Friday, October 2, 2009

VII. Concerning the Marriage and Divorce of the Siameses.

The care they have of keeping their Daughters; At what Age they marry them; How a Siameses seeks a Maid in Marriage, and how their Marriage is concluded; The Nuptial Feast; The Riches of the Marriages at Siam; Of Plurality of Wives; A considerable distinction between them; The degrees of Alliance; prohibited and how the Kings of Siam dispense with this Article; Thus Jupiter has married his Sister; The Laws of Succession for Widows and Children; Wherein consists the Fortune of a Siamese; A Divorce; What are the Laws thereof; And the Consequences; Of the Paternal Power; Amorous Conversations.

‘Tis not the Custom of this Country to permit unto Maids the Conversation of young men. The Mothers chastise them, when they surprise them so: but the Girls forbear not to get out, when they can; and they can; and this is not impossible towards the Evening.

They are capable of having children at twelve years of Age, and sometimes sooner; and the greatest part have none past forty. The Custom is therefore to marry them very young, and the Boys in proportion. Yet there is found some Siameses, who distain Marriage all their life, but there is not any than can turn Talapoinesse, that is to say, consecrate her self to a Religious life, who is not advanced in years.

When a Marriage is design’d, the Parents of the young man demand the Maid of her Parents, by women advanced in years and of good Reputation. If the Parents of the Maid have any inclination thereunto, they return a favourable Answer. Nevertheless they reserve unto themselves the liberty of consulting first the mind of their Daughter; and at the same time they take the hour of the young mans Nativity, and give that of the Birth of the Maid: and both sides go to the Soothsayers to know principally whether the party proposed is rich, and whether the Marriage will continue till death without a divorce. As every one carefully conceals his riches, to secure them from the oppression of the Magistrate, and the Covetousness of the Prince, it is necessary that they go to the Soothsayer, to know whether a Family is rich, and it is upon the advice of the Soothsayers that they take their Resolution. If the Marriage must be concluded, the young man goes to visit the Lady three times, and carries her some presents of Betel and Fruit, and nothing more precious. At the third visit the Relations on both sides appear there likewise, and they count the Portion of the Bride, and what is given to the Bridegroom to whom the whole is delivered upon the spot, and in preference of the Relations, but without any writing. The new married couple do also commonly receive on this occasion some presents from their Uncles: and from that time, and without any Religious Ceremony, the bridegroom has a right to consummate the Marriage. The Talapoins are prohibited to be present thereat. Only some days after they go to the house of the New Married folks to sprinkle some Holy-water, and to repeat some Prayers in the Baly-Tongue.

The Wedding as in all other places, is attended with Feasts and shows. They do hire and invite profest Dancers thereunto; but neither the Bridegroom, nor the Bride, nor any of the Guests do dance. The Feast is made at the house of the Brides Relations, where the Bridegroom takes care to build an Hall on purpose, which stands alone: And from thence the new married persons are conducted into another single Building, built also on purpose, at the expence and care of the Bridegroom, in the Inclosure of Bambou, which makes the Inclosure of the House of the Brides Relations. The new married persons continue there some Months, and then go to settle where it pleases them best to build an House for themselves. A singular Ornament of the Daughters of the Mandarins which are married, is to put on their head that Circle of Gold, which the Mandarins put on their Bonnet of Ceremony. Next to this the decking consists in having finer Pagnes then ordinary, more excellent Pendants, and more curious Rings on their Fingers, and in greater quantity. Some there are who report that the pretended Father-in-Law, before the conclusion of the Marriage of his Daughter with his Son-in-Law, keeps him six Months in his house, to know him better. Some absolutely deny that this is true. And all that, in my opinion, may have given occasion to the report, is that it belongs to the Bridegroom to build the Wedding Room, and House, which he is to have at his Father-in-Law’s, during which, that is to say for two or three days at most, his future Spouse brings him Food, without dreading the Consequences thereof, because the Marriage is already concluded, altho’ the Feast be deferred.

The greatest Portion at Siam is an hundred Catis, which do make 15000 Livres; and because it is common that the Bridegroom’s Estate equals the portion of the Bride, it follows that at Siam the greatest Fortune of two new married Persons exceeds not 10000 Crowns.

The Siameses may have several Wives, tho’ they think it would be best to have but one; and it is only the Rich that affect to have more, and that more out of Pomp and Grandeur, than out of Debauchery.

When they have several Wives, there is always one that is the chief: they call her the great Wife. The others, which they call the lesser Wives, are indeed legitimate, I mean permitted by the Laws, but they are subject to the Principal. They are only purchas’d Wives, and consequently Slaves; so that the Children of the little Wives do call their Father Po Tchaou, that is to say Father Lord, whereas the Children of the Principal Wife do call him simly Po, or Father.

Marriage in the first degrees of Kindred is prohibited them, yet they may marry their Cousin-German. And as to the degrees of Alliance, a Man may marry two Sisters one after the other, and not at the same time. Nevertheless, the Kings of Siam do dispense with these Rules, and do think it hardly possible to find a Wife worthy of them, but in persons that are nearly related to them. The present King married his Sister, and by this Marriage was born the Princess his only Daughter, whom it is said he has married. I could not find out the truth, but this is the common Report: And I think it probable, in that her House is erected as unto a Queen; and the Europeans who have call’d her the Princess-Queen, have made the same judgment thereof with me. The Relations inform us, that in other places as well as at Siam, there are some Examples of these Marriages of the Brother with the Sister; and it is certain that they have been anciently frequent amongst a great many pagan Nations, at least in the Royal Families: either to the end that the Daughter might succeed to the Crown with the Son, or out of the fear I have mention’d, that these Kings have had of misplacing their Alliances, if they married not their own Sisters. For as to what others add, that is to the end that the People may not doubt of having a Sovereign of the Royal Blood, at least by his Mother, I find no probability therein as to the East, where the People are so little wedded to the Blood of their Kings, and where the Kings do think to assure themselves of the Fidelity of their Wives, by keeping them very closely.

The Succession in particular Families is all for the great Wife, and then for her Children, who inherit from their Parents by equal Portions. The little Wives and their Children may be sold by the Heir; and they have only what the Heir gives them, or what the Father before his death has given them from hand to hand, for the Siameses know not the use of Wills. The Daughters born of the little Wives, are sold to be themselves little Wives; and the most powerful purchasing the handsomest, without having any regard to the Parents from whom they descend, do after this manner make very unequal Alliances: and those with whom they make them, do not thereby acquire any more Honour or Protection.

The Estate of the Siameses consist chiefly in Moveables. If they have Lands, they have not much, by reason they cannot obtain the full Property thereof: it belongs always to their King, who at his pleasure takes away the Lands which he has sold to particular persons, and who frequently takes them again without returning the value. Nevertheless the Law of the Country is, that Lands should be hereditary in Families, and that particular persons may sell them one to another: But this Prince has regard only to this Law, as far as it suits him, because it cannot prejudice his Demesnes, which generally extend over all that his Subjects possess. This is the reason that they get as few Immoveables as they can, and that they always endeavor to conceal their Moveables from the knowledge of their Kings: and because that Diamonds are Moveables the most easie to hide and transport, they are mightily sought after at Siam, and in all India, and they sell them very dear. Sometimes the Indian Lords do at their death give part of their Estate to the King their Master, to secure the rest to the Family, and this generally succeeds.

The Families are almost all happy at Siam, as may be judged by the Fidelity of the Wives in nourishing their Husband, whilst he serves the King: A Service which by a kind of Oppression lasts not only six Months in a Year, but sometimes one, two, and three Years together. But when the Husband and Wife cannot support one another, they have the remedy of Divorce. ‘Tis true that it is in practice only amongst the Populace; the Rich who have several Wives, do equally keep those they love not, and those they love.

The Husband is naturally the Master of the Divorce, but he never refuseth it to his Wife, when she absolutely desires it. He restores her Portion to her, and their Children are divided amongst them in this manner. The mother has the first, the third, the fifth, and so all the odd ones. The Father has the second, fourth, sixth, and all the even ones. Hence it happens, that if there is no more than one Child, it is for the Mother; and that if the number of Children is unequal, the Mother has the more: whether they judge the Mother would take more care thereof, than the Father; or that having born them in her womb, or nourished them with her milk, she seems to have a greater Right therein than the Father; or that being weaker, she has more need of the succor of her Children than he.

After the Divorce, it is lawful for the Husband and Wife to marry again with whom they please; and it is free for the Woman to do it in the very day of the Divorce, they not troubling themselves with the Doubt that may thence arise touching the Father of the first Child, that may be born after the second Marriage. They rely on what the Wife says thereof; a great sign of the little Jealousie of this People. But tho’ the divorce be permitted, yet they consider it as a very great Evil, and as the almost certain Ruine of the Children, which are ordinarily very ill treated in the second Marriages of their Parents. So that this is one of the Causes assigned why the Country is not populous: altho’ the Siameses are fruitful, and do very frequently bring Twins.

The power of the Husband is despotical in his Family, even to the selling his Children and Wives, his principal Wife excepted, whom he can only repudiate. The Widows inherit the power of their Husbands, with this restriction, that they cannot sell the Children which they have of the even number, if the Father’s Relations oppose it; for the Children dare not. After the Divorce, the Father and Mother may each sell the Children which fell to them by lot, according to the Division I have mentioned. But the parents cannot kill their Children, nor the Husband his Wives, by reason that in general all Murder is prohibited in Siam.

The Love of free persons is not ignominious, at least amongst the Populace: It is therefore look’d upon as a Marriage, and Incontinency as a Divorce. Nevertheless, the Parents do carefully watch their Daughters, as I have said; and Children are no where permitted to dispose of themselves to the prejudice of the paternal Power, which is the most natural of all Laws. Moreover, the Siameses are naturally too proud easily to give themselves to Foreigners, or at least to invite them. The Peguins which are at Siam, as being Strangers themselves, do more highly esteem of Foreigners; and do pass for debauched persons in the minds of those who understand not that they seek a Husband. Thus they continue faithful until they are abandon’d; and if they prove big with Child, they are not less esteem’d amongst those of their Nation; and they do even glory in having had a white Man for a Husband. It may be also that they are of a more amorous Complexion than the Siameses; they have all at least more spirit and briskness. ‘Tis an established opinion in the Indies, that the people have more or less vigor and spirit, according as they are nearer, or remoter from Pegu.

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