Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/797

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779
INCIDENTS OF CAMBODIAN LIFE.

The Cambodian woman occupies a dignified position in the house of her husband. He owes her respect and gives it, and is not rude or violent in her presence. He can put her away, but she can also claim a divorce at law. She can go to law without the consent of her husband, when she must be supported by a relative, or, if she has none, by a respectable neighbor. If she is summoned to court, she can oblige her husband to go with her, under penalty, if he fails to go, of his losing his rights over her; and she can leave him without his having any right to complain or to claim reparation. He can pawn her or sell her as a slave if she consents, but he can not dispose of himself in such way without her approval. The woman can have but one husband, and he can not take a second wife or any additional one without the consent of his first wife. The first wife is called the first wife, the second the middle wife, and the third the end wife; those that follow are concubines. They are all hierarchically subordinated one to the other, but the great wife, the true wife, is mistress of the house, and the others are only her followers and servants. If one of these encroaches upon her prerogatives, she can punish her; if she seeks to seduce the husband and supplant the first wife in his heart, she can call her guilty rival before the court and get judgment against her. The first wives sometimes select the other wives for their husbands, often choosing such as will be agreeable companions to themselves; and women are numerous who have been able to exert such influence over their husbands or exercise such power in the house as to prevent the introduction of any other wives.

Cambodian maidens rarely go astray, and infanticide is absolutely unknown in the country. Mothers are anxious to have children, and are not afraid of any number of them. A woman who has no children after several years of marriage is unhappy over the fact, and her fellow-women sympathize with her for it.

The people are brave, willing to run considerable dangers for a small reward, and are valiant in action; but they are superstitious, and believe in ghosts, evil spirits, witches, and witchcraft. They offer worship to genii and invoke them, good and bad alike, when they are afraid or in need. It is not rare to find in the corner of a rice field a little straw mat inclosing a fragment of a sculptured prayer from some ancient Khmer monument, or simply an ordinary stone. They believe that the arac dwells in this stone, give it homage, and burn fragrant sticks before it, which they plant in a piece of banana stem, or a small basin, or in half a cocoanut filled with sand. They also render a secret worship to lingams derived from the Brahmanic epoch which have been concealed for centuries in the depths of natural grottoes, without knowing what these stones represent.