Woman In Savage Life

Man, in a state of barbarity, equally cruel and indolent, active by necessity, but naturally inclined to repose, is acquainted with little more than the physical effects of love; and having none of those moral ideas which only can soften the empire of force, he is led to consider it as his supreme law, subjecting to his despotism those whom reason had made his equals, but whose imbecility betrayed them to his strength.

Cast in the lap of naked nature, and exposed to every hardship, the forms of women, in savage life, are but little engaging. With nothing that deserves the name of culture, their latent qualities, if they have any, are like the diamond, while enclosed in the rough flint, incapable of shewing any lustre. Thus destitute of every thing by which they can excite love, or acquire esteem; destitute of beauty to charm, or art to soothe, the tyrant man; they are by him destined to perform every mean and servile office. In this the American and other savage women differ widely from those of Asia, who, if they are destitute of the qualifications necessary for gaining esteem, have beauty, ornaments, and the art of exciting love.

In civilized countries a woman acquires some power by being the mother of a numerous family, who obey her maternal authority, and defends her honor and her life. But, even as a mother, a female savage has not much advantage. Her children, daily accustomed to see their father treat her nearly as a slave, soon begin to imitate his example, and either pay little regard to her authority or shake it off altogether.

Of this the Hottentot boys afford a remarkable proof. They are brought up by the women, till they are about fourteen years of age. Then, with several ceremonies they are initiated into the society of men. After this initiation is over it is reckoned manly for a boy to take the earliest opportunity of returning to the hut of his mother, and beating her in the most barbarous manner, to show that he is now out of her jurisdiction. Should the mother complain to the men, they would only applaud the boy for showing so laudable a contempt for the society and authority of women.

In the Brazils, the females are obliged to follow their husbands to war, to supply the place of beasts of burden, and to carry on their backs their children, provisions, hammocks, and every thing wanted in the field.

In the Isthmus of Darien, they are sent along with warriors and travellers, as we do baggage horses. Even their Queen appeared before some English gentlemen, carrying her sucking child, wrapt in a red blanket.

The women among the Indians of America are what the Helots were among the Spartans, a vanquished people obliged to toil for their conquerors. Hence on the banks of the Oroonoko we have heard of mothers slaying their daughters out of compassion, and smothering them in the hour of their birth. They consider this barbarous pity as a virtue.

Father Joseph Gumilla, reproving one of them for this inhuman crime, received the following answer:—“I wish to God, Father, I wish to God, that my mother had, by my death, prevented the manifold distresses I have endured, and have yet to endure as long as I live. Had she kindly stilled me in my birth, I should not have felt the pain of death, nor the numberless other pains to which life has subjected me. Consider, Father, our deplorable condition. Our husbands go to hunt with their bows and arrows, and trouble themselves no farther: we are dragged along with one infant at our breast, and another in a basket. They return in the evening without any burden; we return with the burden of our children. Though tired with long walking, we are not allowed to sleep, but must labor the whole night, in grinding maize to make chica for them. They get drunk, and in their drunkenness beat us, draw us by the hair of the head, and tread us under foot. A young wife is brought upon us and permitted to abuse us and our children. What kindness can we show to our female children, equal to that of relieving them from such servitude, more bitter a thousand times than death? I repeat again, would to God my mother had put me under ground, the moment I was born.”

“The men,” says Commodore Byron, in his account of the inhabitants of South America, “exercise a most despotic authority over their wives whom they consider in the same view they do any other part of their property, and dispose of them accordingly. Even their common treatment of them is cruel. For, though the toil and hazard of procuring food lies entirely on the women, yet they are not suffered to touch any part of it, until the husband is satisfied; and then he assign them their portion, which is generally very scanty, and such as he has not a stomach for himself.”

The Greenlanders, who live mostly upon seals, think it sufficient to catch and bring them on shore; and would rather submit to starve than assist their women in skinning, dressing, or dragging home the cumbrous animals to their huts.

In some parts of America, when the men kill any game in the woods, they lay it at the root of a tree, fix a mark there, and travelling until they arrive at their habitation, send their women to fetch it, a task which their own laziness and pride equally forbid.

Among many of the tribes of wandering Arabs, the women are not only obliged to do every domestic and every rural work, but also to feed, to dress, and saddle the horses, for the use of their husbands.

The Moorish women, besides doing all the same kinds of drudgery, are also obliged to cultivate the fields, while their husbands stand idle spectators of the toil, or sleep inglorious beneath a neighboring shade.

In Madura the husband generally speaks to his wife in the most imperious tone; while she with fear and trembling approaches him, waits upon him while at meals, and pronounces not his name, but with the addition of every dignifying title she can devise. In return for all this submission he frequently beats and abuses her in the most barbarous manner. Being asked the reason of such a behavior, one of them answered, “As our wives are so much our inferiors why should we allow them to eat and drink with us? Why should they not serve us with whatever we call for, and afterwards sit down and eat up what we leave? If they commit faults, why should they not suffer correction? It is their business only to bring up our children, pound our rice, make our oil, and do every other kind of drudgery, purposes to which only their low and inferior natures are adapted.”

The Circassian custom of breeding young girls, on purpose to be sold in the public market to the highest bidder, is generally known. Perhaps, however, upon minute examination, we shall find that women are, in some degree, bought and sold in every country, whether savage or civilized.


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