Women Under Polygamy/Chapter 23
|Women Under Polygamy by
CHAPTER XXIII AFGHAN MARRIAGE
THE greater number of the five million inhabitants of Afghanistan are Mohammedans. Polygamy, sanctioned by religion and law, is practised amongst the affluent classes, and there are harems in Kandahar and Kabul. The bulk of the pastoral population marry only one wife, as in India and Persia. Women are rather less secluded in Afghanistan than in some other Moslem countries, and among the labouring classes the veil is not worn.
Ordinary marriages are by arrangement, as in most Oriental nations; but freedom of choice is allowed to girls who are approached by a suitor. Dr. J. A. Gray, who was the physician in the royal household, says that a young Afghan lover who desires to marry a maiden sends his mother and sisters to visit her. These emissaries perform their delicate errand with courtesy and shrewdness, and bring back an impression of the damsel. The next stage in courtship is a visit of the enamoured youth to the house of his mistress. But he is not allowed to gaze upon her. She, on the other hand, sees him unobserved from a place of concealment, and closely criticises his appearance, his defects, and attractions. If he pleases her, she accepts him as her husband; but if the inspection is disappointing, she is at full liberty to dismiss him.
The royal harem resembles other institutions of the kind in the East generally. The wives and subordinate spouses are veiled, and secluded in their own apartments, and waited upon by slaves and eunuchs. There are beauties in the harem, and some of them are fair, with light tresses, which they plait and braid. The Afghan type of countenance is Hebrew, and many of both sexes are handsome. But a number of the women are sallow in complexion.
Some travellers have described the Afghans as vindictive, deceitful, and cruel; but such an accusation is too sweeping, and hardly supported by the evidence of other writers. The people are martial in temper, and inclined to act ruthlessly towards their enemies in warfare. They are brave soldiers, and have been distinguished bandits.
Polygamy is not universally approved by the Afghans, and many rich men, who could afford to maintain more than one wife, prefer to live as monogamists.
The expense and the worry that the harem involves are also deterrents in Afghanistan as elsewhere under Islam.
Dr. Gray inquired of an Afghan gentleman: " Do you consider that a plurality of wives is to be desired?" " Among people of my race," he replied, " a plurality of wives is lawful; but that which is lawful is not always expedient." " In what way is it inexpedient? " I asked. " Firstly, there is the question of expense. Secondly, a plurality of wives is a source of constant annoyance and anxiety. One wife will live in peace with her husband; but with two or more there is no peace; for ever they are quarrelling."*
This philosophic rejoinder echoes, no doubt, the opinion of a very large number of men in the Eastern countries. From the time of Solomon, the harem and the concubinate have often proved hotbeds of jealousy, intrigue, strife, and tragedy, though this is not the in- variable rule. Intrigues and domestic trouble are not uncommon in the Afghan harems. A shrewd and re- flective man asks himself whether plural marriage is the happiest state, seeing that so many homes are scenes of discord.
Women in Afghanistan possess considerable in- fluence in social matters, and even in politics. A clever, scheming woman succeeds as well here as in
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any other part of the globe, and the inmates of the harem contrive to rule their lords when it is to their advantage to do so. Frequently the husband seeks the counsels of his wife in grave affairs outside of the home sphere.
Amongst the Afridis, especially, women have dis- tinct power, which they often exercise in an autocratic fashion. A discontented Afridi wife does not take the trouble to sue for a divorce. Her method of separa- tion is extremely simple. She quietly parts from her spouse, and goes to another tribe in quest of a more desirable husband. There is no anxious regard for fealty to the precepts of Mohammed, and no need for legal processes. The injured woman merely runs away and marries again as soon as possible.
In a recent volume, cc Afghanistan/' by Mr. Angus Hamilton, it is stated that women are seldom seen in the streets. There are frequent intrigues in the seraglios, and jealousy is common among the women of the Amir's household.