Page images

of social vigor and home content, remains to this day? What is there in its secluded and strange methods, copied from the customs of those whom we daily commend for their faith, devotion and wisdom, which has given it strength to defy the Federal government for thirty years and more? To respond to these queries involves an examination of the force of sensual allurements and religious enthusiasm. Nowhere can the many curious and peculiar features of the system be better studied than in Mussulman countries. Polygamy is the chief one of these features. It has never been thoroughly investigated, save in India and other Eastern countries, by the Western jurist, although it constitutes the basis of manifold social relations.

What, then, is a Mohammedan marriage? It is well known that in the Orient polygamy is legally and religiously sanctioned. It is regulated by an elaborate code.

Before entering upon the subject, let us understand the points which make such a code a necessity. Without such a code the followers of Islam could not be extricated from the innumerable difficulties in which they are involved by reason of polygamy.

In order to make this statement clear, it must be premised that the Mohammedan, like the Christian religion, has its schisms. The principal and best defined divisions are those of the Sheeahs and the Soonnees. Both of these sects recognize the same fundamental principles and laws of Islam. They worship in the same mosques, and perform the same ceremonies. Still

there is a difference in their marriage code, to say nothing of the hatred existing between them.

The Soonnees are Turks and Arabs. Of these, there are great numbers in India, China, Central Asia, and the African continent. The Sheeabs are Persians. In A.D. 1499, they proclaimed the Sheeah faith to be the national religion of the country. Quite a number professing this creed are to be found in India. Sheeah means a troop, or sect. It is the distinct appellation of the followers of Aly, or of all those who maintain that he was the legitimate Khalif or successor of Mohammed.

Marriage with Mussulmans is merely a civil transaction. It has attached to it no religious ceremony especially obligatory. Contracts of marriage cannot be made, except by those authorized by the code, which enacts six prohibitions. These are: consanguinity, fosterage, affinity, completion of number, imprecation, and

infidelity. Another and peculiar marriage is that of slaves, either by contract or by right of property.

It is customary among the Mohammedan people to betroth their children in their infancy. The right to contract belongs to the father, the paternal grandfather, the master, the executor, or the judge. Contracts made by either of these are binding on the chil

. dren, even if the marriage has not been effected up to the time they attain their majority. In case the grandfather and the father contract with two different persons, the choice of the grandfather prevails. But if, by the time the child attain its majority, no contract has been entered into by any of the persons intrusted with the power to do so, then their authority on the subject is at an end. The consent of an adult is thereupon necessary for her or his marriage, unless insanity exists. As to the slaves, a master may contract his female slave in marriage. Whether young or mature, sane or insane, she has no option in the matter. The same rule prevails in the case of a male slave.

Let us now consider the formalities with regard to the marriage of free men and women, and limit the statement to mature marriages, or those not contracted for those in infancy.

As soon as the boy attains the marriageable age, his father and mother cast about to find him a wife. The mother visits her acquaintances. She makes quiet quest into their harems—for it should be said that the Turkish houses have rooms exclusively reserved for the women, and over whose portals there is the rule forbidding entrance to men.

The mother may not allow the object of her search to transpire among her friends and neighbors; but still she is indefatigable and subtle in her search of a suitable bride for her son. At length, and after much maternal anxiety, she finds what seems to be the actual of her ideal.

She reports the fact to her husband. She details to him the particular graces of her choice. Then, if the family to which the elect belongs suit the husband, and the “bill of particulars" is satisfactory, if the accomplishments of the girl are approved, the “managing" mother arranges a party to the Turkish bath ; for

1 the bath is an institution in Oriental realms and almost a part of the devotion of the faithful. There the future bride is to be the principal object of attention. There her future mother-in-law is to ascertain whether or not the girl has any constitutional defects.


Sir Thomas More, before composing his “Utopia," must have studied this custom of the Orient; for he wrote that it seemed strange to the Utopians that in other countries great caution was displayed in buying a horse or other animal, so as to ascertain whether it were sound and healthy, and yet, when it came to a solemn contract for good or ill and for life, no such painstaking was exercised. The Utopians thought such remissness most culpable.

The day is appointed for the bath. Great preparations are made. It is tacitly understood, though not expressed, what the bath party means. The cooks of both parties are kept busy for several days. They prepare dainty dishes—"dulcet syrups tinct with cinnamon,”—and sweetmeats of every description and flavor. The Turkish women, not unlike the “ children of the azure sheen," are very fond of confectionery. The greatest attention is paid, also, in procuring the rarest and most elegant suits for the bath. A competitive but friendly excitement arises between the families; for the Turks are as particular about their bathing clothes as the fashionable belle at Sckevingen or Newport. Each person is to be furnished with a suit of the rarest quality.

The bride, or the nominee for that function, is arrayed in her most elegant dress. She is gallanted in her best bravery of silk and satin, férédjé and parasol, to the bath. She is accompanied by her mother and all the women of her house. The servants and slaves are summoned for this service; and the more numerous these are the more the display of luxury is enhanced. As soon as the parties meet, there is a series of endless compliments. In this, the Turkish people excel. Coffee and sherbet are served around to the company, which is seated on the divans. Amidst clouds of smoke from narghileh, pipe and cigarette, and with gossip and laughter which “make old wrinkles come,” the future otherin-law adroitly seats herself by the nominee. She persuades her to talk. Unconscious of the object, the girl undergoes a skillful cross-examination. Her intellectual and moral character is thoroughly scrutinized. Her life, with its tastes and qualities, is winnowed. When the smoking terminates there is the disrobing in order to go into the interior of the bath. Then follows the robing for the bath. The bath being intensely hot, the robing is not cumbrous or extensive. It consists simply of a big towel around the waist covering the person down to the knees, and a second towel which is thrown over the shoulders like a sash. This

a last towel is taken off as soon as the interior of the bath is entered, as the heat and perspiration consequent make it intolerable. Gibbon says, that Zenobia, when led in triumph by Aurelian, almost fainted under the intolerable burden of jewelry. Not so with our candidate for the bridal office. Her decorations are reserved for her triumphal procession and entry into her new household.

The hair is unloosened and hangs over the shoulders. Each lady is taken care of by one or two servants ; but the future mother-in-law never quits the nominee. She makes thorough investigation until the bath is over. If, like the sisters of the Gorgons, the Grææ who had but one eye and one tooth among the entire sisterhood with which to go out and make their calls, our nominee should be found wanting in these or any other prerequisites to healthy and beautiful womanhood, is it not reasonable to believe that the future mother-in-law would discover the flaw and announce the fact to her lord and husband ?

The place and mode of bathing are quite different from those of the European or American. The bath is a large square room. It is paved with marble or stones. It is air-tight. In it there are fountains attached to the walls. They furnish cold and hot water. Under those fountains there are small basins about fifteen inches wide and ten inches deep. These are fixed at about half a yard above the floor. The basins are filled with water, the degree of whose heat is regulated at will. The bather seats herself on the floor by the basin and the servant washes her, soaping and lathering her head and then her body, pouring the water from the basin over the head and rinsing off the snowy suds. If in a festive mood, the younger females play the Naïad, and, not infrequently, throw water about, over themselves and others, with a hilarity belonging to youth in its sportive morning. Sometimes these nymphs thus dally with the elements for hours. Sometimes the more lethargic lie in soak or undergo the process of maceration, but not often on these betrothal occasions.

After this, dry clothes are brought. Neither are these “ voluminous and vast," for they consist of two towels, with a third one to crown the head, like a turban. Before leaving the interior of the bath, all the party, including the damsel, dye their nails and the palms of the hands with henna. Then they hie in a group to the cooling room. Then the banquet begins. Rugs are spread

upon the floor.

A stool is placed in the middle of the room. On this is placed a large salver. The company seat themselves, crosslegged, on the rugs and around the stool and salver. The former is covered with a gorgeous table-cloth. A long strip of finest linen, bordered and broidered with golden or silken figures, one yard wide and nine yards long, is passed around to the guests. What for ? To be used as a napkin, in common. It gives unity to the sentiment and the festivity. Then the servants bring in the delicacies. Each dish is placed in the middle of the salver. The “ leading lady," with dainty finger and thumb, takes up the acceptable tidbit, and accomplishes the first responsible bite. Then the others follow; plunging their henna-tinted fingers into the single dish. Bite after bite follows, with lively and gleeful procession. This interesting process—if one could only see it-would reproduce one of the pictures of Spenser in his “Faërie Queen.” It is that enchanted vision where Sir Callidore, in going through the Bower of Bliss, is saluted by bevies of beauteous damosels, who pluck luscious clusters of grapes from the overhanging vines, and press the nectar into golden goblets with fairy fingers. “So fair a wine press makes the wine more sweet." With a little changing of Spenser's fancy, may it not be said : “So fair a group of banqueters makes the banquet more tasteful." There is no enchanted viand before the happy company. No drink is allowed to stimulate or drown the senses. The only drink is pure water and lemonade! The mother-in-law has no chance to get at the incautious truth, on the maxim-in vino veritas.

The artist, when called upon to paint the grief of Iphigenia over the death of Agamemnon, dropped the curtain. We do not follow this gruesome example ; for the subject is not sad. But we have not the artistic skill to create, in the reader's imagination, such imagery of this bath and banquet as to do justice to the scene.

The banquet may last three or four hours. Generally, the bride does not know or seem to know its object. Sometimes even the mother of the bride ignores it; although she may suspect it. After the dinner and the coffee and smoking are finished, the parties separate with earnest promises to renew the entertainment.

The mother of the boy goes home. There she is expected with anxiety by her husband. He waits eagerly to hear her impres

« PreviousContinue »