Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/40

This page has been validated.

38

A SKETCH OF

meet at the houses of the parents of the two parties. At the appointed hour, the relatives or friends of the bridegroom accompany him to the house of the bride. These either pay or receive the dowry agreed upon; he is welcomed by the bride as her future husband; they eat together, are recognized by the senior members of the family as husband and wife, a benediction is pronounced upon them, and a prayer offered to God that they may have a numerous offspring, abundance of cattle, many slaves, great wealth, and increase the honor of their respective families.

Polygamy is common among the Malagasy, the only restrictions upon it being that no man shall take twelve wives except the sovereign. There are many more ceremonies attending the taking of a second wife than the first, which it is needless to mention. The very name by which polygamy is designated—famporafesana, that is, “the means of causing enmity,” implies the evils of which it is the fruitful source. It is the chief cause of nearly all the domestic disputes and jealousies existing among the Malagasy; wives become jealous of each other, and the husband suffers from the jealousy of all. In a word, polygamy is a curse to the land, and its final extinction is a consummation devoutly to be desired by all who prefer peace to wrath, affection to bitterness, domestic comfort to domestic strife, and Christian virtues to the jealousy, malice, and uncharitableness of the excited and turbulent passions of depraved human nature. It is a cause, among other evils, of numerous divorces. The divorced woman can marry again in twelve days, though it is possible for the husband to give a divorce of such a character that she can never marry again.

A widow forfeits all claim to respectability of character if she marry within twelve months of her husband’s decease, and would, were she thus to act, be marked and shunned in society.

The ceremony of circumcision has been long practiced in the island, and as no one seems to know whence it came, it may possibly be regarded as indigenous. It dose not appear to have much religious significance, but would seem rather to be a mark of manhood, and to be more assimilated to the ceremony observed on assuming the toga virilis among the Romans, than to the institution of circumcision as practiced by the Semitic race. If the Malagasy are asked why they practice it, their answer is, because their ancestors did. And when asked why their ancestors did it, they reply, “Who can tell that?”