Infant Betrothal

THE betrothal of children, either for purposes of political expediency, strengthening the ties of clanship, or enlargement of territory, which history shows us to be, and to have been, one of the commonest practices of present civilization as of former savagery, must not be accepted as setting aside every instinct of sexual adaptability and individual choice in marriages of the human race. As liberty of selection has been already shown to be a fundamental law among the lower animals, it cannot be supposed that even the dictates of expediency, and the exigencies of refined life, should wholly abrogate it among men. Hence we find, as Mr. Schoolcraft remarks of the North Infant Betrothal American Indians, that amongst almost all savage races " marriages are brought about sometimes with, and sometimes against, the wishes of the graver and more prudent relatives of the parties."1 Instances are cited by Heckewelder and others* of Indians who have committed suicide through failure to secure the wives of their choice; and among the Kaniagmuts, Thlinkets and Nutkas, "the suitor has usually to consult the wishes of the young lady." We are told that among the Pueblos " no girl is forced to marry against her will, however eligible her parents may consider the match;"8 and in Terra del Fuego the eagerness with which the young girl seeks for a husband is only equalled by her uniform success in getting the one she wants. The modern civilized custom of the girl running away from the man she dislikes, to take up with the one she likes, an inalienable sexual right, call it elopement or what you will, has a perfect parallel among the Dacotah tribe, as we are told, where many matches are made by elopement, much to the chagrin of the parents.4

But the reverse is also the case in many savage countries. In Australia, girls are contracted for in infancy; as also in New Guinea, New Zealand, Tahiti, China and the Philippines. In the last mentioned place, the farming out of young girls as temporary wives, or queridas, by the father, or in some cases the padres of the church, was a very agreeable industry to the young American officers during our first occupation of the islands; and was only brought to a sudden halt by stringent orders from the War Department, in 1902. The usual terms were, five dollars down, paid to the legal guardian of the girl, and a weekly rental of fifty cents, with board and lodging, of which the fair matrimonia was herself the recipient.

In British India the same custom not only existed, but among the natives themselves fully one-third of the married women of all classes were contracted for, or married in infancy. The Kurnai girl of Australia had a decided freedom of choice; and should her parents refuse their consent, she ran away with her lover. Sometimes, on her return, she would be forced into the same objectionable union, when another elopement took place, three such elopements usually being sufficient to overcome the parental objection; but if not, all she had to do was to get the lover to impregnate her, which effectually ended the opposition.1

The Australian races were quite liberal to women in the matter of choosing husbands, as were also those of New Zealand. The Maoris have a proverb, " as the fish selects the hook which pleases it, so woman chooses one husband out of many;"-* and in Tonga, fully two-thirds of the girls marry with their own consent. The method of choosing a husband among the ladies of Arone was amusing. The girl sat in the lower room of the house, and her admirers, perhaps fifteen or twenty, assembling in the apartment immediately above, each one let down through the chinks of the floor a long strip of cocoanut fibre. She pulled upon one, asking whose it was; and if the voice was not that of her favorite, she went on from one to another till she found the right party.1

In Sumatra, if a young fellow ran away with a virgin, which, considering the scarcity of real virgins there he was eminently justified in doing, the father had the power to take her away from him, on his return to parental jurisdiction, unless he paid over the stipulated price; while among the women of the Chittagong Hill-tribe, in India, according to Lewin, the privilege of selecting their husbands " is to the full as free as that enjoyed by our own English maidens."

In China, Japan and Korea, the law of mutual choice largely prevails; and in Africa most of the tribal women may select their suitors at will. The Madi girls, as is stated by Dr. Thomas H. Parke,* have great liberty in choosing companions to their liking; and among the Kaffirs, as Mr. Leslie remarks, it is a great mistake to suppose that a girl is sold by her father, as he would sell a cow.1