to give des enfants, not des conseils. She knows nothing of her husband’s business; when he fails he simply says, “We must go to Australia.” “Yes, John,” she replies submissively; “just give me time to get my hat! ” On the other hand, a well-known woman worker, who is constantly moving amongst the mothers, rich and poor, of our land, declares that they are “better as mothers than as wives; they are good at making nets to catch husbands, but not cages to keep them.”
As to the unmarried woman, it is they who show what women can do in any career they seriously take up; it is they, also, who screw salaries up to a higher level. However, the bachelor woman has done much to lengthen the prime of women’s life. Formerly the maiden was “finished” at seventeen and old at thirty; now the university woman of twenty-two or twenty-three is as fresh and callow as her brother undergraduate, and as full of revolutionary ideas.
To sum up, the change in type has been most marked in, as it has certainly been pioneered by, the upper-middle or professional classes, who have had the advantage of a good secondary education, leading in many cases to the university. It is worth while emphasising this fact, because the influence of these women is spreading to the class above, and in a more organised degree to the classes below. Among the aristocracy one feels that change has been less marked. The type of high-born women to-day is not very dissimilar from the type of high-born women painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Romney. There has been less change, it may be, because less was needed.
“ Does the Scotswoman lag farther behind her husband than the Englishwoman ? ” asked the writer of a distinguished Scotsman. “No,” he replied; “she sits at his feet! ” The Scotch family, then, retains a certain patriarchal atmosphere. At the same time, the enormous share the Scotswoman has taken for ages in agriculture and in fishing, and for many years in the textile industries, has not been without influence in placing her on terms of equality with men.
Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St. Andrews, each with a character of its own, have done much to build up the professional woman as we know her to-day.
For other strong types, not newly evolved but old, one must turn to the smaller towns, to the fishing villages, to the farms. The towns wife is proud, self-respecting, exclusive, keeps herself to herself, and is reserved beyond the reserve of an Englishwoman, who, distant at the outset, will, once the barrier is removed, reveal everything. The Englishwoman, on the whole, is freer in manner with her husband, where the Scotswoman would defer to him. In dress and coiffure she is not so attractive as the Englishwoman, and though thrifty in many things like the Frenchwoman, yet, unlike her, her culinary acquisitions leave much to be desired.
The fishwife is always picturesque, with her short winsey petticoat, plaid “shawlie,” mutch, or hood cap, and her creel suspended by a broad band from the top of the head. Physically big, muscular, healthy in character, she is the soul of honour, of truthfulness, but she is unprogressive and her outlook is limited.
On the other hand, the farmer’s wife has her horizon bounded only by the ends of the earth. She is a woman of affairs. Not only does she bake, cook, wash, sew, knit, but will take a turn in the field and help stack the peat; her influence also is felt in church work, in business, and even in local government. A voracious reader of the weekly paper, she is always well informed.
The poise in English society is found in the great progressive middle class, the hyphen between the lower and upper. In Ireland there is practically no middle class. The small tradespeople approximate to the peasantry; the professional class and gentlefolk approximate to, and in many parts form, the only aristocracy.
Turning to the gentry, a word common enough in Ireland, though, like many other words and prejudices —political and religious—out of date in England, one finds their condition too characterised by poverty, which, in face of public opinion, they are unable to mitigate. A professional man, for instance, would in many cases lose as much as he gains by letting his daughters take up a career. Women are supposed to lose caste by engaging in any but certain old-fashioned, over-stocked employments, such as companion housekeeper, or invalid attendant; hence the Irish Central Bureau a year or two ago found itself unable to find ladies qualified to fill posts, the aggregate salaries of which totalled 3,000.
Yet educated Irishwomen are not without enterprise; but to find the necessary social conditions in which to exercise the quality they must leave the country. Taking the finer examples of educated women, they have, perhaps, a greater quickness of perception, a wider versatility of interest, keener love of argument, and more highly developed sense of humour than is revealed by the non-Celtic. Like the Irish climate of brilliant sunshine alternating with clouds and showers, they, too, reveal the grave and gay; for underlying their mental alertness, vivacity, conversational power, there is a strain of sensitiveness and melancholy making a sum total that is not rightly comprehended by the less imaginative and comparatively unemotional Englishwomen.
Just a supplementary note concerning the Welsh. The races of mankind, it has been said, can be divided into masculine and feminine. The Welsh then, with their delicacy of feeling, their adaptable and tractable ways, and their shy sensitiveness, are obviously feminine; and, as in other races where the feminine virtues are emphasised, the woman counts for very much. In a third-class carriage in England, crowded with working-men and their wives, the former would talk together about politics, trade, etc., whilst the latter would remain silent or would talk apart. In Wales they would all talk together on terms of equality, for women take a very ample share in the life of the country. In passing, one might remark that the Welsh are shorter than the English, although there is a tall dark variety; they have often small, beautiful hands and feet. Again, they are not clannish like the Scotch, nor aggressively nationalistic. like the English. It is characteristic that the privileges and responsibilities of the Welsh university and colleges are open to women equally with men, and it is worth mentioning that the women, like the men, discuss with keenest intellectual alertness the gravest theological, ethical and philosophical problems.
The main part of the population of Algeria and Morocco is formed of Berbers, the less important divisions of the inhabitants being comprised of Arabs, Jews, and negroes. The Berber race is essentially “white,” though in past ages it has been modified locally by Arab influences.
The divisions or clans of the Berber race alone in Algeria are very numerous. The coast tribes are known as Kabyles, together with the Riff pirates, whose depredations in the past caused them to be one of the scourges of the Mediterranean.
The costume of Berber women is simpler than that of the Arabs, and consists chiefly of a long tunic-like garment, fastened with a girdle round the waist, and a coloured shawl or cloth worn over the shoulders. The women are permitted much greater freedom than among the Arabs, and the all-enveloping veil is not worn.
The Kabyle woman occupies a far superior position in the esteem of men than a Moorish or Arab woman. She is not compelled to veil herself, nor is she prevented from mixing freely in the outer life of her people. She is treated more in the light of an equal and companion of her husband, and in most cases is the sole wife, although some few Kabyles are polygamous.
The descendants of the Arabs who conquered Algeria and Morocco in the seventh and eleventh centuries are, politically speaking, still the dominant race in the latter country as they were in the former until its occupation by the French. The dress of Arab women usually consists of a white striped shawl, called a haik, made of coarse or fine stuff, according to the social position and wealth of the wearer, which is thrown over the head, and completely veils the user from head to feet. Underneath this hoik, arranged across the lower part of the face so that it covers all but the eyes, the bridge of the nose, and a small portion of the forehead left uncovered by the haik, is worn a handkerchief of white linen, known as an adjar, which is fastened securely across the face.
In addition to the haik and adjar, Arab women out of doors wear wide, loose trousers of the “Turkish” shape. The general effect of this costume is neither picturesque nor graceful. The women present rather the appearance of animated clothes-bags, and their walk becomes a curious shuffle.
Whilst polygamy is permitted, it is not usually practised, although, as divorce is very easy, an Arab may, in the course of a long life, marry a number of women in succession. It is by no means an uncommon thing for Arabs to exchange wives, and this is stated by some authorities frequently to be done with the utmost satisfaction to all concerned!
Although closely allied to the Arabs, the Moors, who are chiefly the inhabitants of the towns in Morocco, are fairer in complexion than the sons of the desert.
The men’s costume is simple in character, but that of the women is often very elaborate. As a general rule, the latter consists of a white muslin chemise, over which is worn a jacket of coloured material elaborately embroidered in gold or silver. A pair of wide and beautifully worked trousers of green, blue or red cashmere, girded in with a handsome silken sash at the waist, where they meet the short jacket, usually completes the costume. Some women, however, add other drapery, fastened in front, and allowed to fall down behind as a train. One leg is always left uncovered, on which is worn a heavy silver anklet, and the tips of the feet are thrust into tiny slippers.
The Moorish women are inordinately fond of jewellery and ornaments. Half a dozen massive bracelets on each arm is the fewest number a well-to-do woman will wear, whilst the wealthy deck themselves with jewels, precious stones, and gold coins.
Moorish women are not only generally stout, but as girls they are fattened for the marriage market, much as a poultry farmer treats his live-stock. The staple food of women is bread, and it is chiefly with this that they are fattened. Long-shaped pellets of it are constantly forced down their throats for a period of about three weeks prior to their marriage.
Egypt is inhabited by what is commonly known as a “mixed” rather than by a “pure” race. Of the pure Egyptians, or the original inhabitants, there are two surviving types which at the present day form the more important basis of the population—the Fellahin and the Copts. They are the lineal descendants of the ancient Egyptians, in whose facial and other characteristics can be traced resemblance to the types found depicted upon the mural decorations of ancient temples and tombs. Of the two peoples we have mentioned the process of intermixture has been more strongly marked in the case of the Fellahin, who form the greater portion of the population in Lower Egypt and the rural districts of the Nile Delta. They are possessed of the distinguishing characteristics of a broad, flat forehead, large black eyes, a straight, well-formed nose and thick lips, and a rather high average height of about five feet six inches.
The dress of the women of the lower class is very simple, and frequently consists of little more than a long garment of blue cotton stuff, like a dressing-gown, confined at the waist by a girdle. The costume of the better-class women is not only more elaborate, but in some cases is rendered very handsome by a profusion of gold ornaments. The principal garment is usually a loose-fitting white robe, hanging from the shoulders to the feet, and girdled at the waist.
Most of the women and girls of the upper class darken their eyelids with antimony for the purpose of adding lustre to their eyes, and not a few ornament their bodies with tattooed designs and paint. Their hair, which is often very luxuriant, is plaited into thin “tails, some of which are dressed at the side of the head, and others are allowed to hang loosely down over the shoulders at the back. The plaits of hair are secured at the ends with silken cords, to which are attached gold coins and fringe. The women of the better class are never or seldom seen, even though closely veiled, in the public market-places, and only in the streets when so muffled up as to be quite unrecognisable.
As a general rule, marriage in Egypt is undertaken earlier than in European countries; girls marry at any age from fourteen, and boys at sixteen or seventeen. Owing to the fact that there is practically no intercourse possible between young people of opposite sexes, when a young man wishes to marry he is compelled to employ a marriage broker, who is known by the name of a khatbeh, or betrother. This woman, who is in the way of her business acquainted with many families, visits those who at the particular time happen to possess daughters of suitable age and rank still unmarried.
As for the bride-to-be, although she has a traditional right of refusal, it is seldom exercised. She has no reason for thinking the marriage unsuitable, for—unless the intended bridegroom is her cousin, and she may have known him when a small boy—she will probably never have seen him. The khatbeh is eloquent in her praises of him, and so the girl generally accepts the position without demur.
Of course, amongst the lower and labouring classes, whose daughters work in the fields, and cannot in consequence be always veiled and shut up in harim, men who wish to marry select their own wives according to their own ideas and without any intermediary.
Owing to the fact that the upper-class women in Lower Egypt, more especially of the towns, lead such secluded lives, there are few occupations of at all a public character open to or followed by women. The peasants do a considerable amount of agricultural work, but amongst the shopkeeping classes the women are conspicuous by their absence.
The Copts, the second great native division of the people, are nowadays chiefly the inhabitants of Upper Egypt. As the Copts are Christians, they have come into contact with the Arab divisions of the population to a lesser degree that the Fellahin, and remain much purer in race. In many of their customs, however, and in attire, they have become little distinguishable from Moslems, although in dress they prefer the darker colours.
The tribes treated in this chapter live in the area in Central and East Africa comprised in the British Protectorates, as well as those living south of latitude 10 degs. N., which are under the Anglo-Egyptian rule. It would be obviously impossible to give a detailed description of all the people that inhabit this vast area, so the subject will be dealt with in four groups: the women living in Uganda and Unyoro; the Masai; the Eastern tribes; and those dwelling in the White Nile regions, such as the Madi, Bari, Dinka, and Shilluk.
So far as physical nature is in question, the description of the women of Uganda and Unyoro is identical; it is only when we come to deal with their habits and customs that we shall have to differentiate them. On the whole, the women are divided into two classes: the bulk of the population on the one hand, and a small class belonging to the reigning race, the Bahima. These latter came originally from the southern part of Abyssinia, and from this stock, no doubt, sprang the reigning families—in fact, the aristocracy of Uganda.
The Bahima women can at once be distinguished: they are taller, more aristocratic-looking, and possess a peculiar grace of their own. The Uganda women are of a dark chocolate colour; their eyes are brown, they are well-proportioned; and have very good features, and in their youth are very good-looking, with small, delicately formed hands and feet.
They differ widely from the surrounding tribes, in so far as that they are never scarred. Their teeth are very good, and are neither filed, nor, as is so often seen elsewhere, are the front teeth extracted; in fact, all mutilations are absolutely forbidden by law.
Their facial expression is very animated, and they gesticulate freely in conversation. They dress their hair very neatly, but there are no elaborate coiffures such as may be seen in other parts of Africa; the hair is short and woolly, and grows uniformly over the skull. Most of the women, however, have their heads shorn; they act as their own barbers, and use small sickle-shaped razors, which are sharp on the convex side; they often use their own milk for lubrication. The ears are small, unspoiled by earrings; the skin is velvety to the touch, and the voice is melodious and rather deep in tone.
The Baganda women (Baganda is plural for Muganda) are always clothed in a respectable manner when in the streets. The national dress is called mbugu, which consists of bark taken from a species of fig. The women wear a loin-cloth and then the bark-cloth, which is fastened round the chest just below the armpits.
Skins are used to construct robes or mantles,' and are often sewn together. The people also made very good sandals, usually out of buffalo hide; these are boat-shaped, with a thong over the instep and between the great and the second toes. They are very good tanners, and contrive to get their skins as soft as our fine kid; they are proud of their skill in this art, and laugh at those who attempt to compete with them.
The Baganda women differ greatly from the men in the number of ornaments they wear; the men, as a rule, wear hardly any decorations, save perchance one or two small wire bracelets or a few little charms hung round the neck by a cord of plaited hairs from a giraffe’s tail. The women, on the other hand, are very gaily decorated. They wear numerous necklaces, bracelets, anklets and waistbands made of very fine bead-work. All these articles are extremely well made; the colours are arranged with great skill and artistic taste, and the forms are varied and unique. Some of the necklaces and bracelets are made of neatly carved wooden beads of home manufacture, and many of the women wear suspended over one shoulder or round the waist a cylindrical pocket, highly ornamented with beads; in these they carry their tobacco (for they are great smokers), coffee berries (which they chew), and various odds and ends.
As is only to be expected where polygamy prevails, women are more or less obliged to play second fiddle, especially in a place where the female population would appear to be somewhat largely in excess of the male. The numerical superiority of the women was, at the time we are considering, due to definite causes: firstly, the number of men killed in the constant tribal wars; and, secondly, the numerous women taken captive in their raids. When a woman meets a man she bends very low before him, or, if he be of high rank, will even kneel before him.
The arrangement of meals differs somewhat according to the rank of the family. In the upper classes, as a rule, the master and a few of his wives eat together, the head slaves form a different group, while the remaining wives and the children and slaves eat in their own huts. In smaller establishments the men and the women and children eat in two separate groups, whilst among the peasants, men, women and children all mess together.
The Banyoro women live just to the north of Uganda. They are rather lower in the scale of progress. Generally speaking, their surroundings are less neat and tidy than those of the Baganda women, nor are their huts and persons so clean. Also they are more downtrodden, and are treated more as slaves than is the case in Uganda. The people altogether are not of so markedly superior a type. The traveller will speedily observe that their faces are much less expressive.
One very curious custom obtains here: the fattening of wives. The king and some of his chiefs consider that obesity is beauty, and their wives are therefore compelled to subject themselves to a certain process of fattening. They are obliged to drink an immense quantity of milk, and so fat do they become that they can only crawl about on their hands and knees. These women are only allowed a handful of salt occasionally, and salt porridge made with broth twice a week.
The Banyoro women affect ornaments to a greater extent than do the Baganda. These are made of lead, iron and copper, and women often wear a series of anklets extending over two-thirds of the leg, while the arms may be covered with bracelets from wrist to elbow. Sometimes the rings are passed over a thin leather strap to keep them in position, and collar supports, much like those now used in this country, are used in connection with the necklaces.
Women in Unyoro have the monopoly of a certain power of charming which consists in bewitching vegetable or animal food with their eyes; the person who eats the bewitched substance is immediately seized with violent pains in the stomach, which continue till the charmer is found and made to spit three times on the body of the sufferer.
Many women anoint their head with a mixture of red ochre and fat. Sometimes the whole body is rubbed with a scented oil. The finger-nails are cut to a point in the middle, and the parings are carefully preserved and buried in the jungle secretly.
We will now pass on to the women of the tribes of the White Nile area. As an example of these tribes we may take the Madi, who live partly on the east of the Nile, partly on the west. Broadly speaking, they represent the Shilluk, J6r (Djour), Bongo, Acholi, Makrarka, Golo, Bari, Luri, and Umiro.
The Madi (sometimes called Moru) live in a large district about 5 degs. N. latitude. Their women are of medium height, well formed and nourished; they do not tattoo themselves, nor do they dye the hair, which is abundant, growing in spiral tufts; when it is eight or ten inches long it is shorn, but a small ring of hair is left on the crown. The women alone act as barbers. The features are good, but the custom of extracting the four upper and lower incisors does not improve the personal appearance, and also renders the speech indistinct. Until recent times no clothes at all were worn, but a string was tied round the waist, from which a bunch of leaves hung down in front and behind.
There is only one point which is noteworthy in regard to their cooking: they practise a custom1 of sprinkling some white ashes on their cooking-pots before filling them, at the same time uttering a few words, with the object of rendering the food more appetising and satisfying when cooked. Another of their peculiarities is that they set apart a hut in which to drink beer. This beer is made in large quantities from millet-seed by the women. The brew is kept in large jars, and regarded as common property. No one pays for it, but none drink it elsewhere, only in the special huts, and never at meals.
In this district the men do the heavy hoeing; the women’s work is confined to weeding, reaping the corn, winnowing and threshing in harvest. They also extract salt from ashes. Every married woman carries a curved knife stuck in the string round her waist, the handle usually being ornamented; a common form is that of a tortoise.
Women are the chief medical practitioners; the men doctors, who are never paid, deal only with wounds, accidents, and snake-bites. The women may receive one cow, two sheep, or a bundle of arrows in return for their services.
Women sometimes fight duels, and a fierce fight it is: for before setting-to the combatants put on iron bracelets with straight and curved spikes. After a few minutes’ encounter the duellists are covered with blood, and one or both may faint from loss of it. The women are very dexterous in avoiding arrows and spears, and they teach even young children to do the same.
Madi women are very skilful at weaving baskets from dhurra stalks. The pulp is removed, the stalk opened out flat, and cut into the requisite lengths. The bottom of the basket is first made, and then the sides are worked up from it, closely woven; so close is the mesh, in fact, that these baskets will hold milk. Sometimes coloured stalks are used, and patterns formed with them.
Pottery is made by women. After preparing the grey clay, it is left for a day; no wheel is used, but having formed the bottom of the jar on a board, the women work up the sides with their hands. Some shapes are very graceful; the clay is ornamented with the fish-bone pattern, and the pots are painted either black or red, or black and red. They are then placed in a hut for a day or two, next in the sun, and fired.
The Madi may not marry amongst their own friends, but usually get a wife from a neighbouring village. When a young man is ready for marriage, his father makes a tour through the neighbourhood to find a suitable bride for the lad. Having made his choice, he ties a twig of a certain tree round the girl’s wrist, usually the left, and then asks her father’s permission for her to marry his son. If the price in cows and sheep can be amicably settled, little further difficulty is likely to arise. Or if in his travels a young man sees a girl who takes his fancy, he may, if she be willing, tie the twig round her wrist, and she will then go home and tell her mother, who tells her father; he settles the price, which is then communicated to the young man’s father, and if he agrees the match is made. If the parents do not consent, the marriage is broken off, as the young people obey their parents, and runaway matches are unknown.
Polygamy is permitted, but this and divorce are both rare. The greatest number of wives allowed is four, and usually an interval of two years must elapse before a new wife is taken. Each wife has a separate hut, and the husband must apportion his time equally between his wives; if he does so the ladies generally keep on very good terms with each other. The Madi women make capital wives, and married life is apparently a very happy state among them.
The Dinka are subdivided into about four groups— the Kesh, Atwot, Gok, and Agar—and occupy the district on the west bank of the White Nile, about 7 degs. 30 mins, to 8 degs. 30 mins.
The people are tall, very tall, sometimes lanky— “stalk-like,” Schweinfurth called them. The women wear a belt round the waist, from which is suspended a short apron in front and a longer one behind them, for all the world like a swallow-tailed coat! They adorn themselves with numerous anklets, bracelets and necklaces, and a series of small earrings in each ear. They always shave their heads, but do not smear themselves with oil and ashes as the men do; oil alone is considered sufficient. The position held by Dinka women is not so satisfactory as that of the Madi. Polygamy prevails, and a man will have as many wives as he can purchase. They pay for them with cattle, and the Dinka are the greatest cattle-breeders on the White Nile.
Marriage is conducted on the same lines as in the Madi district, but there may be said to be two distinct classes of wives: those paid for in cattle and hoe-blades, and those obtained by capture, the former hold the superior place in the household, though the children of both are equal in status.
We now turn to the tribes inhabiting the East Africa Protectorate between Uganda and the Indian Ocean. Those living near the coast have been under Arab influence for hundreds of years; still the Masai, Kikuyu, Kamba and other tribes have not much altered their habits and customs until within the last ten years.
We are indebted to Mr. H. R. Tate for the greater part of what follows.
The Kikuyu people are a hardy, prolific, well-built race, dark reddish-brown in complexion; living as they do amongst the hills, their legs are much better than those of other tribes. They are hard-working, thrifty, and moral. Agriculture in this district is very well conducted, the field work being done by women.
As the women do most of the manual labour, they age early. Comparatively few cattle are kept, and are never used for food, so that the women must work hard to keep the household well fed. They have a larger variety of food than some of the tribes, as they cultivate sweet potatoes, yams, sem-sem, bananas, and sugar-cane. The only use made of the cattle is to buy wives or to settle fines with them, or to pay blood-money in case a man has committed murder or some great crime.
For clothes the women wear three garments made of skin; the married ones wear a poncho which reaches below the knees, with no sleeves, and open in front; a small apron is worn, and a half-petticoat is suspended round the waist. Before marriage they adorn themselves with innumerable bracelets, anklets, and earrings; the ears are pierced and stretched to admit large discs of wood, which greatly disfigure them. A triangular notch is also filed in the two upper incisors, while the two lower ones are frequently extracted. After the birth of the first child most of the ornaments are discarded.
Curiously enough, the women in this tribe do not make their own clothes, this duty falling to the lot of mere man. Both men and women are tattooed, the latter being the operators.
The Masai, the great warlike tribe of East Central Africa, are not unlike Europeans in facial configuration, for the nose is less depressed, and the lips are thinner than those of other tribes. The head is broader than in Bantu races, and the face has almost a Mongolian look, with slanting eyes, pointed chin, and rather prominent cheek bones. The nose is often beautifully shaped, with high bridge and delicately curved nostrils, which obey sensitively the passing feelings of the owner, quivering and dilating with pride and rage, or widening or relaxing with good humour.
Naturally large, the ears of the Masai are distorted and rendered more noteworthy by the ornaments they affect. Even small children pierce holes through the lobes of the ears and place twigs in them, till at last the lobe can contain a disc of wood some five or six inches in diameter. At times a wooden stretcher with a groove on each side is used to extend the ear. Iron chains, changed after marriage to copper-wire discs, are also suspended from the ear. The hairs of the eyebrows are pulled out, and beards are scanty or absent. The notch filed between the two upper incisors is used for spitting through, for to spit at a person is a mark of great respect and friendship, and it is reckoned an insult to wipe off the saliva 1
The men marry somewhat late in life, after their fighting days are done. Then, having bought a bride, a betrothal takes place, but the marriage is deferred till the following calving season, as a great deal of milk is considered essential to the honeymoon. During the period of “engagement” the girl lets her hair grow, and wears round her head a band covered with cowries, from which hang a number of strings forming a bridal veil. The marriage ceremony itself consists in discarding the chain earrings and substituting the copper-wire discs, shaving the head, and for the first time donning real clothes. These garments are an apron in front, and a skin suspended on the shoulders behind. The husband wears his bride’s discarded apron for a month.
South Africa—indeed, all Africa as far north as the Equator, and a considerable area beyond it—is mainly peopled by the Bantu race; so that we shall have to deal chiefly with Bantu tribes. It is popularly supposed that the African woman is a poor, degraded, downtrodden being, with no rights and no morals, subjected to constant ill-treatment, and, it is added in some cases, deserving little better. Mistaken views like this—arising, in the first instance, from imperfect or careless observation—are repeated by one writer after another, till they come to be accepted articles of belief. When native customs are taken as a whole, and looked at in their true light, it will be seen that the position of women is by no means unfavourable. The law makes no distinction between the sexes, except that, in some cases, a wrong done to a woman is more severely punished than one done to a man. Many religious ceremonies can only be performed by women, particularly among the Hereto and the Anyanja. Among the Balolo (on the Congo) women take part in the public councils of the tribe, and their influence unofficially counts for much. The mother of a chief is nearly always, and his sister very frequently, a person of great importance.
That agriculture should chiefly fall to the lot of women is the natural result of a primitive state of things, in which men are usually occupied with war or hunting. Women also do the field work where the men are in the habit of going on long trading journeys, or engaging themselves to work for Europeans at a distance; but the system is only completely carried out in warlike and pastoral peoples like the Zulu. Among agricultural tribes, such as the Bechuana and Anyanja, the men and women cultivate the fields together.
Even polygamy—that is, where the Arabs have not introduced their degrading harem slavery—cannot be said to make the lot of African women intolerable. Each wife has her recognised position, and, as a rule, their relations to each other, and of each to the children of the rest, are friendly and even affectionate.
The great Zulu race are to be found, not only in the country called Zululand, which lies north of Natal and south of St. Lucia Bay, but in the south and east of what is now the Transvaal, and through the greater part of Natal itself. The people generally known as “Cape Kaffirs” (properly Amaxosa) are very closely related to the Zulu; so probably are the Amampondo (Pondos), Abatembu (Tambookies), Pondomisi, Amabaca, and others, though some of these have a considerable proportion of Bushmen blood, having intermarried with the earlier inhabitants when they first settled in the country, between two or three hundred years ago. The genuine Bantu, especially the Zulu, are tall and well-made. The colour of their skins is brown, varying a good deal in shade, some families, or even individuals in the same family, being darker than others; but none are quite black.
Before marriage girls generally wear their woolly hair short or plaited into small tails. It is seldom seen plaited, unless by those who have been partly Europeanised. The commonest ornament is a little chaplet of beads, but sometimes beads, brass rings, etc., are strung on the hair or plaited into it. The head is frequently shaved for coolness and cleanliness. Pondo girls, however, let the hair grow, and plait or twist it (with a liberal stiffening of some greasy mixture) into long strands, which recall the coiffure of the women in ancient Egyptian paintings.
When a girl is going to be married she lets her hair grow, in preparation for the elaborate structure which marks her new status. String is woven in and out of the hair, to make a kind of basket-work crown, and, when finished, the whole is plastered over with red ochre. As the hair grows, the whole thing has to be undone and reconstructed from time to time, and gradually assumes the shape of the long spike which enables one to recognise a married woman a mile off.
Each wife has her own hut, in which her children sleep with her as long as they are small. There are separate huts assigned to the boys and girls respectively as they grow older, which they occupy till they marry and depart to homes of their own. The huts are arranged in a circle round the cattle-kraal, that sacred place forbidden to all women. They may not even, as a rule, cross the path by which the cattle leave the enclosure. No woman is supposed to have anything to do with the cattle; the milking is always done by men and boys, and even the milk-sack, which forms part of the household utensils, must not be touched by any woman unless related by blood to the owner of the kraal.
The various prohibitions which have to be observed by women (and sometimes also by men), and designated by the term hlonipa, are a very interesting subject of study. A man must never meet his mother-in-law face to face; consequently, if he comes upon her by accident, he holds up his shield before his face, or otherwise ostentatiously ignores her presence. No woman is supposed to mention the name of her father, her husband, or the head of her husband’s family. If the name means anything, or resembles a word in common use, that word must be avoided as well. Thus the women of a family whose ancestor was named Mtimkulu (“The Great Tree”) could not use the ordinary words meaning “tree” and “great,” but had to find or invent others.
Baking is an art unknown in most parts of Bantu Africa; porridge takes the place of bread where cereals are grown; where manioc is the staple food, it is often made into a kind of cake, and roasted in the ashes; and the same thing is done on the Zambesi with bananas. The Natal natives also make a kind of bread (isinkwa) out of green mealies (maize). Meat is either roasted (usually in the ashes) or boiled.
Though the women do not bake, they brew, and that pretty extensively. There are several kinds, or rather degrees, of beer, for it is all made from amabele (sorghum) and only varies in strength. It is usually more like gruel than what we understand by beer; in fact, it is very nutritious, and the people say of it that “it is both food and drink.” The best kind is of a pinky terra-cotta colour and slightly effervescent; it has a not unpleasant acid taste, and is very refreshing.
Men and women never eat together; the latter, after setting a meal before the men, either wait and eat what is left, or cook for themselves and the smaller children at some other time. It should have been mentioned, by the by, when speaking of hlonipa, that the right side of the hut as you enter is the men’s side, the left the women’s. A man’s sister is allowed to cross to the right side, but not his wife—at any rate, not during the first years of her marriage. When she is the mother of a grown-up family this restriction no longer holds. This is only one out of many rules which have to be observed by young married women.
Among the incidental occupations of women is the making of mats and baskets. Some tribes of the Zambesi consider this exclusively men’s work, while pottery is entirely the women’s affair, as is the case almost everywhere among the Bantu, except in some places where the men smoke pipes with clay bowls, which they model and bake themselves.
Professional women are not unknown among the Zulu. The prophetess (isanusi) is a person of great consideration, and the herb-doctor (inyanga yemiti) may be either a man or a woman. These practitioners often have a really extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs, handed down in their families. But they are not allowed to practise without a licence. The ordinary diviner, or witch-doctor, is not the same as the prophet or prophetess, though sometimes the two callings may be united in the same person. The diviner discovers lost property, and finds out the cause of illness by “throwing the bones” (casting lots), or by various methods of “smelling out,” which reduce themselves chiefly to a habit of observation and a faculty of putting two and two together. The “doctor” in the illustration facing page 158 is a Zulu woman, said to be of considerable standing among the Basuto, in whose country she practises. She is wearing a large collection of charms, and also, probably, though these are not conspicuous, a number of small bags containing real medicines. The string of bead-like objects hanging below the rest on her right side are the “bones” used for divining. They consist of the knuckle-bones of goats and sheep, and some other animals, with other objects, each of which has a certain meaning assigned to it; and when they are shaken up and thrown down, their relative position one to another is interpreted according to the rules which have to be learnt by everyone initiated into the profession. If the doctor can make nothing of the dice as they have fallen, there is nothing for it but to throw them again. The objects on the “doctor’s” head are the gall-bladders of goats, which have been killed for her in the course of consultation. This lady received most of her fees in cattle.
The Basuto are a branch of the Bechuana, which name includes a vast number of tribes, extending from the Drakensberg and the Orange River more or less to the Zambesi. Most of these tribes are agricultural rather than pastoral.
The Basuto, as well as most Bantu tribes of Cape Colony, have the institution of the bale (or boyale), called by the colonists “school,” for girls entering on womanhood. All those of the same age in the neighbourhood are “isolated for one month in a hut set apart for the purpose, and only the instructresses and the old women in the village are allowed access to them. At the end of the month they are daubed with white clay from head to foot and dressed in aprons of goatskin, with a coil of grass rope round the waist.” The old women are supposed to drill them in all the duties of married life. After the first month they are allowed to go about accompanied by one of the old women, and wearing a kind of veil made of bits of reed. Anyone whom they meet is bound to give them anything they may ask for. The period of seclusion lasts five or six months. The Zulu do not observe this custom, but celebrate the “coming out” of a girl as a family affair.
The Bantu are not the aboriginal tribes of South Africa. When Van Riebeek and the first Dutch settlers landed at the Cape in 1652, they found the country occupied by yellow-skinned people, with high cheekbones, oblique eyes, and woolly hair growing in separate tufts on the scalp; who wandered about with immense herds of cattle and lived in huts made of rush mats. The name of “Hottentots,” which the Dutch gave to these natives, was derived from the uncouth sounds of their language, which it was declared impossible for a white man to learn—“it was nothing but Hot and Tot.”
The Griquas, who at one time occupied what is now the Kimberley district, are Dutch, and Hottentot half castes, or at least descended from such. Further up-country we find two genuine and tolerably unmixed “Hottentot” tribes—the Kora (Korannas), and the Nama (or Namaqua). The Hottentots, as a whole, are a pastoral people, but those within the colony were deprived of their cattle and passed through a period of serfage, and at the present day most of them work for other people as herdsmen or wagon-drivers. The Nama in their original state (for many have embraced Christianity) live probably much the same way as the Cape Hottentots did in the seventeenth century. They are nomads, moving from place to place with their cattle, sheep and goats, encamping wherever they can find grass and water, and moving on when these are exhausted.
The Hill Damara are a curious people, of whom not very much is known. Till recently they have led a miserable life, enslaved and oppressed by Nama and Herero, and sometimes also by white settlers. The Herero have many points in common with the Zulu, though, again, many of their ideas and customs differ widely. Physically, they are a tall, finely built race, who often have oval faces and almost European features. They chip out a A-shaped gap between the two upper front teeth. Women and girls shave their heads, except for a tuft in the middle of the scalp, to which they fasten little strings adorned with iron beads (a favourite form of jewellery with this tribe) and similar ornaments. The rest of their costume is somewhat elaborate. Young unmarried girls wear only a belt, from which thirty or forty leather thongs, ornamented with beads, hang to the ground. Married women wear a skin apron reaching from the waist to below the knee; a skin cloak, more or less ornamented, which reaches to the ground behind; and a kind of belt or corselet (omutombe) covering the upper part of the breast, and made of ostrich egg-shell beads. In addition to this, they have the characteristic head-dress, assumed at their wedding: a sort of mitre or tiara of skin. The construction of such a hat is a work of time and patience; the three flaps are cut out of carefully prepared calf-skin, stitched in patterns, and ornamented with iron beads. No married woman is ever seen without this hat; to leave it off would be as great a breach of modesty as for a Moslem woman to go out unveiled. A sort of veil—a goat-skin, tanned so as to be very soft and pliable—is fastened in front, but is usually worn rolled up out of the way; while a number of thongs, strung with iron beads, are attached behind.
Many points in the customs of these people are exceedingly interesting. The women milk the cows, which, so far as we know, is the case with no other Bantu tribe. It is also a woman—the chief’s eldest unmarried daughter —who is the guardian of the sacred fire. This she always keeps burning in the “great wife’s” hut, and from it every morning she kindles the fire on the okuruo (or “altar”), the position of which in the kraal is shown by the accompanying diagram. The cattle kraal (b) is in the middle, all the huts being arranged round it in a circle, with their doors facing inward. The whole is surrounded by a thorn fence, with its gateway (a) facing north. The “great wife’s” hut (e) is on the east of the cattle kraal, and between them is the “altar” (d). A little to the north of the latter is the sacred tree (c). This is either an omumborombonga (botanically, Com-bretum primigenium), the tree, from which, as the Hereto believe, the human race originated, or a dry branch of the omuvapu shrub (called by the colonists the “raisin bush”), which is supposed to represent it, and is also held sacred. All round the okuruo are the skulls and horns of the oxen sacrificed on solemn occasions, and these serve as seats for the old men when they come to discuss affairs of public importance with the chief.
No strange fire may be kindled on the okuruo, and no stranger is allowed to take from it a coal to light his pipe. In the evening the chief’s daughter carries the embers back into her mother’s hut, and keeps them smouldering all night. If by any chance the fire should go out, it may only be relit by rubbing certain sacred sticks. If the kraal is removed, the family carry the fire with them.
The Ovakwanyama and Aandonga (together called by the Herero, Ovambo) live in the fertile flat country to the north-east of the Herero, near the Kunene River. They are an agricultural people, differing from the Herero in language and in many of their customs; their costume, for one thing, is much scantier. The country of the Ovambo reaches up to the Okavango River, beyond which the Barotse country begins. This country really includes other tribes besides the Barotse, who are the ruling caste. Their king, Eewanika, who asked some years ago for permission to place his people under British protection, had his sons educated in England, and himself came to London for the Coronation of King Edward VII. Like other Bantu of Central Africa, they reckon relationship in the female line, and a man’s next heir is not his own but his sister’s son, while children belong to their mother’s tribe, not to their father’s. It is in accordance with this system that the Rotse king’s sister is a person of great importance-much more so than any of his wives. She “has the right of veto on all his actions and decisions,” which is shared by only one other person—the king’s maternal uncle, officially called the Natamoyo, or “minister of mercy.”
East of the Barotse, the Babemba and Bawisa tribes need not detain us. South of these, along the course of the Zambesi, come the Batonga (Batoka) and Basenga, and, on the other side of the river, the Mashona. South of the Mashona, and in some parts scattered among them, live the Matabele (Amandebele), originally a clan of Zulu, whose head, Umziligazi (better known as Moselekatse, and called by the Boers “Salkats”), founded a kingdom of his own in the north. Another detachment of Zulu left their country about the same time under Zwangendaba; they crossed the Zambesi in 1825, and their descendants are the “Angoni” of West Nyasa-land. The name Angoni was indiscriminately applied to all the different tribes whom the Zulu conquered and incorporated with themselves; and in British Central Africa—at any rate, in the south-west part—Angoni virtually means Anyanja.
The Yao live chiefly on the eastern side of the Shire; in some districts a good deal mixed up with the Anyanja. Their old home is in the north, by the eastern side of Lake Nyasa. Yao women have a tribe mark consisting of two rows of small cuts on the temple, but this is no longer rigidly kept up. A Yao not only counts his descent through his mother, but he goes to live in his wife’s village when he marries, and hoes a garden for her parents. It is generally a Yao woman who proposes marriage.
The general scale of civilisation in Madagascar varies considerably according to the different tribes. There is as much variety in the female type as there is in that of the male. The women of the central plateau— Antimerina and Hova—resemble the Polynesians, possess regular features, small hands and feet, a light yellow skin, and are of medium height. The women of the other tribes are of a deeper colour, and present all the gradations as far as the negro type (certain tribes, the Sakalava, Bara), or the negroids (Bezanozano). They are also taller and more thickset.
Throughout the island there is a clear division of labour between the sexes. The men occupy themselves mainly with warlike matters, hunting, fishing with heavy tackle, with the construction of the framework of their dwellings, with the breaking up of their rice grounds, and with the raising and care of their cattle. The women, for their part, busy themselves with the preparation of food, the covering in of newly erected dwellings with matting and other materials, with the lighter kind of fishing, with the cultivation of rice, and, of course, with the care of young children.
Throughout the island also, excepting perhaps amongst the Bezanozano, woman is considered as a being equal to man. We do not find in Madagascar, as a rule, that subjection of woman to the man which is so characteristic of the negro country, and even prevails among more civilised peoples—to wit, Mohammedan and Christian. Thus, marriage is not a mere formality of purchase by one of the parties or the other. The bride keeps control of her belongings, and possesses the right, which is not merely theoretical, to the protection of her husband. Nevertheless, in many districts—for instance, at Majunga and at Ste. Marie—the position of woman is on a much lower scale, and this may be attributed to the influence of Mohammedanism. This may also be noticed in towns where Europeans have settled.
In the provinces the women wear the simbo, a kind of sack open at both extremities, and the akanjo, similar to the lamba worn by the men, but smaller and fitting closer round the chest. The ornamentation and the material of these garments differ according to the tribes; thus, among the Antanory, in the southern part of the island, the akanjo is made of widths of red and white spotted calico sewn together alternately. The simbo, made of reed matting, is held up round the waist by a broad ox-hide belt. In addition, a broad band of plaited grass is worn round the chest and breasts, and held in position by strings of raphia behind the back. The aesthetic taste of the Malagasy women is marked in their head-dresses, the construction of which requires many hours and the assistance of many hands. They begin by parting the hair down the centre; then they plait ten or twenty little tails on each side, commencing very tightly, and tying the ends in such a manner as to form a sort of crimp; finally, with the ends of these tresses they make round knots, varying in size according to their tribe. Generally they plaster the whole edifice with clay or beef fat, so that the hair need not be re-dressed more than once a month.
The inhabitants of the Congo form many tribes, which differ greatly in their customs. The original inhabitants of the country were probably the Pygmies, of whom some specimens were seen a few years ago in London. Few of these interesting little people are now left, and these are spread in diminutive colonies in all parts of the country. They are very simple in their habits, and have, for the most part, not yet risen above that stage of civilisation when agriculture is still unknown and when man still lives only on the product of the chase and roots and wild fruits. Their physique is slight, their height varying from four feet to four feet six inches. All other inhabitants of the Congo are invaders. Their physical characteristics divide them into two groups, the Northern, who show similarity to the real negroes, and the Southern, much more refined in features, who exhibit traces of “Hamitic” blood.
Slavery has always existed among the Congolese, but, where they have been left to themselves, the slaves are considered as the children of their owners, and are treated, as a rule, with great kindness. Where the natives have been brought into contact with Portuguese or Arabs, they have been taught to consider their wives and children as a source of wealth, easily exchanged for articles of comfort and luxury.
When a child is born the greatest interest is taken in the event by all the inhabitants of the village. Old and young women bustle round the mother; men stand outside the hut and discuss gravely with the father. Everybody compliments him, and declares that never has such a strong and fat child been seen before.
Congolese children are very playful, and it may be new to the reader to know that games are found here similar to those in England. Blind-man’s buff is in great vogue, and a form of snap-dragon is much in favour. Any round fruit will serve as a ball, and the “gombe” game is not unlike lawn-tennis.
When arriving in a village it often struck the writer that a few of the girls were more carefully dressed, oiled and painted than the others. On enquiring the reason of this from some old woman, the reply was invariably given : “ She is in love, the dear child, and of course wants to be beautiful.”
The most important form of ornamentation consists of cicatrisation, which is performed by making cuts in the skin. The wounds are prevented from healing for a time by inserting some irritant substance, and the resultant scars form a more or less artistic design. Cicatrisation differs greatly from tribe to tribe. The Bateke make parallel longitudinal cuts in their cheeks, descending in a column from the temples to the mouth; the Bayansi ornament the forehead with a single or double row of crosses, and a similar design is worked on the breasts. Several incisions of varying forms run from the throat to the abdomen passing on each side of the breasts. The Basoko cicatrise the face only. The Bapoto do the same. The Wangata have a straight column formed of parallel incisions running from the top of the forehead to the nose, and a design representing a palm-leaf on each temple; the Bangala have the same marking, only more pronounced, the central line being carried from the nose to the summit of the head. Their marks stand out in high relief, and form a kind of crest. The Sango and Sakara ladies pinch up knots of skin on their foreheads, tying them round until they become permanent. They have about five of these skin “ beads ” arranged in a perpendicular line between the nose and the forehead. Most of the women have their backs elaborately scarred.
Painting is practised nearly everywhere; the favourite pigment, a bright red, is obtained from a tree, and is called tukula, but other vegetable and mineral pigments are equally used. Mourning is, as a rule, indicated by white paint, but an exception is formed by the Ubangi women, who, on these occasions, blacken their faces, while the Bambala women paint theirs brown.
Among the Budja, Bapoto, and some other tribes no dress whatever is worn, the tattooed decoration being all that is considered necessary; and when one comes from a sojourn among them into the country of the Basoko, where a costume of one bead fastened round the waist is found, where even elderly women wear a small piece of plaited cloth nearly as big as one’s hand, or to the Sango, who find a hair from an elephant’s tail all they desire, one feels already again in the civilised world. And one must incline with respect before the rich costume of a Banza lady, which consists usually of a few leaves or a bunch of grass; but it must be mentioned that decolletage is not unknown amongst them, since on festive occasions, these ladies remove their every day costume and wear a dress consisting of a feather stuck into the hair.
Clothes made of native or imported cloth, differ considerably ; the size of the garment varies from a scrap of cloth four inches square to a piece extending from the arm-pits to the ankles; married Bakongo women even have a dress composed of three pieces, one in front, one behind, and one over the breasts. The Bangala women wear a kind of short ballet-dancer’s skirt, which is made by hanging quantities of dried palm-leaves round the hips. The Bokele women wear similar dresses, but only behind.
It may be considered the rule, that the less dress a Congolese woman wears the more ornament she requires. Thus the Budja, who wear no clothes, have, around their necks, collars of forged brass, often weighing as much as thirty pounds, and anklets almost as heavy on their feet. Bracelets are worn nearly everywhere; those of the Kasai, made of iron, are especially beautiful. The legs are also ornamented with brass circlets. Rings of iron, brass or ivory, are worn on all fingers, and often on the big toe, and the Banza women wear a ring in the nose. Many women of the “ Province Orientale ” have one side of the nose pierced and wear a button of iron or silver in the hole; while the Bubu in the Ubangi carry in their upper lip a piece of crystal two inches in length. Necklaces are made of all kinds of teeth (human included), beads, feathers, iron trinkets, wood, ivory, seeds, shells, etc.
In the lower Congo, the hair is cut short, greased with palm oil, and powdered red. The upper country headdress varies from tribe to tribe. The Bangala shave the hair in front and behind the ears, but let it remain on the occiput and on the side. The Sango women have very long locks, but they make them longer still by adding to them quantities of hair from the dead or from prisoners, or by twining them with palm-fibres painted black. The Sakara form their coiffure oi plaits literally covered with beads, these plaits are parted on the nape of the neck, and are brought to the front to form a kind of cap, or they are sometimes built up like mitres. The more complicated coiffures take many weeks to complete, but once brushed, last for a long time. Nearly every lady wears in her hair a long pin of wood or ivory, which she finds very handy to scratch with at times.
There are many marriage customs in the Congo. Polygamy is nearly universal and often practised to the furthest limits; thus, certain chiefs provide themselves with several hundred wives. One honourable exception are the Banza, who never take more than a single wife, and pride themselves on their conjugal fidelity.
The Musserongo have a complicated nuptial ceremony. Three months before the date fixed, the bride retires to a hut outside the village, where she is painted red with tukula wood. Then the bridegroom pays to the father-in-law the price of his betrothed wife. On the day of the marriage the bride, accompanied by all the young girls of the village, dancing and singing, is led to her husband’s house. The next day a great feast is given by the young husband. Amongst the Bakongo the engagement lasts for a long time, as young girls are often engaged at the tender age of four, and cannot marry before eleven or twelve years of age. This involves great expense to the bridegroom, for, whenever he visits his bride, he must take considerable presents to her parents.
The Azandd deserve to be specially mentioned. Here the chief allots wives to his people without consulting their tastes. This tribe is an instance in favour of the manage de raison, as the Azandd are peculiarly fond of their wives, and the couples brought together by the caprice of the chief are generally extremely happy, and some of the ladies show remarkable fidelity to their husbands. The husbands, too, show themselves most affectionate towards their wives, but are exceedingly jealous, and object to strangers even looking at their spouses. In consequence the women are very shy. Not so the Mangbettu, their neighbours, where husbands are only too often henpecked, and where women have great influence in the assemblies deciding the destinies of the tribe. Their right to take part in such decisions has greatly influenced their minds, and has given them a spirit of independence and authority rarely found amongst the women of the Congo.
The Pygmy ladies are bought by their husbands for three or four arrows!
The Momfu are perhaps the only tribe where it is the men’s duty to do the agricultural work; they clear the forest, plant and gather the crops, while their wives only attend to the work of the house. Wives and husbands eat from the same dish together with the children, and this people considers the woman as the equal of man; in consequence of this, they are despised by their neighbours.
The Mogwandi are nearly always monogamous because of the scarcity of women; and in order not to be left unprovided with a mate, they are wise enough, if they come across a little girl of three or four years, who promises to become pretty, to arrange to marry her on paying the price to her father. As they, too, must bring a present every time they visit their bride, it may be imagined that the possession of a daughter forms a real source of wealth to the head of the family.
The inhabitants of the Kwilu are familiar with child-marriage; any little boy may declare a little girl his future wife, and then, when she is of age, he may marry her. If she does not like him, she may refuse him, and this often happens; but in this case the man to whom she gives her preference must pay to the jilted lover, as it were, damages for breach of promise. In this country a man is not allowed to look at his mother-in-law.
A curious kind of child-marriage exists among the Batetela. When a female infant is born a man may drop an iron bracelet into the water in which she has been washed for the first time, and present the mother with a fowl; he thereby has a right to consider the child his betrothed wife. In case of twins both girls marry the same man.
In Urua, when the bride is related to the chief, the marriage is celebrated with great festivities. In the afternoon the bridegroom arrives, and, surrounded by his friends, executes a dance of an hour’s duration; then the bride is brought in on the back of some strong matron; the crowd surrounds her, and her human steed executes a wild dance without putting her down. During this dance the bride lets her body and arms hang down and swing about. When the woman who carries her can do no more, the new husband approaches and presents the bride with beads, tobacco and other trifles. These are thrown by her amongst the crowd, who shout and fight to obtain part of the plunder, as it is considered to bring them great luck. Then the bride is put on the ground and executes with her husband a fas de deux. Suddenly the husband lifts her in his arms and runs off with her to his hut.
As a rule, the social condition of women is not bad; they have to do the agricultural work and manage their household; but field-work is light in this country, where the soil is of very great fertility. An intelligent woman can easily attain to honours, and women chiefs are not uncommon. Amongst the Balunda there were always two chiefs; the King "Muata Yamvo,” arid the King’s mother, “Lukokesha,” who was almost of greater importance than the King himself. The actual Balunda Empire was founded by a woman. The Baboma are at the present time governed by a female chief, and the great Mokanda Bantu ben Msiri, King of Garenganza, is absolutely under the guidance of his wife, to whom is due the peaceful condition of the Katanga and the great friendliness shown by the inhabitants to Europeans.
Women are closely connected with funeral ceremonies, but space will only permit of passing allusions. In all cases it is the women’s duty to lament the dead, and, as a rule, the ladies of surrounding villages come to join in the chorus. Amongst many tribes the custom exists of burying the wives of a deceased husband with him. It is difficult to speak of the Sakara burial ceremonies without shocking the reader. On a bed, in an immense round grave, his head reposing in his favourite wife’s arms, the deceased lies dressed in his richest costume; round him in a circle lie the strangled corpses of his other wives, who have refused to survive their husband. The grave is surrounded by a circle of slain slaves, whose bodies will serve as a dish to the invited guests.
The Barua have a somewhat similar custom; a deep hole is dug, and the chief wife, supported on her elbows and knees, crouches there, serving as a seat to the corpse; the second wife serves as a footstool, and the other wives sit round the body; all are buried alive!
The wives of the Bena Kanioka do not submit voluntarily to this treatment, so their legs and arms are broken, to prevent their escape from the grave.
Amongst some tribes in the Lado district the widows, together with a number of slaves, are clubbed by a shouting, enthusiastic crowd. When they fall, men and women rush up to them and drive their knives in the still quivering bodies; then the victims are thrown into the grave. Similar customs prevail amongst other tribes.
The Congo women are slenderly built. During a stay of several years in the country the writer did not come across ten women who could really boast of embonpoint. They are not tall, but very well proportioned, and, as far as their figures are concerned, classical beauty is far more frequent among them than among their white sisters. Their back has a graceful “fall,” their ankles and wrists are neat; their feet and hands are in proportion; most ladies’ gloves made in Europe would be too large for them, and Cinderella’s shoe alone might fit their tiny feet, Less pleasing are their racial characteristics exhibited by the head and features. The scalp is covered with woolly hair, which, as a rule, is abundant. The chin is weak, but no more beautiful eyes exist than those of a negro girl— great, bright, almond-shaped eyes shaded by marvellously long eyelashes. In contradistinction to the pure negro, the Congo inhabitants often have normal lips; their noses are frequently slender and not uncommonly aquiline in shape. Their teeth are like so many pearls, but, unhappily, they are often deformed by filing. Their language is soft, melodious and very picturesque.
The preparation of food is a duty which devolves on the women, and the greatest cleanliness is found everywhere. The chief food is a kind of paste made with manioc flour boiled in water. This is stirred with a wooden spoon, and the housewife never touches it with her hands in preparing it and in dishing it up. The preparation of this flour, which is pounded in big mortars, is one of the most important occupations of woman; and the preparation of palm oil is also part of her work. All women work, but in some tribes the favourite wife may be an exception for a short time. The food is the same as for man; but in some tribes certain dishes are not permitted to women. The Bambala women are not allowed to eat goats or game, the Bayaka women are forbidden to eat fowls or eggs. On the other hand, Bahuana women are allowed to eat frogs, but the men may not do so; and among the Marungu, women alone are allowed to eat mulberries. The principal food is manioc bread, but amongst other dainties appreciated by Congo people are locusts, crickets, all kinds of caterpillars and white ants.
Woman’s greatest pleasure lies in singing and dancing, and the time of new moon is considered the right season for these amusements. The Congo woman’s voice resembles that of a child and has no great compass. Many women smoke tobacco and take snuff; in the Bena Lulua tribes they smoke hemp, the effects of which are very intoxicating and highly injurious to the health, but the process forms a part of the religious ceremonies of these tribes.
To depict or describe any considerable proportion of the swarming peoples of the Western Coast of Africa would be a gigantic task; but a survey of woman’s life at half-a-dozen different points will be generally intelligible.
If we start from St. Louis in Senegal, and proceed along the coast, we find first the Wolof, then a number of tribes, Bullom, Bissagos, Felup, Serer, Timni, to beyond Sherbro Island; then for a short distance on the coast the Mandingo; there, too, are the Mendi, the Gora and the Vai, and other Mohammedanised peoples, who are characterised by ample clothing. Beyond them are the Kru, famous as the boatmen of West Africa. Lovers of strong drink, with the Grebo and other of their neighbours, they are characterised by an almost complete absence of clothing; the costume of a Kru maiden is often no more than a string of beads with a tiny bead-work square of leather or cloth in front. Between the Kru and the Mandingo of the backlands come the Kpwesi, of whom little is known; and intermingled with the Mandingo are the important Fula people.
As regards looks, a question which naturally claims the first place when we are dealing with women, the Mandingo, perhaps, take the first place; but the charms of the Vai, both in manner and person, have been sung by many writers. The colour of the skin varies widely. It may be golden-yellow in some Mandingo, Kpwesi and Vai; and at the other extreme we find the deep black of some of the Kru. The Gora and others tend to be deep brown in colour. The hair is usually abundant, and Susu women, belonging to the Mandingo stock in East Sierra Leone, have a shock which is quite Papuan in character. The Kru women are less good-looking; they may have comely figures, but, whatever native beaux may think of them, more often present a misshapen appearance to European eyes, owing to a too luxuriant development. The Gora women have rather a Sudanese type of face, with broad cheek bones and rather prominent jaw, which makes them less good-looking than the men; but the Kpwesi are described as well-proportioned, even graceful.
The styles of hair-dressing are countless; often a handkerchief is worn, and then, of course, the hair is short. It may be adorned, as with the Vai, by silver bangles. The Susu woman combs her hair out; and the Gbandi woman has a ridge of hair, bound near the base. In the Sherbro district, where the coiffure once made up has to last for some time, the help of a friend is secured. In its finished form the hair runs in ridges from back to front upon a foundation of soft material; a silver or cane skewer is often passed through the mass, which, as time goes on, is called into more and more frequent use.
In the way of personal adornment we find both cicatrices and tattoo proper in vogue. Another favourite form of adornment is to daub the body with white or coloured clay mixed with animal fat, or with stripes of indigo. A Kru woman, in putting on her gala costume, will not fail to smear her face with brown clay, and draw a circle of white kaolin round each eye. In the matter of clothing proper, we find that the Mandingo women are usually naked to the waist, but from this point cloths of great length and breadth are wound several times round the body.
Weaving is generally looked upon as women’s work, but, African fashion, it falls to the lot of the men among the Mandingo, though the carding and spinning are done by women. The manufacture of pottery is almost always the work of women. The implements are simple, for the wheel is unknown. In the Sherbro district the woman seats herself before a wet slab of wood on which she puts a lump of clay; her tools are her hands, supplemented by a couple of palm-canes and a supply of water; but a few minutes suffice for her to turn out the finished bowl.
The most important event in a woman’s life is in most tribes her initiation. Before that time she has little to do save, perhaps, to look after the younger children; but as she goes to the “bush school ’’ at the age of eight or nine, this is hardly surprising. If she has already been betrothed—a matter of money payment, £3 or so among the Mendi—her fiancé bears the cost of her education till she is of marriageable age. As an example of the customs connected with these schools, we may take the practices of the Mendi, with whom the training serves as an introduction to the Bundu, or women’s secret society. The girls are under the control of elderly women; as a rule their costume is very scanty, and is composed of ropes of bugle beads (Piso) made of cane. On the top of their high coiffure they wear seeds as large as grapes; a leopard s tooth indicates that they are free-born, not slaves. They wander freely about under the guardianship of their duennas, for few men care to incur the wrath of the Bundu society. Their dancing costume consists of a net covering the body, short knickers of cotton cloth, and bunches of palm-fibre hanging from armlets of the same material. To their dress are attached fragments of iron, and as they move these give out a melodious sound. The music of the dance is provided by the sehgura, a woman’s instrument. It is a gourd covered with a loosely-fitting cotton net, strung with hard split seeds; the long loose ends of the cotton are gathered over the bulbous end of the gourd and held in the left hand; the right hand holds the narrow neck. To produce the sound the gourd is shaken, and the cords alternately loosened and drawn taut, so that the seeds strike the shell. Mention must be made of the Bundu devil—a woman magician, whose function it is, among other things, to see that no man interferes with the Bundu girls. Everyone has heard of Mumbo-Jumbo, the masked figure of the men’s society upon whom no woman may look and live; the Bundu devil is his female counterpart, though the sight of her is not fatal to the fortunate male. She is a strange figure; no part of her body is visible; cloth covers her arms and legs, and the ends are sewn up, lest haply a finger-tip should be seen. In each hand she holds, of course through the cloth, a bunch of twigs which plays an important part when a malefactor has to be sought out. Her dress is of long shaggy fibre, dyed black, and over her face is a mask, grotesquely carved. If a man has been so rash as to put himself within reach of Bundu law, this strange figure sets forth and points at the man; when she has found him, with her twigs, he dare not refuse to follow, and when he appears before the chief he will have to pay a heavy fine.
Polygamy is the natural state of things, though, of course, not all men can afford two legitimate wives; for an ordinary bride-price is a cow, a couple of slaves, or their equivalent in goods, and twenty pieces of kola nut. But a big chief may have a hundred wives or even two hundred, especially if he is the head of the tribe.
When we leave the Mandingo tribes, among whom, in the broadest sense, the Kru may be included, we come to the populations of the Ivory and Gold Coasts, Ashanti, Togo, and Dahomey, to the Yoruba, Bini, and other Nigerians, and to the peoples of the Cross River. Then we pass into German territory in Kamerun, where a Bantu population prevails.
The Tshi-speaking peoples of Ashanti and the Gold Coast are forest-dwellers and cultivators. The Ashanti woman is hard-worked but not a mere slave. Bonnat says that she is regarded as man’s equal; a chief’s wife acts as his representative in his absence. The queen-mother is the regent during her son’s minority, and in after life remains one of his chief counsellors. She is the guardian of the royal treasure left by the preceding sovereign, and only gives up the charge of it when the new king has sufficiently proved his wisdom. The woman of the Gold Coast is often a trader; in Soku market she sits on a little stool or mat with her goods in large baskets or small grass sacks. The young women of the Gold Coast have, of course, to undergo various initiation ceremonies. The caps and other ornaments worn by these women in honour of the “fetish” Otufo, consist of Gold Coast silver and valuable beads; it is said that the market value of the dress of each girl is at least £200.
The Mamprusi of the Gambaga country have a unique wedding custom. Unmarried girls wear little or nothing in the street, and, perhaps, it is just as Well, for when they get married, an important part of the ceremony is to bathe them in public. On the eve of the wedding, in two pots, six gallons of water are boiled with herbs, and during the process drums are beaten, and continual watch is kept. At noon on the auspicious day, a bath is made ready in a public place, with the water, which has been kept boiling; cold water and native perfumes are added, and the bride is bathed for five hours or more, while kola-nut and cowries are distributed to the guests and musicians. Then the bride is covered all over with perforated native cloth and conducted home, to be led at midnight to the house of her husband, who has also undergone ablutions—though not in public. Unmarried girls may not cover the head, and it is a sign of the estate of marriage when a woman wears a cloth upon her head falling down over her back.
Beyond the Ga-speaking peoples come the Ewe-speaking peoples, whose district embraces the old kingdom of Dahomey, where, contrary to the usual practice, the king’s eldest son was his heir; for the ordinary rule of succession is that a man is succeeded by his sister’s son. Strangely enough, this exceptional practice was associated with an extensive system of women officials and warriors; for while the officers of the kingdom were male, those of the palace were female, and within their own domain took precedence of the men, perhaps because they were in name, the king’s wives. By a quaint turn of phrase the female officials were the “mothers” of the male officials, and there was an “English” mother for the benefit of English visitors.
But the most characteristic feature of Dahomey, in the not very far distant days of the old regime, was the corps of Amazons, also known by the titles of the “king’s wives,” and “our mothers.” Their origin did not go back to a very remote period, for they seem to have been enrolled for the first time in 172g and for nearly a century consisted mainly of criminals—that is, women detected in adultery, together with termagants and scolds. Early in the nineteenth century the force was put on a new footing, every head of a family being ordered to send his daughters for inspection. The negro woman is inured to labour, and in Dahomey especially was, and perhaps is, physically superior to the male; for Burton tells us that the women were generally tall, muscular and broad, while the men were smooth, round-limbed, and effeminate looking.
The Amazons were sworn to celibacy, though the king had the privilege of taking any of them to wife. In peace time one of their duties was to escort the king’s wives when they went to fetch water, and a bell was rung before them as a signal for all men to leave the road. In war they are said to have displayed the most ferocious courage, disregarding danger, wounds and death itself, and one of their chief aims was to carry off trophies in the shape of heads and jaw-bones.
In many parts of West Africa, tribes may be classified into people of the land, and people of the water. In Nigeria, the home of the Yoruba-speaking peoples, we may take the Jekri and Ijo as representative of the latter; the Yoruba proper and the Bini as examples of the former. The Jekri woman is a “water-dog”; she goes up river in her canoe, paddling on alternate sides, when she is alone, to bring food down to the settlements, for she does not plant. She is clean and comely; she wears a shoulder-cloth of red, blue or yellow European stuff, with bracelets of silver or brass. The Ijo women are like the Jekri women; their husbands make for them the canoes which they need in their trade in smoked fish, captured with hook and line, traps or spears. As becomes a people who live by the water their huts are built on piles.
The Yoruba women, on the other hand, are “land-rats.” They, too, are great traders; they do no planting, but travel daily from town to market, starting at five a.m. Bargaining goes on till about eleven, and then they make their own purchases and set out on their homeward way, often with sixty pounds of load and the indispensable baby. The Yoruba woman is of slender build; she has good taste in dress, and wears mainly dark-hued raiment.
The Bini woman wears fewer clothes, as a rule, often only a loin-cloth. Her chief ornament is coral. Unlike the women of the west, the fair sex in Benin undertake the weaving as well as the carding. They also dye their goods with indigo and other colouring stuffs.
North of the Yoruba and Bini peoples, live the Hausa. The population numbers at least 15,000,000, and of these the majority are slaves; in Kano, the chief town, the highest price is paid for a girl of fourteen—from £7 to £10. In this connection it may be noted that a free man may not marry a slave.
Some of the Cross River women are, according to Mr. Partridge, more than passably good-looking. It is curious to learn that the native standard of beauty demands a coal-black skin and a long neck. As so often happens, dress among some of these peoples is ornamental, at least in their eyes, rather than useful. The women of the Igbo-Amaban wear no clothing in front, but adorn themselves with a tail.
In Kamerun, the distinction is not so much between water and land people, as between the dwellers in the forest and in the grass country. In this area, dress is mainly decorative; the women of some tribes wear nothing till the first child is born, or only a thin string of beads; then a four-inch grass apron is donned before and behind with a fan-like extension of bamboo, like a peacock’s tail. At the present day, however, empty cartridge cases and sardine tins are in great demand as articles of female adornment.
The field-work, as usual, falls to the lot of the women. Sometimes the husband goes too, when the clearing is distant, for in Kamerun they tell how the chimpanzee is enamoured of women-kind, and carries them off to be his wives. Sometimes the husband will carry the child home himself, his spear in the other hand, and an umbrella as a protection if it is raining.
In the Grass country, woman occupies a high position. The mother of the chief is a member of his council and he has a great respect for her; his chief wife may also aid in its deliberations. The husband, however, is the head of the house. Polygamy exists in practice, if not in name —a man gets his wife by agreement, by betrothal or by purchase; but with her he has a number of concubines, who enjoy no rights, from the slave caste.
On both sides of the mouth of the Congo there is a tribe known as the Mucilongo, or Musserongo; they are the water people of the district, while the Kabinda, Kakongo and Loango people are the land folk.
A great industry is that of dyeing. The Mucilongo women dye all their clothes a kind of dull red, which contrasts very well with their ornaments, which are usually of silver. Leg-rings made of English shillings by the native blacksmith are given by men to their favourite wives and daughters; these are called kwini bota (queenly good) from the head of Queen Victoria stamped upon the first that came into their hands.
All women know the use of herbs in medicine, and occasionally a woman is found acting as doctor in more serious cases such as bites of scorpion, etc. The surgeons are always men. At death the woman is buried simply; she is not wrapped up and smoked like a man.
The Angola women are great wanderers, and when they leave their native land they retain their commercial instincts ; in fact, they form the petty traders of all the districts where they are found. Loanda, being the capital, the women look down on the people among whom they go, and the fact that they are baptised and have some white blood in them, adds to their prestige.
Here, as almost everywhere in the south, the height of good fortune is to bear sons—wives often leave their husbands altogether if they have daughters only. In their dances, when a woman may wish to deride another, in the accompanying song a line is introduced, “So and so has no children, and never will get any.” The insult is felt so keenly that it is not uncommon for the victim to rush away and to commit suicide.
By many travellers, especially those of early days, the South American Indian woman was represented as an inferior being, a slave of her husband, degraded to the position of a soulless beast of burden. Such descriptions are based on superficial observations. The traveller, however, who looks on the Indian as a fellow man soon gets glimpses into the family life of the native, and learns how great is the part played in it by woman; she enjoys respect both as wife and mother; she is the equal of her husband, and in diligence and artistic skill perhaps even his superior.
When the time comes for the girl to put off childish things and take her position as a member of the community with full rights, she has sometimes to undergo a severe probation with rites and ceremonies which differ according to the various tribes. But the girl who has “come out ” does not enjoy her liberty long; children are betrothed quite in infancy, the maiden becomes a wife in some cases as soon as her ordeal is at an end. But sometimes the future husband has to give to the girl’s parents proofs of his capacity to support a family. The test of the bridegroom takes various forms; the Uacarras of the Uaupes require the man to submit to a trial of skill with a bow, and if he does not show himself to be a good marksman, the girl refuses him on the ground that he will not be able to shoot fish and game enough for the family. Among the more primitive Mura, all the girls’ lovers assemble, and the one who comes out “ top dog ” in a game of fisticuffs carries off the girl. Among the Yahgans of Tierra del Fuego, the man lives with his wife’s parents, and serves them till he has made a boat and earned the right to run a separate establishment. In many cases the bride is simply bought. The Goajiro father fixes a price, usually in cattle, and, this paid, the girl is a wife and must supply her husband with food and clothing. Among the tribes of British Guiana the payment consists of axes, knives, cloth, etc., or the father may hand over the girl in return for services rendered, and the husband removes to his father-in-law’s hut with all his possessions.
Polygamy is comparatively infrequent in South America, and often is the privilege of the chief alone.
The custom of the Kobeua requires that a second wife may be taken only if the first gives her assent. The Caraya have, as a rule, only one wife, but sometimes a man is compelled to take a second when the first gets old. This is due to the peculiar custom according to which young men marry old women and vice versa. The Warrau and other British Guiana tribes permit polygamy, and every man takes as many wives as he thinks necessary to take care of him.
Im Thum writes of the Guiana Indians: “Woman’s work may seem to us heavy, but it is, for the Indian, part of the natural order of things. The man’s work of hunting and clearing is no less heavy, though more irregular. Moreover, the physical strength of the two sexes is about equal, and it is by no means certain that the average man would be the master of an average woman in a fight.” Musters, who lived long in the midst of the Tehuelche, praises, as one of the finest traits in their character, their love of wife and children; husband and wife never quarrel, wives were never struck, and the real sorrow with which the loss of one was mourned had nothing civilised about it, for the widower destroyed all his property and burnt everything he possessed.
Important as is the role of woman as spouse and counsellor of her husband, she is even more important as mother of his children, for that is her natural province, and she alone has the care and education of the children. Even before the little stranger puts in an appearance, its parents are concerned for its health. Spix and Martius found the diet of parents before the birth of a child strictly regulated in some Brazilian tribes. Both abstain from the meat of certain animals for a time, and live chiefly on fruits and fish. Amongst the Mauhe, pregnancy involves a considerable amount of fasting for both husband and wife, who live only on fungi, ants and guarana. The purpose of this abstinence is to prevent the bad qualities of the various animals from being imparted to the child through their persons.
A month before birth a Kobeua woman eats all kinds of birds and fish, save the silurus pirarara, enjoyment of which would entail many ill consequences. All four-footed animals are forbidden to her.
One of the most singular usages, reported by the earliest authors, is the so-called couvade. This custom demands that the mother shall resume her household duties as soon as the child is born, whereas the husband must lie up and allow himself to be coddled. Im Thum found this remarkable custom among the Indians of Guiana. A few hours after the birth the mother gets up, washes the child and herself in a neighbouring stream, and takes up her ordinary work, while her husband lies for days, and perhaps weeks, in his hammock. He may eat only a decoction of manioc meal, he may not smoke, and may not wash; he may touch no weapons, and enjoys the services of all the women in the village as nurses. Any infringement of these rules is held to cause the death or lifelong illness of the child. If, for example, the father eats capivara meat, the child’s teeth will grow like those of the animal and be prominent. If he eats the meat of a spotted animal, the child’s skin will be spotted.
There are very youthful grandmothers among the Indians; many marry at ten or twelve, and are grandmothers at an age when the European girl is thinking of marrying. Though girls are strong and healthy enough in north-west Brazil, good looks can hardly be reckoned among their advantages. But in other parts of South America the graces of the maidens are sung by many travellers. The women of British Guiana are noted for their beauty, the symmetry of their figures, the sturdy swell of their limbs, and their charms of face; but those who sing their praises lament that they grow old too soon. At the age of twenty their bloom has disappeared, symmetry of limb and body is gone, elasticity of step has been replaced by. a suggestion of effort; finally, the rounded beauty of the body is replaced by horrible and unsightly accumulations of fat. Other women get thin as their families grow large; their bones stand out, and some of the old women are regular witches with bleary eyes.
We have shown how high woman in most tribes stands as wife and mother. We have now to show her economic importance, for she has upon her shoulders the whole care of the household, and—especially in the tropics—tends the manioc, which forms the chief article of food. Before marriage the husband has cleared a considerable piece of ground, cut down the trees and let them lie to dry in the sun. When they are burnt, the fruitful soil is still more enriched by the ashes. This done, the man’s share of the work is at an end; all else is the task of his wife. The planting season is determined by certain constellations. Manioc cuttings, usually short stems with two or three nodes, are stuck slanting into the earth and are left to themselves, for in these fortunate climes nature’s operations are subject to no irregularities. Harvest and preparation of the roots make greater claims on the endurance of the woman.
No time is lost in preparing the supplies, for they do not keep. The manioc roots, which are dug for daily use as they are ripe, are peeled and ground on concave boards set with pointed splinters of stone in elegant patterns. Holding the board in her lap, the woman sits and exhales her breath with a hissing sound through her teeth in time to her work. The white mass of manioc, which resembles mashed potatoes, is then freed of its poisonous sap by kneading on a sieve that stands on a triangular frame, or in a basket-work funnel of cane strips, which hangs from a projecting beam; sometimes it is weighted at the bottom; sometimes a beam, on which half the family sits, effects the work of removing the sap, which runs into a clay dish below. This done, the meal is freed of lumps and spread on the baking hearth, used in common by all the inhabitants of the “long house,” and situated in it or in a shed where the women spend most of the day; here the meal is completely dried and baked into flat cakes. By another and somewhat longer process, manioc meal is converted into tapioca. Many kinds of drinks are also prepared from manioc meal; mixed with cold water it furnishes a refreshing beverage in the heat of the day, while from it is also made a kind of light beer, known in the west as chicha, and in the east as kashiri, a favourite drink, always to the fore at festivals or friendly visits.
As the wife presides over the house, it is natural she should be skilled in making household goods. All over South America pottery is made by women, and, save amongst the nomadic Maku, the artistic standard is high, though the means are simple. The material is a fine blue clay found in small deposits on river banks. It is not washed, but carefully kneaded and freed from hard lumps, and ash from the caraipe tree is added to give it firmness. The worker squats, and, with open hands upon a mat, makes long rolls of clay, and with them builds up the vessel in spirals. With the left hand she then presses the rolls together, and with her nails, or a small piece of wood, she effaces the hollows, and finally smooths the vessel with a shiny pebble. After being dried in the sun for some days the pot is burned. The greatest variety of form, size and style is found in Indian pots; manioc vessels vary in size from giants of thirty inches diameter to tiny children’s plates. There are pots quite classical in style, and others in the shape of animals.
As a rule, woman does the weaving, spinning and the like, but to this there are some exceptions. In British Guiana women prepare hammocks for sale, do the beadwork which forms their only dress, spin cotton, or make little hammocks for their children. But among the Uaupes tribes hammocks are made from palm-fibre by both sexes; and the male sex undertakes the manufacture of all baskets, with their regular red and black patterns, and even the sieves and tubes for the preparation of manioc are their work. Both sexes wear knee-bands of curaua fibre, and these are woven by the women who produce the same patterns as in the bead aprons and on their pots. It may be said, on the whole, that woman is in no way inferior to man in artistic gifts.
One opportunity of displaying this is seen when they are called upon to paint the men for a dance festival with dark blue genipa, which they do with great skill and speed. Among the Yuri the women paint the whole family every morning; while in the Macusi and other Guiana tribes the women seem to take to painting other objects too. If a man has finished a weapon, he hands it over to his wife for her to add an intricate pattern, which she does without any design before her. The Taruma told Schomburgk that some sculptures on the rocks near had been done long, long ago by women.
This brings us to the question of women’s dress and ornaments. Dress is usually reduced to a minimum. In most of the primitive tribes woman is quite unclothed. The further one goes up the Uaupes the less the clothing seen. Among the Apiaka, on the Upper Tapajoz, where the men have European dress like the whites whom they serve, woman is in the state of Eve when she lived in Paradise. When a small covering is worn, as amongst the Bakairi and other Xingu tribes, it is intended as a protection against insects, not as a covering demanded by modesty. Long glossy black hair, combed and oiled every day, is in many tribes an envied possession. Tehuelche girls wear their hair in two plaits; it is coarse and hardly so long as that of the men, but on festive occasions they supplement it artificially, probably with horsehair decorated with blue beads. The ends are adorned with silver ornaments.
As we have seen, face-painting is a favourite occupation. On ordinary days the colour is red and no patterns are used, but for a festival the whole body is covered with patterns in genipa juice. For a dance a woman’s adornment is far simpler than a man’s, and is limited to a tasteful bead apron. The lobe of the ear is usually bored, and oval pieces of wood, cane, or even European earrings are worn. In the under lips is a disc, or, as among the Caribs of British Guiana, a needle, point outwards, is passed through it. Some tribes pierce the septum of the nose, and pass through it a piece of cane, bird’s bone, or, on festive occasions, a coloured feather. The tattooing of the face is often an important process, produced with a palm prickle and genipa juice. In British Guiana the Warrau and Acawoi pull out their eyebrows and tattoo the places, as well as the corner of the mouth, with curved lines, which give them a characteristic and not uninteresting appearance.
As regards meals, the first is at daybreak, in the “long houses” on the Isana and Uaupes, immediately after the morning bath. All the married women bring flat baskets, with flat manioc cakes and a pot with a very peppery dish of fish, and put them in the middle of the house. The men squat round it in a circle, and fall to on the warmed-up fragments of yesterday. The meal over, the women hand round big bowls of manioc drink, and, last of all, calabashes for washing of hands and mouth. Not till the men have gone do the women sit down. A second important meal is taken shortly before sunset. Among the Guiana tribes, too, men and women eat apart, and the latter get only the crumbs of the feast; but they know how to look after “number one,” and keep a heap of little pots filled with dainties stowed away in every corner of the hut, and these provide them with a hearty meal when the males have withdrawn.
The North American continent, until it was wakened up and rehabilitated by the white races, was not favourable to women. There are several reasons for this fact. It had not one animal yielding milk to help the mother in weaning her babe. It had only the dog for pack and draught beast, so the woman was also a beast of burden. There were maize, beans and the squash family in the east, and abundance of nuts in the west. The preparation of these for food all increased woman’s weight of cares, and were not specially helpful with children. The advent of the white man brought radical changes into the life of the native, and many customs and beliefs are rapidly fading into disuse—in fact, have disappeared over large areas. Still they are typical of the life of the people, and so cannot be passed over without mention.
Twenty-three linguistic families were spread about the tropical North American region: (1) Arawakan (Great Antilles), (2) Carribbean (Carribbean Sea), (3) Chiapanecan (Chiapas), (4) Chibchan (Costa Rica), (5) Chinantecan (Oaxaca), (6) Cunan (Panama), (7) Doraskean (Panama), (8) Huavean (Tehuantepec), (9) Leucan (Guatemala, Honduras, San Salvador, Nicaragua), (10) Matagalpan (Nicaragua), (11) Mayan (Guatemala), (12) Nahuatlan (general), (13) Otomian (Central Mexico), (14) Payan (Honduras), (15) Negrandaro (Nicaragua), (16) Tarascan (Michoacan), (17) Chontalan (Oaxaca), (18) Totonacan (Vera Cruz and Puebla), (19) Ulvan (Nicaragua), (20) Xicaquean (Honduras), (21) Xincan (Guatemala), (22) Zapotec-Mixtecan (Oaxaca), (23) Zoquean (Tabasco). Of these, some are extinct, others have dwindled; and the picture presented in the following pages is often rather of what was than of what is.
The different effects of varied environments within a narrow compass are shown here in the appearance of the women generally. One people show woman delicate in form and graceful, with handsome features. The Zapotec women, “though of small stature and bizarre in their carriage, are truly graceful and seductive.” Other tribes are spoken of as remarkably ugly. The Aztec and the Maya women are not alike in appearance, and their artists note the fact. In this environment was on exhibition the whole range of woman’s share in American culture. The great variety of surface, soil and climate, for her physical, industrial, intellectual and moral uplifting or degradation, had as its fruit a wide range of cultural results. In the best associations of conditions were the Aztec and Maya groups, and the worst products were dwellers in caves—types of lowest savagery. The very first question in culture is that of food. Where there was abundance of food, in sufficient variety and of good quality there was progress; but everywhere in the Isthmian portion the lack of good meat told on the stature and, it is feared, encouraged cannibalism.
Quite universal as food are the tortillas or corn-cakes. The tough outer skin is removed by soaking the grains of maize for a night in weak lime-water. The product is then mashed or ground on a metate. From the paste the tortilla is formed by patting it into a thin cake and cooking it on a slab or in an earthen pan. The tortilla is eaten with boiled beans and a mixture of chile and fat.
The most far-reaching of woman’s industries in New Mexico are associated with maize. Mrs. Nuttall calls attention to its cultivation in the valley from remote antiquity. The name taxcalla means “bread,” and its hieroglyphic symbol is two hands holding a tortilla or maize cake. This plant has not been identified with any native grass, and the development must have been slow. It is interesting to reflect that (as clearly shown by ceremonial usages which existed throughout the continent and survive among the Pueblo Indians) it is to the fostering care, forethought and labour of countless generations of women, the “Corn Maidens and Mothers,” that America owes the priceless legacy of a food plant which has already sustained untold millions of lives.
In this area, going southward, one encounters for the first time intoxicating beverages. Fermentation and some say, primitive distillation, appear in this environment. An intoxicating drink was made from the fruit of the nopal or prickly pear (opuntia), which was first peeled and pressed. The juice was then passed through straw sieves and placed by a fire, or in the sun, where it fermented.
From the varied environment, dress differs greatly. Children in Tehuantepec and thereabout wear no clothing. Women have modified their costume much under Spanish influence. In Tehuantepec it is a skirt of cotton or wool reaching to the ankles, often elaborately embroidered in various designs and colours; the huipil, a chemisette, with short sleeves, often adorned with lace and threads of gold and silk; and a white cotton head-covering, drawn on like a sack and hanging down the back. In Tabasco the cotton petticoat, with a few yards of calico about the waist, or a sleeve frock is the dress.
The women of Guatemala, Salvador and Nicaragua, when at home, wear the waist-cloth, generally blue checked, secured by a twisted knot. On going abroad they put on the huipil. The women manufacture and dye all the clothing, and expend their best efforts upon their garments. They embroider or dye the neck or shoulders with tasteful colours or designs. These are distinct for each village, so that it may at once be seen to which tribe the wearer belongs. Indeed, on festive occasions the women are extravagantly fond of gaudy dress, and wear flowers and phosphorescent beetles in their hair. Feather tufts and skins of birds are used as ornaments, as well as necklaces of gold nuggets and amber beads.
Weaving, in its native simplicity, furnished one of the best examples of the tropical Indian woman stepping into the domain of invention. The woman’s muscles are at their best—fingers, hands, arms, back, lips and mouth play their parts, assisted by bobbins, spindles, fly-wheels, stone and shell knives, yarn beams, dye pots, cloth beams, shuttles, batten swords, harness, tension, appliances, all of the most primitive sort. The woman’s hands and mouth prepare the hair, wool or agave fibre; the fingers twist the yarn or spin it with a simple spindle, of which the fly-wheels are pretty whorls of pottery ornamented. The distaff has hardly been born, the fibre being simply bunched together. The cotton warp is wrapped around two coarse sticks—by courtesy they may be called beams —at the proper distance for the garment or utensil to be made, for cloth in the piece had not been invented when this loom came into existence. By a martingale one beam is attached to a tree or any other convenient support, and by means of breeching, or a breech strap, the inner or cloth beam is harnessed to the woman’s body. This gives her perfect control over her tension, and makes the process of weaving rhythmic.
The aesthetic activities of women found their expression in ornamental designs upon the products of their handiwork—weaving, pottery, gardening and the making of garments. The possession of fine materials for textiles in their area gave them opportunities that they were not slow in grasping. The clay and calabash fruit opened the way to their freehand drawing and painting, while the weaving was their guide in mosaic designs. The result, was the production of endless variety in the potter’s art, and the manufacture of exquisite embroidery.
The writer is indebted to Mrs. Zelia Nuttall for the following thoughts on ancient women’s share in Mexican art. “They were undoubtedly very industrious, and it is to them that the development of the chief decorative arts is to be assigned. The women were the weavers and designers of the intricate patterns employed in the ceremonial tilmatle or blankets. Women are spoken of as skilled in painting these designs, and it may be reasonably inferred that female artists also painted the Codices. They were the potters, and painted the designs thereon. To this day native women artists decorate the lacquer ware made at Uruapan in Michoacan, a fact not generally known. I cannot divest myself of the thought that women designed the decorations on the ruins of Mitla. The effect is that of a sampler, and as women plaited the coloured petates or palm mats, the geometric designs of which seem copied in the stone panels, the suggestion of feminine agency seems to me to be very apparent.”
To this very day skilful women produce world-famous laces and embroideries, and their fingers go on preserving the same old characteristic patterns; but masons no longer immortalise them in stone.
Facts connected with marriage have been collected by Bancroft. It usually takes place at an early age, girls being seldom found single after fourteen or fifteen years. In some tribes, if the girl has not chosen a mate by this time, her parents or guardians select one for her. Trial marriages are allowed in some places. Among the Chichimecs the consent of the parents is necessary. The preliminary meetings are held by both sets of parents. The conclusions are made known to the young people, and, if the decision is favourable, the girl sends her husband presents, they consider themselves married, and friends give themselves up to feasting and dancing.
THE EASTERN AREA
If we were concerned with the women of America as they were in the pre-European days, there would be no more important chapter in the book than that on the Iroquois, who, with the more numerous Algonquins, the Muscogees and other stocks, inhabited this part of America. Among the Iroquois the supremacy of woman was far more than a mere phrase; she enjoyed the right of sending man upon the war-path whenever she pleased, and at her behest he had to stay at home. Among the Wyandots the tribal council was composed of four women to one man, and if among the Oneidas the men were actually the councillors, they had to consult woman as to their plans, at least in theory; but Charlevoix tells us that the men rarely told the women anything which needed to be kept secret, and seldom communicated to them any matter of consequence, though all was done in their name. It has, in fact, been said of the tribes east of the Mississippi that among them women constituted the tribe, transmitted the nobility of blood, kept up the genealogical tree and order of inheritance, and perpetuated the family. They possessed all actual authority, owned the land and the fields and their harvests; they were the soul of all councils, the arbiters of peace and war; they had the care of the public treasury; slaves were given to them; they arranged marriages; the children belonged to them, and to their blood was confined the line of descent and the order of inheritance. The men, on the other hand, were wholly isolated and restricted to their personal affairs. But, of course, this picture does not apply to the present day. The tribes are, many of them, extinct; and though the Iroquois stock is still relatively strong and not yet converted to Christianity in many cases, a picture of their life to-day bears no resemblance to that of the old tribal life.
The Chetimacha Indians, in the early days of Louisiana, formed an independent linguistic family in the Mississippi River delta. In recognition of their services to the colonies, France and Spain granted to them a large tract of land on the Bayou Teche, surrounding one of their villages, where the tribe had dwelt from time immemorial. When Mrs. Sydney Bradford, of Avery Island, La., began her work among them, she found only one woman —old Clara Darden—who could make a perfect basket. The little thin woman had been taught in the convent as a child. Prizes were offered for perfect baskets. Soon Clara Darden had gathered about her all the women and young girls; she taught them what kinds of reed cane to gather, how to split and cure them, what roots were needed for the red, black and yellow dyes, how to stain the canes, and last, but not least, how to weave the beautiful baskets with their many wonderful patterns. She taught the names and meanings of the patterns and of the roots for the dyes. Now the basketmaking is quite an industry among them. The workers split their cane, or, rather, peel off the outer part of which they weave their baskets, with their teeth. The inside basket is first finished, and then the long ends of cane are used to complete the outer one.
WOMEN OF THE PLAINS
The Plainswomen live chiefly in Assiniboia and in the United States, west of the Mississippi and north of the Arkansas. They were originally mainly Siouan, but the ample food supply also enticed Algonquian tribes— Pawnees, Kaiowas and others—to share with them in Nature’s bounty. Nature made fine women on the plains —tall, robust and strong. The prominent cheek-bones, Roman noses and gross mouths of the men were much toned down in the females. Nature also gave them the buffalo and the dog; but the former absolutely withheld its aid from them, either to furnish a drop of milk or to carry a pound of their loads. The dog was more responsive, lending its back for the burden and its shoulders for the sledge.
The homes of the old Plainswomen were earth lodges, bark or mat lodges, and tents of skin, usually called teepees (tipis). The villages were so arranged that kindreds dwelt near one another.
Before the coming of the Whites, the hoe rather than the axe was woman’s industrial implement. It was made from the shoulder-blade of the buffalo, which was bound with thongs to the end of a stick. Over the prairies, where trains are flying at the rate of a mile a minute, freight and passengers were transported by women and dogs before the coming of the horse.
Women of the Plains were the most picturesque of savages, through wearing animal tissues; there were hides of every size and hue, pilous and depilated, hoofs and horns of the buffalo, feathers of the eagle for war, bonnets trailing from the crown to the feet, quills for matchless embroidery. These women were also good painters; their colour scheme was quite varied, as shown by their curious trunks made by folding depilated raw hides together, and tying them with thongs. In the museums of American ethnology by far the most picturesque exhibits of North American Indians are the ornamental handicraft of the Plains tribes.
A man had to marry outside his blood relations. Indian girls marry earlier than formerly—between fifteen and seventeen, and even younger—when they waited till they were twenty. In some Plains tribes girls were betrothed from their infancy. The proposals were either directly or by proxy. Sometimes the girl told her kindred, and took advice; but parents did not force their daughter to marry against her will.
With regard to the question of polygamy, the maximum of wives was three, or at most four. They would be, for example, the first wife, her aunt, and her' sister or niece, if all were consanguineous.
When a man wished to take a second wife, he would say to the first, “My dear, I do not want you to work so hard. I am thinking of taking your sister, your aunt, your niece to wife.” Should the first wife veto the proposition, that would prevent him marrying the other woman. Generally there was no objection if the two women were kindred. Indeed, the wife would make the first move, and say, “I wish you would marry my niece, we are kin.” Among the Santees, says Dorsey, a wife’s mother could take her from her husband and give her to another man. Among other Plains tribes, if the man was kind, the dreadful mother-in-law never interfered. But if he became unkind, the wife herself would say, “I have had you long enough—begone!” Or the father or elder! brother would suggest to the husband, “You have made her suffer; you shall have her no longer.”
The sugar camp of the North-West was woman’s enterprise. It was a strenuous season—cutting wood collecting sap in birch-bark vessels of their own handiwork, boiling sap in kettles in later times, straining it through their blankets, and putting the sugar away in other birch baskets. Indians all loved sugar—men, women and children—and they got plump from eating it.
WOMEN OF THE INTERIOR BASIN
The area known as the Interior Basin is a well-marked, arid, but elevated and healthful region, situated chiefly in Arizona and New Mexico. Tribes of the Shoshonean, Athapascan, Piman, Yuman, and small Pueblo families were its inhabitants. Cultures fostered there were in both the hunter and the sedentary stage.
Two sets of women and their lineal descendants were, in course of time, the pupils of all the environments along the Pacific Coast between Alaska and Costa Rica —namely, the Athapascan and the Shoshonean-Nahuan. They jointly occupied a large part of the South-West, helping to develop its sedentary pueblo life and its unsettled hunter life. The Pimas, Yumas, and a few smaller linguistic families filled up the rest of the area.
The country inhabited by the Pueblo and non-Pueblo women includes almost the entire area of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. It was, before the days of railroads, called the Great American Desert, and was thought of as a place of utter desolation, thirst and starvation—shunned of mankind, or entered with foreboding. Some parts of this land are not suitable for human habitation, but in others there are fields of corn, melons, squashes, beans, peppers, etc., and orchards of peaches. The life is one prolonged sigh for water. The serpent is worshipped because it reminds men of lightning, thunder, rain and bread. Woman appears with a pad upon the head, and the water-jar on the top of that, because she is bringing the one thing needful. Even the wild tribes there must yield to the environment, and if they are not potters they must learn to make watertight basketry.
The Apache or Ute woman is a hunter’s wife, with duties just like those elsewhere belonging to that estate. She cannot have pottery, it is too fragile for her unsettled life; nor vessels of wood—there are no large trees of soft grain from which to carve them. So necessity stepped in and suggested baskets dipped in pitch. The Ute woman, in addition to her function as a preparer of meat, is a gleaner of wild grass seeds, which she beats from the stems in the field by means of a basketry wand, looking for all the world like a rude tennis-racquet. The roasted seeds may be eaten whole, or ground and made into Indian bread.
The Pueblo women have a still more generous larder. In addition to the cornfields, there are also other crops of gourds, beans, etc. It is the Pueblo women’s duty to care for the crops and make them into food. For this purpose they need water, which often must be carried up long and winding trails. This ever-crying need made them the best potters in North America.
With regard to dress and adornment, there are Ute women, Apache, Navaho and Pueblos. The word “Ute” suggests to the ethnologist buck-skin. Both men and women recall the colours of new chamois skin. In the old dress all the display of gaudy beads is absent. The Apache and Navaho, under Spanish influence, were dressed in wool; and the women, as well as men, of the latter are amongst the finest of Indian weavers. In the southern groups of the South-West little clothing is needed, but the body is washed with clay water, which wears off as the day grows warmer.
But to be dressed up constantly does not accord with the practical mind of the Pueblo woman; rather, she prefers going barefoot to wearing mocassins, and keeps her best for occasions of ceremony. She wears as the principal garment an oblong rectangular creation, made from one piece of strong, dark-blue woollen stuff, of Hopi weave, which her white sisters might term a mealsack, coming to the middle of the calf, belted at the waist, and held on the left shoulder by stitches joining the edges. The right shoulder in the ancient pattern was left bare, but usually, at present, an under-tunic of cotton clothes the bust and arms.
The habitations of the Navaho women, according to Matthews, vary somewhat, but are simple in structure. The “hogan,” for instance, is a conical lodge of poles, with an opening on one side for a doorway. The frame is covered with weeds, bark, or grass and earth, except at the apex, where is an opening for the escape of smoke. The Ute branch of the Shoshonean family are tent dwellers. The Pueblo woman builds her house of stone or adobe; her agile hands are the whole kit of mason’s tools for fitting the materials and smoothing the walls. Men do the heavy work, and the women are like the wasps clustering their rooms together like the cells of a honeycomb. The pueblo is a primitive factory village, where the home and shops of a hundred or more are under the same roof.
Primitive trade, with companion activities, has progressed in this heterogeneous environment. The industries dominated by the Pueblo woman had given her as a producer as high a place in the political as in the domestic economy, and it is through her efforts that these features of society have risen from the rudimentary stage, and have become of importance. As long as there has been any history this has been the land of barter, and all the floating tribes from the points of the compass came here to trade with the thrifty ones. Here they met the Pueblo woman merchant, and learned that her mind was intent on getting the better of the bargain; she was persistent, hiding craft with guile, and enjoying the play of wits in the game of trade. Through Pueblo commerce, in times past, her fame as a cook went far and near, and the tribes on the plains eagerly traded for her bread-stuffs.
Almost shut off from the Pacific Ocean by precipitous shores, this is a mountainous area, of which the valleys are not conducive to travel and the free movement of its people. The result is a mass of small linguistic families between Puget Sound and Santa Barbara. The Salmon Indians congregate near the coast; the Hupa and Maidu are seed-gatherers and basket-makers.
Hupa women wear more clothing than the men. The costume consists of skirt, apron, beads, blanket, cap, head-dress and moccasins. The body of the skirt consists of a buck-skin without hair, adorned at the bottom with a fringe formed by attaching many narrow strips of buck-skin to the margin. The top of the skirt is often a work of art. It is folded over and slit into a fringe about six inches long, which is divided by cross-twined weaving. The strands of the upper band are neatly wrapped with brown fern and gold and yellow grass. The skirt is tied about the waist so as to be open in front, where hangs the apron underneath. A close-fitting cap of exquisite twined and overlaid basketwork is worn not only as dress, but as a pad for the band from which is suspended the baby and the burden-basket.
Among the Hupa, food is plentiful—meat from the forests and fish from the waters. Men gather it; women cook and serve it. The meat not needed is cut into strips by the women, and cured over a fire. They roast it before a fire or boil it in a basket by dropping in hot stones. But it is in the plant world that the Hupa woman is at home; and acorns are her staff of life. These are gathered in a conical basket, and carried home on the back by means of a strap, which passes round its middle, over the woman’s shoulders, and across the top of the head. The acorns are dried, shelled and stored in immense baskets which hold nearly a barrel. When the stored acorns are needed, the women grind them into flour. The milling outfit consists of a buck-skin or cloth for catching the meal, a flat slab for the nether millstone, a pestle of stone for pounding, and a basket hopper. The next process is to leach the bitter taste from the meal, which the woman does with clean sand in a saucer-shaped hole. Water, heated in a basket vessel by means of hot stones, is poured over the meal with a basket cup until it loses its acrid quality. The mass is lifted out, and the adhering sand washed off.
To cook the acorn-meal it is placed in a tight basket, a little water is added, hot stones placed in, and the whole stirred vigorously. The mush is eaten by the men from individual baskets, with spoons of horn or of wood. The women use as a spoon the valve of a mytilus shell, and often eat direct from the basket vessel in which the mush is cooked.
The women on the Pacific Coast of North America, more than any others in the world, find pleasure in illustrating story and myth by their basketry. This the Hupa women do by using plants of various natural colours, by dyeing, and by working in designs. These are, by the exigencies of weaving, geometric in detail, and are named after some characteristic in the weaving, as “sharp and slanting,” “set on one another”; or they bear the name of some well-known object, as “rattlesnake’s nose,” “bear’s hand,” “worm’s stairway.” Among other tribes, stories are hidden in these designs.
The dawn of womanhood is awaited with great solicitude. The girl is then under the care of her grandmother or some other female relative. Bathing and carrying burdens are a part of the cult. During ten days of seclusion she must not look up or at anyone’s face. She dons the long fringed skirt, fasts, and keeps her hands from touching her hair. She must be careful not to use improper language or tell an untruth. If she does, she will remain untruthful throughout life. While she is undergoing her ordeal, dances are held in her honour, and other ceremonies in which she takes part. She is then marriageable.
Courtship often extends through a summer and a winter. The marriage takes place during the summer season. It is really a matter of purchase. A relative of the young man offers to the proper relative of the young woman a sum of Indian money suited to her standing and her attainments. She may or may not be consulted. Woodpecker scalps and shell money, valued from thirty dollars to a hundred dollars, being paid, presents are assembled, and on the appointed day the bride is conducted to her husband by a band of maidens and young men from her village. There is a great feast, and on the third day the convoy returns, carrying back gifts from the groom’s family. If the man cannot pay all the woodpecker’s scalps and shell money, he may pay half, and go to the bride’s home to serve her father in return for the balance. A man may send his wife back to her people for stinginess, bad temper, “big mouth ” (scolding), and the like. He receives again the price paid if there are no children, and half the price if there is one child, so that it might not be left without endowment. The woman is obliged to accept her fate.
Maidu women are the basket-makers, using redbud, peeled and unpeeled, for bright brown effects, peeled willow for white or wood colour, grass for overlaying, maidenhair fern for black, bracken roots for bright red, and hazel for the warp in burden baskets. The Maidu are fond of feather work. Beautiful creations of this material are the feather belts worn by women in dances. A strip of soft deerskin of the proper shape is covered with woodpecker’s scalps, varied with those of ducks and wild canary to form patterns. Plume sticks, to the ends of which are tastefully attached pretty feathers, are used.
The Maidu woman’s home is an earth lodge or a brush shelter. The principal structure is a large, circular, semi-subterranean, earth-covered dance or “sweat house,” used also as a regular dwelling. There are also less carefully made conical huts, with little excavation, and summer shelters of brush. In the earth lodge, on each side, is a low platform of willows, covered with pine needles and skins. It forms a lounging-place and a bed, the inmates sleeping with their feet toward the fire. A pole along the edge serves for a common pillow, or an old basketry plaque supports the head of an individual. The bed coverings are woven robes of rabbit fur or of birds’ skins, but ordinarily the sleepers are quite naked.
The life of the Maidu women is not all work and no play. In one of their games each player has a stick about five feet long, with which she tosses a plaited rope of buckskin a foot long, or a couple of sticks six inches by two inches tied to a buckskin cord four inches apart, or a bundle of frayed cottonwood bark. The game, between sides, is to toss the rope or sticks from one goal to another. Guessing games and cat’s cradle are among their amusements. The men are confirmed gamblers, and the women play with bones or pebbles, concealing them in the hand and guessing. There are many other games played by the women of the North American Indians, but we can only mention the “shinney ” of the Teton Sioux—a species of hockey played between two goals by two parties or sides equally divided.
Marriage is the one event in the Maidu Indian woman’s life the interest of which is perennial. In the Sacramento Valley, when a man wants to marry, he sends a friend with a gift of beads to the family of the young woman. If the father and other relatives consider the gift large enough, and the match desirable, the old gentleman keeps the beads; if not, they are sent back. Or he may hand the gift over to his brother and demand a second one. It is delightful to read that the consent of the girl is always necessary, and precedes the sending of the gifts.
The Maidu of the foot-hills has a kind of “Barkis” courtship : the young fellow goes to the girl’s lodge and sits there for a week or so. He then exerts himself and goes a-hunting. The spoil is brought to her house, and, throwing it down, the swain says, “I give you a deer,” or words to that effect. If the present be accepted, that is all the encouragement he wants. So he goes on hunting and bringing, but not entering the house. When he has delivered a sufficient amount he comes into the house. A bed is prepared for him, and he takes his place as a member of the family. The pair live thus until the girl is old enough to manage a house, if she has been married young, or till the husband can provide a house for her. Girls are often given as wives when only six or eight years of age. Old men often have four or five wives ranging from ten to fifteen years or more. “Many wives, much discord,” is the rule.
The naming of girls in the Maidu country, and, indeed, in all Indian tribes, is interesting. At first they receive no name, but are addressed as “baby,” “child,” “ girl ”; but in a year or so they acquire names from some habit, such as “Runner,” “Climber,” etc. The family term for a girl varies as she grows older, changing first at puberty, then at giving birth to a child, and finally in old age. There is a sacredness and certain tabus connected with names, and those of the dead must not be mentioned for a fixed period. After that they may be given to children.
On the North-west Coast of America, from Mt. St. Elias southward to Vancouver Island, dwells quite another type of women. The warm currents of the Pacific, breathing over the islands and uplifted shores, have clothed them with verdure and forests of gigantic evergreens. Nature furnished the archipelagos, the climate, the soft tree-trunks for canoes and for communal homes, superabundance of aquatic and land food, mountain goats for wool, and excellent fibres for basketry, matting and other textiles. Here came the Tlinkit, Haida, Tsim-shian, Salish and Wakashan Indians, and behind them were spread out the Athapascan and Salishan tribes over interior Alaska and Western Canada.
The women of this coast area, like the men, vary greatly in physical characteristics. In stature the difference is as much as four inches; the shape of the head is not the same from place to place; and all who have visited them are struck with the Contrast shown between them and the Indians of other areas.
Food was abundant in aboriginal days, and women had their hands full of work. The animals on the hills —deer, elk, bears, wolves, goats, beavers, otters, martens, mink—in addition to their skins and hair for clothing and other comforts, also helped the larder. The staple food was the gift of the sea. Seals, sea-lions and whales were taken, but the natives depended almost entirely upon salmon, halibut and candle-fish. Women also gathered clams, mussels, sea-grass, berries and roots.
The preparation, serving and preserving of this variety of nourishment called out their industrial life. There was not a piece of pottery in all the region. Basketry of spruce-root, grass and cedar bast, of superb workmanship, served for utensils. The soft cedar and other woods were in greatest abundance for canoes, cooking vessels and dishes. By means of stones heated in an open fire, the candle-fish were “tried out” in a canoe or vessels of hot water, and the oil kept in stems of dried kelp. Salmon and halibut were dried in the sun or over a fire, and in winter the flesh was dipped in this oil and eaten. The women strung clams and mussels on sticks or strips of cedar-bark, and dried them for further use. Fish roe, especially of the herring, was collected in great quantities and dried, to be eaten with oil. Special attention is called to the providence of the North-west Coast women for the future. It is a long step forward in culture. Sea-grass was dried into square cakes; several kinds of berries were treated in the same manner, to be soaked afterwards in water and eaten with fish oil, which seems to have been the general lubricant. The wonderful carved boxes in which all kinds of provisions were stored are the treasures of museums.
The natives go bare-legged, the principal part of the clothing being the blanket made of dressed skins, or woven from the mountain goat’s wool, dog’s hair, feathers, or a mixture of both. In former times the thread was spun on the bare leg by means of the palm, and wound on a spindle. Cedar bast was made into soft blankets by twined weaving and trimmed with fur. Since trade came among them, woollen blankets are extensively used, and are worked into aboriginal patterns quite ingeniously. The totemic devices, formerly painted on robes of dressed hide, are cut out of red flannel and sewn on to the blue blanket.
The women dress their hair in two plaits. Formerly it was worn long, parted in front and club-shaped behind. Personal adornment of the women included ear and nose ornaments of bone or abalone shell. Those of the most northern tribes wore labrets (lip-plugs). The custom has now died out, and only old women are seen with this peculiar “ornament.”
The dwellings of the women are temporary or permanent. In their summer camps, in hunting and fishing excursions, in canoe trips, a shelter is set up having a light frame covered with broad strips of bark. They may have smoke holes, but usually the fire is built outside, where the smoke assists in curing the strips of salmon and halibut. The travelling tent consists of strips of bark carried in the canoes.
The permanent houses of this insular and inlet area, which are amongst the largest of wooden buildings erected by savages, are the work of the men, and consume several years in the construction. The women help at every turn, and, what is important in this narrative, the permanent as well as the temporary shelters are erected in connection with them and their demands.
In their active industrial life there seem to be no idle moments for the North-west Coast woman. There are grasses with tough leaves to gather, to dry, to colour, and to fit for their decorative functions. The young roots of the spruce, tough enough and pliable, but far from rattan as a textile material, must be boiled to bring out their good qualities, beaten with sticks to soften them, and shredded for use. Quite as important is the cedar bast or inner bark. When it comes from the tree it is in great sheets, looking more like an immense hide from the tannery. More work! These slabs are soaked thoroughly for several days until they can be separated into strips, ribbons or filaments, as the case may be, for yarn, thread, petticoats, matting, basketry, and many more textile functions. For such work the tool-chest is not large, and was in former days much smaller; but the bones of the whale were adequate for hammers, peelers, shredders and spinners, guided by nimble fingers. Mat work is made principally of bark, in checker or twilled weaving, plain or dyed, and varying from place to place in texture and ornamentation. Mats are the bedding, floor rugs, coverings for cargoes, and screens for camps when travelling. Basket-making comes next to mat-making, both being pure hand work.
Most interesting of all the textiles for our women is the wool of the wild goats, which they do not have to shear, for at the proper season the animals obligingly get tired of their overcoat, and wander through the brambles and underbush in order to rub it off. It is only necessary to walk about their haunts to gather wool in the greatest abundance. The washing and spinning with fibre of cedar bark and wild hemp give the women a mixed textile for the world-famous blankets which are the standard of wealth.
To serve their purposes in the arts, our coast women have their arithmetic and metrics. For standards of measure, according to Dawson, the Kwakiutl women are quite up to our English folk. They employ the fathom (six feet), measured between the outstretched hands across the chest, as their principal measure; the half fathom, measured from the middle of the chest to the elbow, or from the elbow to the end of the outstretched fingers; the long finger span, reckoned from the tip of the thumb to that of the outstretched second finger; and the short finger span, between the tips of the thumb and first finger.
Instead of seal rings, medals, and other symbols of wealth and station, bound up in the life of these people is a class of objects called “coppers.” Along the North Pacific Coast thin sheets of copper are shaped in outline like a broad axe-blade with a T-shaped ridge on the poll. On the face is painted and engraved the crest animal of the owner. It is like a bank-note; the amount of metal is small, but the “copper ” itself stands for the large number of blankets it brings in the festival at which it is sold. The women of the tribes are, as it were, wrapped up in the “coppers,” for both they and these precious objects are standards of value and the mechanism of wealth. Furthermore, their nimble fingers create the thousands of blankets which buy the “coppers.”
Boas tells us that marriage is a purchase in which the result is not only the woman, but also the right of membership in her clan for the future children. Many political or clan privileges descend only through marriage upon the son-in-law, who does not use them for himself, but for his offspring. He becomes entitled to them by paying for his wife, who is the first instalment of the goods. The crest and its privileges and property will arrive later on with children. This business conception of matrimony obtains through life. There comes a time when the old bargain is called square. If the wife continue with the husband, she does so of her own free will; the husband will then make a new payment to the father-in-law.
Eskimo women formerly lived along the border of Arctic America, chiefly north of the 60th parallel, from Eastern Greenland to Eastern Asia. Their settlements also extended to Newfoundland, if not to Maine, to the southern limit of Hudson Bay, and to the farthest Aleutian Islands. But their, range is now much curtailed. This environment was the home of the Frost King, of six months’ night, of snow and ice for building material. It was the lamp land, and woman was the vestal. Most of it was treeless, compelling her to make her utensils of bone, horn, and ivory. Vegetable diet was limited to a few berries, and her food supply was chiefly the flesh and fat of sea mammals, fish, reindeer, bear, musk-ox, birds, and a multitude of smaller creatures.
In physical characteristics the Eskimo differs from the Indian woman. She is much lighter in colour and shorter in stature, has a long head, a flat, pinched nose and somewhat Mongolian eye. Murdoch speaks of her small hands and feet, but is not as pleased with her carriage as he is with the man’s. Although possessing a good physique, she is singularly ungraceful in her movements, and walks with a shuffling half trot, her toes turned in, the body leaning forward, and the arms hanging awkwardly.
The industries of Eskimo women are especially the outcome of the environment from beginning to end. They will be found associated with man in those occupations where weapons are absent—in all sorts of manufactures, in transportation, and in training the dogs. Besides, there are a multitude of crafts that are their own, such as furnishing the house, making the dress under the most exacting circumstances, and preparing the food.
The Eskimo have to dress in furs—caribou in winter and seal-skin in summer; and there are ever so many processes for under-garments and over-garments, for haired and unhaired work, for softest down and waterproof soles. Women do every bit of this work, and have their styles and fashions in each locality.
Both sexes wear long stockings, boots, trousers, and a hooded jacket, all of which are double. The inner part is worn with the fur side next the skin, the outer with the fur side exposed. The married woman’s jacket has a long hood extending far down the back, and a belt around the jacket under the hood sustains the infant, borne inside on the back of the mother.
The capture and gathering of animals is the duty of men, though women are not excluded from the hunt. But the moment the dead animal is secured, woman’s many tasks begin—hauling the game home, skinning animals, dressing hides, cutting up and curing meat, preparing it for consumption, purveying, and general housekeeping. They have no regular hours for meals, but eat whenever they are hungry and have leisure. The women keep a supply of cooked food on hand ready for emergencies. When the men are working together, the women at intervals through the day prepare dishes of meat, which the men eat by themselves, or are fed until gorged by the women.
The woman’s boat in Eskimoland, like its namesake, is the burden-bearer, and quite unlike the kaiak or man’s boat. It is practically an open coracle or scow, with framework of wood or whale ribs, over which the covering of seal or walrus hide is tightly stretched. A dainty sail— made of thin intestines—is sometimes added. The steering is done with a long paddle.
Boas tells us that Eskimo women live in tents in summer, and two kinds of winter houses—the underground permanent home and the snow hut. Household utensils are reduced to the lowest terms, noteworthy especially for omissions rather than for variety. Vessels of wood, of bone, baleen, and animal integuments answer many purposes. The most serviceable is the lamp with its accessories. Women must have invented the lamp; at any rate, without it there would have been no Eskimo. Lamps are illuminators, heaters, dryers for wet clothing, and cooking stoves, especially in the six months of darkness and cold. They are shallow dishes, straight along one side like a turn-over. The wick, of moss or fibre, is spread along the straight front edge, and the cavity is filled with seal blubber, which furnishes the fat. As the soap-stone of which lamps and cooking pots are usually made is not found everywhere, it is a great factor in Eskimo commerce, which extends sometimes as much as a thousand miles. Failure of soap-stone stimulated the Eskimo women about Bristol Bay to make their lamps of clay.
The aesthetic life of the Eskimo women is made up of adornments and enjoyments. Nearly all the women are tattooed, and in some localities the designs are quite elaborate. They are chiefly marked on the chin or about the mouth with one or more stripes, but the arms, breast, and back are also brought into service. The enjoyments of Eskimo women are derived from play (they join the men in athletic sports) and from the higher art of song and the native traditions, which are fosterers of art. The Eskimo are fond of singing, but the men do the most of it, their musical instrument being the drum. In their dances the women remain with their feet planted squarely on the floor, and, swaying the body and slowly gesticulating with hands and arms, go through the figures, always keeping time to the music. They carry a long feather wand in each hand, which they wave as they move. In certain religious festivals they use finger masks.
Polygamy is not an Eskimo custom, and Murdoch says that most of the men are content with one wife, and he never heard of the case of a man having more than two wives. Quarrels and separations happen seldom, excepting between persons in their younger years. Old women are scarce. The strenuous life shortens existence; but women of advanced years are treated well, save in time of scarcity, when they commit suicide or are left to starve.
There is only a brief space for that most fascinating theme, the religion of Eskimo women, their beliefs and practices respecting the spirit world. There are the earth and the other two worlds, the under and the upper. The former is the abode of plenty and warmth, the upper world of cold and famine. Among the supernatural powers here of interest is Arnarkuagsak (the old woman), having her home in the depths of the ocean. She is the divine providence of the Eskimo, the source of nourishment and supply of other wants. And naturally so, since the ocean is the place for the regeneration of life. She sits in her dwelling in front of her lamp, beneath which is a vessel receiving the oil continually dripping therefrom. From this vessel or from her abode she sends out all the animals to serve the Eskimo. There are good and evil beings everywhere who may be exorcised or implored, and whose favour is won by charms. Women as well as men may become priests or angakut.
The modern American woman has perhaps been written about more critically, not to say, occasionally, savagely, and again admiringly and appreciatively, than any other of her sex. A single specimen has oftentimes been selected, pinned down to a card, and psychologically dissected from a physiological standard, as if she were truly an emotional insect and not a woman. And yet this woman of the United States is very much a woman, and, from whatever State of the Union she may hail, she is all in all very American, in the sense that her men are American. “Americanism is not of birth, ancestry, or creed, but of the spirit within a man’s soul,” Ex-President Roosevelt has truly said, and that spirit is within the soul of the American woman, from Maine to California, and from the shores of the Great Lakes to the delta of the Mississippi. The same restless energy, the same thoroughness, the same perseverance in prosperity, and more especially in adversity, the same generous spirit, constitute the hall-mark of the woman of the Northern New Hemisphere. But it is impossible in her case to make of her a type, for she represents, owing to her mixed ancestry, a great variety. The descendant of the old Knickerbockers who built Nieuw Amsterdam, nowadays New York, the New Englanders of English ancestry, the soft-voiced Floridan, in whose veins courses a strain of Spanish blood, the fair,—or perhaps we should say dark—Louisianan of French origin, the woman from the North-west, the daughter of vikings, or men of the wicks, and she of the Pacific slope, who, like her Floridan sister, owes something of herself to Spain— one and all may have their special temperaments and characteristics, but all possess the spirit of Americanism; in heart and mind they are Americans.
Mrs. Gertrude Atherton, herself a Californian, has pointed out wherein American and English girls differ in the following terms: “ Perhaps the greatest point of difference between the American and the English girl is the encouragement which the former receives, from the earliest possible period, to form and express her own opinions. This she does with a thoroughness which makes her a pest in the land as a child, but unquestionably contributes to the rapid development of her intelligence.”
The American mother is venerated by her children to the same extent as the French mother, and she is always reverenced by them in after life. Like all good mothers, she is a mother to the fullest extent of the word. The education and mental and moral training of the children devolves almost entirely on her, since the head of the family is too actively engaged in his unwearying chase after that dollar which represents so much to one who has others for whom to provide. Above all things, the American mother is a close student of her child’s mentality, and it is with kindest sympathy, and not by resorting to physical correction, that she rules her household. Seldom, if ever, does she delegate the bringing up of her children to servants; the nursery is practically unknown in the United States, except for children of the tenderest age.
The educational system in the United States is one which has been held up as a model by many authorities. Space will not permit of a detailed review of it, but a word of praise must be meted out to that well-known type, the “schoolmarm,” to whom many a novelist has paid a tribute well deserved. At an early age boys and girls are brought together in the common schools, and pursue their studies together on a footing of friendly rivalry and emulation. The training in the primary Schools is admirable, the teaching is intelligent, and the result is that the pupils are well fitted, in the case of those who are not enjoying the advantages of a college education, to face the battle of life.
Many are the colleges for girls in the United States, the principal being Vassar, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Radcliffe, and Barnard. These six have taken the lead in giving a quite special tone to the education of women, but there are others scattered about the several States of the Union which have attained a remarkable degree of excellence; and the “sweet girl graduates” who emerge from them are thoroughly equipped to hold their own in circles of culture and refinement; and, if they do not intend to marry, they are free and able to pursue any career they may select. Yet, to quote the figures of Professor Munsterberg, of Harvard University, only 5,319,000 are engaged in paid employment, where there are 23,319,000 men. Still, the proportion is here greater than in other countries. It is curious to note that amongst these are 1,320 “professional huntresses”; these last-named doubtless include the many girls who have “taken up land,” and who are engaged in cattle ranching and wheat growing. Many of them are college bred, and the same girl who during the day has been milking her cows will be heard playing the piano in her cosy cabin or be found perusing the latest interesting book.
The American woman takes a keen and active interest in the politics of her country, although she has so far not shown any particular anxiety to secure the right to drop a ballot into the “electoral urn.” Four States, it is true, have enfranchised women, but the result has not been to stimulate to any extent the women of other States to demand the right to vote. Be this as it may, the voting of •women in the States has not made any perceptible difference in the “ reformation ” of their citizens, and the ladies are credited with being “as politically corrupt as the men.” With regard to the Canadian girl, who is separated from her sister in the United States by an imaginary boundary line, the type of the former is not of so composite a nature as that of the latter. Two nationalities are mainly responsible for the Canadian woman’s being—the British and the French. The French-Canadian type shall be the first to occupy our attention for reasons of seniority. The national song of Canada, “ Vive la Canadienne! ” has immortalised her in the line, “Avec ses beaux yeux doux,” those black, lustrous eyes of the woman of the Province of Quebec. She has preserved all the characteristics of the ancien regime, and has generally been educated in one of the three famed convents of the Province; she is of a sturdy and dark type, and is the embodiment of grace and old-time courtesy. With her British sister, she is fond of outdoor exercise and is an expert in skating.
The girl of the Province of Ontario represents the best features of the British character. She has pluck, endurance and “grit,” and leads a very active outdoor life, taking part in all Canadian winter sports, such as skating, tobogganing and snow-shoeing, with all the skill and zest of her male relatives. And whether she dwells in one of the palaces of Montreal’s or Toronto’s merchant princes, or on a farm in Manitoba or Alberta, she can hold her own, not only with her sex of other nations, but with the hardy men of her race. She is a fine type of Britain’s colonial womanhood.