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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

The arrangement of matrimony is rather a complicated matter

First of all, it may be well to repeat that by the Mahommedan doctrine no man can have more than four wives, and this on the specified condition that he is able to keep them in comfort, in separate houses, with separate attendants, separate personal jewellery, and that he will look upon them equally, showing no special favour to any of them which may be the cause of jealousy or envy. All these conditions make it well-nigh impossible for any man of sound judgment to embark in polygamy. Most well-to-do Persians, therefore, only have one wife.

Another important matter to be taken into consideration is, that no Persian woman of a good family will ever marry a man who is already married. So that the chances of legal polygamy become at once very small indeed in young men of the better classes, who do not wish to ruin their career by marrying below their own level.

An exception should be made with the lower and wealthy middle classes, who find a satisfaction in numbers to make up for quality, and who are the real polygamists of the country. But even in their case the real wives are never numerous--never above the number permitted by the Koran,--the others being merely concubines, whether temporary or permanent. The Shah himself has no more than one first wife, with two or three secondary ones.

In a country where women are kept in strict seclusion as they are in Persia, the arrangement of matrimony is rather a complicated matter. Everybody knows that in Mussulman countries a girl can only be seen by her nearest relations, who by law cannot marry her, such as her father, grandfather, brothers and uncles--but not by her cousins, for weddings between cousins are very frequently arranged in Persia.

It falls upon the mother or sisters of the would-be bridegroom to pick a suitable girl for him, as a rule, among folks of their own class, and report to him in glowing terms of her charms, social and financial advantages. If he has no mother and sisters, then a complaisant old lady friend of the family undertakes to act as middlewoman. There are also women who are professional match-makers--quite a remunerative line of business, I am told. Anyhow, when the young man has been sufficiently allured into matrimonial ideas, if he has any common sense he generally wishes to see the girl before saying yes or no. This is arranged by a subterfuge.

The women of the house invite the girl to their home, and the young fellow is hidden behind a screen or a window or a wall, wherein convenient apertures have been made for him, unperceived, to have a good look at the proposed young lady. This is done several times until the boy is quite satisfied that he likes her.

The primary difficulty being settled, his relations proceed on a visit to the girl's father and mother, and ask them to favour their son with their daughter's hand.

If the young man is considered well off, well-to-do, sober and eligible in every way, consent is given. A day is arranged for the Nomzad--the official betrothal day. All the relations, friends and acquaintances of the two families are invited, and the women are entertained in the harem while the men sit outside in the handsome courts and gardens. The bridegroom's relations have brought with them presents of jewellery, according to their means and positions in life, with a number of expensive shawls, five, six, seven or more, and a mirror. Also some large trays of candied sugar.

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