LETTER XX (Continued)
After tiffin a Rajah came and asked me to go with him to his house, and we walked down with his train of followers and my Malay attendant. It was a very nice house, with harmonious coloring and much deep shadow. It soon filled with people. There were two women, but not having an interpreter, I could not tell whether they were the chief's wives or sisters. He showed me a number of valuable krises, spears and parangs, and the ladies brought sherbet and sweetmeats, and they were altogether very jolly, and made me pronounce the Malay names of things, and the women laughed heartily when I pronounced them badly. They showed me some fine diamonds, very beautifully set in that rich, red "gold of Ophir" which makes our yellow western gold look like a brazen imitation, as they evidently thought, for they took off my opal ring, and holding the gold against their own ornaments, made gestures of disapproval. I think that opals were new to them, and they were evidently delighted with their changing colors.
Mussulman law is very stringent as to some of the rights of wives. In Malay marriage contracts it is agreed that all savings and "effects" are to be the property of husband and wife equally, and are to be equally divided in case of divorce. A man who insists on divorcing his wife not only has to give her half his effects, but to repay the sum paid as the marriage portion. It appears that polygamy is rare, except among the chiefs.
Marriage is attended with elaborate arrangements among these people, and the female friends of both parties usually make the "engagement," after which the bridegroom's friends go to the bride's father, talk over the dowry, make presents, and pay the marriage expenses. Commonly, especially among the higher classes, the bridegroom does not see the lady's face until the marriage day. Marriage is legalized by a religious ceremony, and then if the wife be grown up her husband takes her to his own home. Girls are married at fourteen or fifteen, and although large families are rare, they look old women at forty.
On the day before the marriage expenses are paid by the bridegroom, the bride-elect has her teeth filed. It is this process which gives the Malay women, who are very pretty as children, their very repulsive look. It produces much the same appearance of wreck and ruin as blackening the teeth does in Japan, and makes a smile a thing to be dreaded. Young girls are not allowed to chew betel, which stains badly, and have white, pearly teeth, but these are considered like the teeth of animals. The teeth are filed down to a quarter of their natural length by means of a hard Sumatran stone, or fine steel file. The operation lasts about an hour, and the gums continue swelled and painful for some days. After they have recovered, the blackening of the teeth by means of betel chewing is accelerated by means of a black liquid obtained by burning cocoa-nut shells on iron, Three days before the marriage ceremony henna is applied to the nails of the hands and feet, and also to the palms of the hands, and the hair is cut short over the forehead, something in the style of a "Gainsborough fringe."
The wedding feast is a very grand affair. Goats and buffaloes are killed, and the friends and relatives of the bride send contributions of food. The wedding decorations are family property, and descend from mother to daughter, and both bride and bridegroom are covered with flowers, jewels, and gay embroidery. The bride sits in state and receives the congratulatory visits of her relatives and friends, and after the actual ceremony is over, the newly-married couple sit on a seat raised above the guests, and the sirih and betel-nut are largely chewed. There are "floral decorations," music, and feasting; all strangers are made welcome; the young men spend the afternoon in games, among which cock-fighting usually plays a prominent part, and the maidens amuse themselves in a part of the house screened off from the rest of the guests by curtains, and made very gay.
As religious ceremonies attend upon marriage and death, so on the birth of a child the father puts his mouth to the ear of the infant and solemnly pronounces what is called the Azan or "Allah Akbar," the name of the one God being the first sound which is allowed to fall upon his ears on entering the world, as it is the last sound which he hears on leaving it. There is a form of prayer which is used at births, and another on the seventh day afterward, when the child's head is shaved. The sage femme remains for forty days with the mother, who on the fortieth day makes the ceremonial purifications and prayers which are customary, and then returns to her ordinary duties. The child, as soon as it can speak, learns to recite prayers and passages from the Koran, and is very early grounded in the distinctive principles of Islam.
The children of both sexes are very pretty, but with strangers they are very shy and timid. They look very innocent, and are docile, gentle and obedient, spending much of their time in taming their pets and playing with them, and in playing games peculiar to their age. Except in one or two cases in Sungei Ujong, I have not seen a child with eye or skin disease, or any kind of deformity.