Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/39

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MADAGASCAR.

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victim is usually effected by suffocation, The infant's head is held with its face downwards in the rice pan filled with water, till life becomes extinct. Sometimes a piece of cloth is placed on the child’s mouth, to render its suffocation more speedy. The remains of the infant thus murdered, are buried on the south side of the parents’ house, that being superstitiously regarded as the part which is ill omened and fatal. The parents then rub a small quantity of red earth into their clothes, and afterwards shake them, as if to avert or shake off from themselves the evil supposed to be incurred by their slight and transient contact with that which had been doomed to destruction.

Another mode of perpetrating this unnatural deed is by taking the infant to a retired spot in the neighborhood of the village, digging a grave sufficiently large to receive it, pouring in a quantity of water slightly warmed, putting a piece of cloth on the infant’s mouth, placing it in the grave, filling this up with earth, and leaving the helpless child thus buried alive, a memorial of their own affecting degradation, and the relentless barbarism of their gloomy superstition. Yet such seems to be one of the natural traits of man in his native condition, and wherein does it differ from the unconscious act of the crocodile in devouring its own young? Nature has thus constituted man; and it would seem as if besides the deadly fever, and frequent wars between hostile tribes, she had provided additional means to check the tendency to a superabundant overgrowth of population in one of her fertile tropical islands.

When the Malagasy child has escaped all the dangers to which its infant life is exposed, it is then beloved with additional tenderness by its parents. At a very early age, frequently before the sixth or seventh year is completed, girls and boys engage in the occupations of their parents respectively. The amusements of the children resemble on a smaller scale those of the adults. Bull-fighting is one of those held in the highest estimation among the latter; and children spend many hours in setting beetles to fight, and watching them while employed in destroying each other.

Children are betrothed at a very early age, and they marry at 12 and 14, becoming parents soon afterwards. There are certain degrees of relationship within which the laws prohibit marriage. The marriage ceremonies are very simple, and not very uniform. Great feasting takes place; the betrothed couple appear in their best dress, and their friends and relatives