Oppressed Widowhood In America
HP Blavatsky @ Theosophy Trust
Oppressed Widowhood In America
Having read an article signed
with the above pseudonym in The Philosophic Enquirer of July 1st,
in which the hapless condition of the Hindû widow is so sincerely
bewailed, the idea struck me that it may not be uninteresting to your readers,
the opponents as well as the supporters of child-marriage and widow-marriage,
to learn that the sacerdotal caste of India is not a solitary exception
in the cruel treatment of those unfortunates whom fate has deprived of their
husbands. Those who look upon the re-marriage of their bereaved females
with horror, as well as those who may yet be secretly sighing for Suttee,
will find worthy sympathizers among the savage and fierce tribe of the Talkotins
of Oregon (America). Says Ross Cox in his Adventures on the Columbia
The ceremonies attending
the dead are very singular and quite peculiar
to this tribe. During the nine days the corpse is laid out the widow of
the deceased is obliged to sleep alongside it from sunset to sunrise; and
from this custom there is no relaxation even during the hottest days of
summer! [While the ceremony of cremation is being performed, and the doctor
(or "medicine man") is trying for the last time his skill upon
the corpse, and using useless incantations to bring him back to life,
the widow must lie on the pile, and after the fire is applied to it she
cannot stir until the doctor orders her to be removed, which, however,
is never done until her body is completely covered with blisters.
After being placed on her legs she is obliged to pass her hands gently
through the flames and collect some of the liquid fat which issues from
the corpse, with which she is permitted[? to wet her face
and body! When the friends of the deceased observe the sinews of the legs
and arms beginning to contract they compel the unfortunate widow to go
again on the pile, and by dint of hard pressing to straighten those members.
If during her husbands lifetime she has been known to have omitted
administering to him savoury food, or neglected his clothing, etc., she
is now made to suffer severely for such lapses of duty by his relations,
who frequently fling her on the funeral pile, from which she is dragged
by her friends, and thus between alternate scorching and cooling she is
dragged backwards and forwards until she falls into a state of insensibility.
After which she is saved and allowed to go.
But if the widow was faithful, respectful and a good wife, then:
After the process of
burning the corpse has terminated, the widow collects
the larger bones, which she rolls up in an envelope of birch bark, and
which she is obliged for some years afterwards to carry on her back. She
is now considered and treated as a slave [as in India; all the laborious
duties of cooking, collecting fuel, etc., devolve on her. She must obey
the orders of all the women and even of the village children, and the slightest
mistake or disobedience subjects her to the infliction of a heavy punishment.
The wretched widow, to avoid this complicated cruelty, often commits suicide.
Should she, however, linger on for three or four years, the friends of
her husband agree to relieve her from her painful mourning. This is a ceremony
of much consequence. . . . Invitations are sent to the inhabitants of the
various friendly villages, and when the feast commences presents are distributed
to each visitor. The object of their meeting is then explained, and the
woman is brought forward, still carrying on her back the bones of her late
husband, which are now removed and placed in a carved box, which is nailed
to a post twelve feet high.
Her conduct as a faithful widow is next highly eulogized, and the ceremony
of her manumission is completed by one man powdering on her head the down
of birds and another pouring on it the contents of a bladder of oil! She
is then at liberty to marry again or lead a life of single blessedness;
but few of them, I believe, wish to encounter the risk attending a
[From The Philosophic Enquirer, July 15th, 1883.
H. P. Blavatsky