Page images
PDF
EPUB

· CHILDERN-POLYGAMY.

177

serve to elucidate the numerous allusions to such matters in the Bible.

The birth of a son is always a joyful event in a family, but that of a daughter is often looked upon as a calamity. The husband and father refuses to see his child, or speak to the mother; and the friends and relatives, particularly the females, upbraid the innocent sufferer, and condole with the unkind husband, as if he were very badly treated. Worse than this, in those communities where divorce is permitted, this is often the only reason assigned by the brutal husband for sending away his wife. This accounts for the intense desire which many of these poor creatures manifest to become the mother of sons, not a whit less vehement than that of Rachel, who said to Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. They also employ the same kind of means to compass their object that were used thousands of years ago. Not only do they resort to all sorts of quacks and medical empirics for relief, but make vows, as did Samuel's mother in Shiloh, when she was in bitterness of soul, and wept sore, and vowed a vow unto the Lord. They also make numerous pilgrimages to such shrines as have obtained a reputation in these matters. Among Moslems, where polygamy is tolerated, and particularly in Egypt, as Lane informs us, instances are not wanting in which wives have acted as Sarah did to Abraham, and Leah and Rachel to Jacob. But these devices, which produced such great irregularities and heartburnings in the families of the patriarchs, are equally mischievous at the present day. The circumstance mentioned in Genesis xvi. 4, which made Hagar insolent toward her mistress, has the same effect now. If the first wife has no children, the husband marries another or takes a slave. And it not unfrequently happens that the fortunate slave, when the mother of a son, is promoted to the post of honor and authority, which she, of course, uses with insolence toward her former mistress. The whole system is productive of evil, and that only, to the individual, the family, and the community 1 Gen. xxx. 1.

21 Sam. i. 10, 11.

Many singular customs grow out of this high appreciation of children. One is the frequency and want of modesty in talking about a subject which is banished from the list of conversable topics with us. In this country, it is now discussed just as it was in Bible days, and in exactly the same terms. Another odd custom is, that the father assumes the name of his first-born son. Tannûs, the father of the infant Besharah, for example, is no longer Tannûs, but Abu Besharah, and this not merely in common parlance, but in legal documents and on all occasions. It is, in fact, no longer respectful to call him Tannûs. So, also, the mother is ever afterward called Em Besharah, mother of Besharah. And still more absurd, when a man is married and has no son, the world gives him one by a courtesy peculiarly Oriental, and then calls him by his supposed son's name.

Even unmarried men are often dignified by the honorable title of Abu somebody or other, the name bestowed being decided by that which he previously bore. Thus Elias becomes Abu Nasîf, Butrus is called Abu Salim, and so on, according to the established custom of naming first-born sons.

15th. I noticed that the friend at whose house we dined last evening sent a servant to call us when dinner was ready. Is this custom generally observed ?

Not very strictly among the common people, nor in cities, where Western manners have greatly modified the Oriental; but in Lebanon it still prevails. If a sheikh, beg, or emeer invites, he always sends a servant to call you at the proper time. This servant often repeats the very

formula mentioned in Luke xiv. 17: Tefuddŭlû, el 'asha hâder—Come, for the supper is ready. The fact that this custom is mainly confined to the wealthy and to the nobility is in strict agreement with the parable, where the certain man who made the great supper, and bade many, is supposed to be of this class. It is true now, as then, that to refuse is a high insult to the maker of the feast, nor would such excuses as those in the parable be more acceptable to a Druse emeer than they were to the lord of this "great supper;" but, however angry, very few would manifest their displeas

PARABLES-SUPPER-NAMES.

179

ure by sending the servants into the highways and hedges after the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind. All these characters are found in abundance in our streets, and I have known rich men who filled out the costume of the parable even in these particulars; it was, however, as matter of ostentation, to show the extent of their benevolence, and the depth of their humility and condescension. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to find enough of the drapery of this parable still practiced to show that originally it was, in all its details, in close conformity to the customs of this country.

The discussion the other evening about names interested me not a little, as illustrating ancient customs in this matter. Nearly all Bible names were significant, and were conferred with reference to some circumstance connected with the birth of the child. Such things carry one back to the households of the patriarchs. Leah called her first-born · Reuben, for she said, The Lord hath looked upon my affliction; the second was named Simeon-hearing, for the Lord had heard her prayer; and thus it was to the end of the list.

The customs are identical, and so are many of the names; but the Arabs have others to which they are very partial. The non-Christian sects often give some derivative of Hamed - praise - now generally in honor of Mohammed, their prophet, but not so originally. All sects join the name of God to one of his attributes, or to some other word, in order to make agreeable names for their children. Thus, Fudle Allah—God's bounty ; 'Abd Allah—servant of God. So the word deen-religion-enters into many favorite names, as Hasn ed Deen-beauty of religion; Ameen ed Deenfaithful in religion; Fukhr ed Deen--glory of religion; Sů. lah ed Deen-goodness of religion, contracted by us into Saladin, the antagonist of England's lion-hearted Richard, and the terror of Crusaders. For daughters, the Arabs are fond of flowery and poetic

We have all about us, among servants, washerwomen, and beggars, suns, and stars, and full moons, and roses, and lilies, and jessamines, and diamonds, and pearls, and every other beautiful epithet you can think of. And, as the parents assume the names of their children, we hear these poor creatures addressed continually as The-father-ofGod's-bounty (Abu Fudle Allah), and the Mother-of-the-FullMoon, etc., etc., through the whole list of poetic fancies.

names.

There are many minor matters in which the East and the West are as far apart socially as they are geographically. For example, a whole family, parents, children, and servants, sleep in the same room, and with slight change of garments, or none at all. Both these customs are alluded to in the Bible. The first in the plea of the lazy man in the parable about importunity: My children are with me in bed; I can not arise and give thee;' and the second is implied in the reason assigned by Moses for the return of a garment taken in pledge from a poor man before the sun goes down: It is his covering of his flesh; wherein shall he sleep? The long, loose garments worn by this people remove, or at least mitigate, the impropriety of this practice; but, with all that, it is objectionable. So, also, a whole family continue to reside under the same roof, father, sons, and grandsons, in one common household. This also is ancient; but it is very pugnant to our ideas, and has many disadvantages. Nor does the fact that they can live cheaper by such a commonstock arrangement compensate for the confusion and want of family government occasioned by the system. There never can be well-regulated households until this custom is broken up, or so modified as to call forth greater personal responsibility and independence in the younger branches of the family.

Orientals are also far behind the day in almost every branch of domestic economy, especially in table furniture and their mode of eating. The general custom, even of the better classes, is to bring a polygonal stool, about fourteen inches high, into the common sitting-room. On this is placed a tray of basket-work or of metal, generally copper, upon which the food is arranged. The bread lies on the mat beneath the tray, and a cruise of water stands near by, from which all drink as they have need. On formal occasions,

re

i Luke xi. 5-8.

. Ex. xxii. 27.

MODE OF EATING-TABLE FURNITURE.

181

8CAMLA OR TABLE.

this is held in the hand by a servant, who waits upon the guests. Around this stool and tray the guests gather, sitting on the floor. The dishes are most generally stews of rice, beans, burgul (cracked wheat), with soups or sauces, as the case may be, in deep dishes or bowls. Some

use wooden or metal spoons for their stews and thick soups, but the most common mode is to double up bits of their thin bread, spoon fashion, and dip them into the dish. There is frequent reference to this custom in some of the most interesting and some of the most solemn scenes of the Bible. The richer sort use silver spoons; but they have neither knives nor forks, nor do they know how to use them. This is a very meagre set-out, certainly; but they will tell you that it is all they want, and is every way more convenient than our custom, and immeasurably less expensive. High tables and chairs would not only be out of place at the time, but in the way at all times. They do not have a separate dining-room, and hence they want an apparatus that can be easily brought in and removed, and this they have. They all eat out of the same dish, and why not? It is within reach, and it gives a better relish to dip their thin bread into the general hot mess, than to take out a portion on separate plates and use spoons. As their meat is always cut up into stews, or else cooked until it is ready to fall to pieces, knives and forks are useless; and when they have chickens, they are easily torn to pieces with their fingers. Nor do they see any vulgarity in this. The very polite à la mode Oriental will tear up the best bits, and either lay them next you, or insist on

« PreviousContinue »