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The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas and Brazil
Francois Pyrard de Laval
translated into English in 1887 from the third French edition of 1619 by Albert Gray assisted by H.C.P. Bell

Vol.1 Chapter 12

More of their ceremonies - at betrothals and weddings, at obsequies and funerals.

Weddings and Marriage
At their weddings, which are called 'kaiveni', they also use formalities and ceremonies not a few: it is the Fandiyaru or the naibs to whom alone they address themselves on this occasion; these send their dheyvaani, or sergeants, to make the inquiries I shall speak of.

If everything is settled, the girl or woman sends her father, or in default, her next of kin on the father's side, and gives him the power to represent her. This person and the future husband present themselves before the Fandiyaru or naib, who being certified on all points, takes the bridegroom's hand, and asks him if he wills to take the woman on the conditions proposed, and then of the father or kinsman he demands the same; and if they answer yes, he goes through the prescribed formalities, taking the attestation of the witnesses present - namely, the kinsfolk, sergeants, and others - to the promise of marriage, and to all the proceedings.

Thereupon they go to the woman, who is waiting at her house, and assure her of all that has passed. That done, they all sit down to a banquet at the expense of the bridegroom, according to his means, music being played all the day long. Many people come to visit and salute them, the visitors receiving betel, which is their token of respect, as we should give refreshment here. To the Fandiyaru or naib are sent two larins, a dish of food, and a box of betel. Likewise, those who marry are wont to give presents to the king and the queens, to the great lords and ladies, - that is, the bridegroom to the king and lords, and the bride to the queens and other ladies, as well as to their own kindred and friends.

On the other hand, when the king marries, he receives presents from all his subjects, as well lords as commoners, men as women, who present themselves in good order, each with those of his own quality, class, parish, and sex, with their offerings of cloths, robes, turbans, meats, flowers, etc. according to the means of the giver. The people of Male' appear in person, those of the other atolls and chief islands generally by deputies; the great lords tarrying awhile to have the pleasure of saluting him in person. For all that, the king goeth not forth nor showeth himself on these days, but hour by hour his attendants come and tell him what persons have arrived at the hail, of what quality, how arrayed, and with what presents, and at the last these are laid before him. They amount to a great deal, and all appertain to the newly married queen.

A man may have three wives at once, but no more, and these only if he is able to support and maintain them. (Footnote 1887: Muhammad allowed four (Koran, Sura iv), but Maldive usage may have limited husbands to three, which seems to have been the number kept by the Sultan.) If all three wives live in the same island, the husband is obliged by their law to sleep as many nights with one as with another; but they do not observe this. It is but an ill-considered law for these countries, where three husbands would not suffice for one wife, so lewd are the women. The women have no marriage portion; it is for the husbands to provide them with everything necessary, and to bear the expense of the wedding in manner suited to their rank. So they settle for them a jointure, called 'ran', gold, according, not to the means and quality of the husband, but to the quality of the wife, and to what her mbther and grandmothers had: for she must have no less.

For this cause the Fandiyaru or naib full often sends them away without marrying them, when he finds that the bridegroom's means suffice not for such a jointure; even though both parties ask to be married without thought for the jointure. Most of the women take this 'ran' for the traditional honour of their house, and most of them of their own accord give up a part or all of it a few days after marriage. If the husband dies, she is allowed to take her jointure with her own goods; but the husband's heirs will make a composition with her; whereas, if she has parted with it during the life of the deceased, she can ask none of it back.

The impediments to marriage, of which the Fandiyaru or naib informs himself before he marries anyone, are the being brother and sister, or cousins-german, or foster brother and sister, or having formerly called each other in token of friendship by the name of son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister: in such cases they may not marry together. (Footnote 1887: See Koran, Sura iv, where the actual relationship of brother and sister, or foster-brother and sister, is a bar; but no mention is made of the fictitious brother and sisterhood of friends. This latter is, however, a well established Singalese relationship. It is common to hear a man say, 'M is not my brother, but I call him brother.')

Youths may marry when they list, but girls may not till they have attained the age of fifteen years, - I mean, when they are orphans, or rather, bereft of their father, - for a mother would have no authority, neither any of the kindred on the mother's side. In default of a father, their brother gives them in marriage; if no brother, the nearest male relative on the father's side. Fathers, however, give their daughters in marriage as soon as possible after the age of ten years, thinking it a great sin to let a girl want a husband; wherefore they hand them over at the age of ten or eleven to the first that asks them, without making any bother, be he old or young, man or boy: provided only there is little difference in their quality, that is all they think of.

A man can leave his wife when he will, provided that she agree (they call getting divorced 'varikurun'); otherwise, if she do not consent, the man may still leave her, but would be obliged to pay her jointure. But this does not happen, for what displeasure soever the wife may feel, she will not ask for her jointure, for that would be to her a reproach among women. They would despise one of their sex who was so mean spirited and unworthy as to fear she could not get other husbands; and, indeed, no one would court such a one: so that public opinion prevents them enjoying what the law ordains.

The wife, too, can separate from her husband, provided he consents; otherwise not. This divorce, which is very common among them, must be made in the presence of witnesses, all or some of whom must be present when either of the parties expresses a desire to marry another, otherwise the naib would not perform the marriage. This is the source of many quarrels, for full often, in a sudden temper, they divorce each other by consent, and soon after one of the parties rues it, and the other does not. Thus do they frequently come before the judge, bringing their witnesses to prove their divorces and marriages.

When the divorce is effected, the parties may marry again when they like; and they can marry each other again as before; but only three times, and no more, save when the woman after three marriages has married another man, and he has left her. (Footnote 1887: 'You may divorce your wives twice... But if the husband divorce her a third time, she shall, not be lawful for him again, until she marry another husband. But if he also divorce her, it shall be no crime in them if they return to each other, if they think they can observe the ordinances of God.' (Koran, Sura ii)).

Middle husbands
As they are flighty in their notions about marriage, it often happens that, after three marriages and three divorces between the same parties, they wish to come together again, and are prevented by the law. But hear now the means they contrive. Vile and abject beings are found who, for a money consideration, contract a marriage with the woman, and sleep a night with her, but without touching her (for she would not suffer him, and it is so understood); next day he swears that he has had her company, and then two or three days after he quits her in the presence of witnesses.

By this means, the letter of the law is obeyed, and, three months after, the former pair are married afresh. The highest ladies in the land aie constrained to go through the same business in like case. These middlemen are called 'medhu piri' as who should say 'middle husband'; they are held in great contempt even of the common people, as infamous creatures without honour or conscience. (Footnote 1887: That he was designated by a Maldive, and not an Arabic term, shows, as the fact would seem, that the feigned marriage was a legal fiction invented at the Maldives.) It is a grievous slander even to be called medhu piri. Even if it happens by chance that a man marries a woman already divorced three times, and after awhile he leaves her, and her old husband takes her to wife again, he would be greatly offended, as having been got to take the part of a medhu piri, and his honour would be gone, did he not avenge himself. For the rest. they cannot make use of a medhu piri more than twice: after that they cannot marry together again; and it is to be noted that there is no expense in the wedding or in presents when the same parties are remarried.

So it is, by these frequent divorces they marry many a time, and change marvellously often. A man may in his life have had eighty wives and more; among others, the Fandiyaru, who died shortly after I resided at the islands, had as many as a hundred. In like manner the wives have a vast number of husbands; but, far from that being imputed to them for any kind of blame, they are prouder the oftener they have changed husbands; and when they are courted they tell the number, names, and quality of their former husbands as a high recommendation. Nor are they less esteemed by their gallants, but rather more; and less is thought of one who is still a virgin than of one who is no longer so, except it be by the king and the great lords.

Yet, notwithstanding this common changing, you will find men and women who remain for a long time together, by reason that they love and cherish each other more than all the world. After the dissolution of the marriage by divorce or death, the women cannot marry again quite so soon. When a husband dies, four months and ten days are ordained for the widow to mourn him; and then, to marry again, it suffices not for the woman to say off hand that her husband is dead, for she must prove his death by three witnesses, who speak to the time, manner, and cause thereof.

If, however, the husband were absent from the kingdom, and the wife had nothing of his, she could remarry a year after. So in divorce is there a time prescribed: for the woman must certify that since the separation she has had her courses three times, and she must wait till then ere she marries again. This is done to avoid the uncertain status of the issue, if she should be with child. Wherefore the Fandiyaru or naib informs himself particularly of this, and has the woman who desires to marry examined by three other women of the same parish and of good repute; and in addition he makes her swear that she has had her courses three times.

Funeral customs
Burial is with them called 'valhulun', and is a matter of much consideration, as to which they are highly superstitious. First of all, the dead body is washed by six men; if it is a woman, by six women. They use more than a hogshead of water in the washing, and say certain prayers the while; this done, they cover it with cotton, and shroud it with two cloths of white cotton, the one over the other, placing the right hand upon the ear and the left along the side. They place it in a coffin of kan'doo wood, laid upon the right side, until the time for burial comes.

(Footnote 1887: As will be seen, he says of the actual burial only that the body is laid with the face toward Mecca: the posture of the body here described would, of course, be unchanged. 'The Prophet's body, it should be remembered, lies, or is supposed to lie, stretched at full length on the right side, with the right palm supporting the right cheek, the face fronting Mecca, as moslems are always buried, and, consequently, the body lies with the head almost due west and the feet due east' (Burton, Pilgr., vol. ii, ch. 2). At the Maldives the body would thus be laid with the head to the north, the feet to the south.)

The women of the family and of the neighbourhood assemble and bewail the corpse, telling all the praises of the deceased. The six men and six women are public officers, and they must be good people and without reproach; for if they were proved to be otherwise, they would lose their offices. These they buy for money of the king, and they have besides to give a sum of money to their comrades, which is divided among them. Their earnings are for the common stock, and are equally divided among the six men and six women, whether it be a man or woman (who is dead), and whether the men or the women have had most work.

When the body is taken away these women set up the most fearful crying and yelling, and continue their wailing throughout the obsequies. The body is borne to the grave by six of the kindred or best friends, the place having been chosen and arranged by the deceased in his lifetime; for these people take such thought for their burial, that from the time they marry and have the means, they make ready with great care all the requisites for their burial the place, the coffin, stones for the tomb, folding sheets, and so on. They even put aside and collect little by little the money required for that occasion, and would sooner die of hunger than touch it. This fund they call 'kafun'.

Each of them, too, has two suits, of the richest he can afford, according to his quality, which are worn at the festival Eid, and then preserved in their boxes, as I have said, against the day of their burial, to be then placed upon their coffin. These suits are afterwards divided among the priests of the temple. The relatives and friends accompany the corpse, together with a large number of people not invited, who walk on all sides of the body confusedly, and without order. From the house to the place of burial they scatter over the road 'boli', cowrie (which are little shells, of which I shall speak in their place), to the end that the poor may collect them and make a profit. They bring also a quantity of packages of rice and millet, which they distribute on the way to the poor.

They cut also a large number of small bits of gold and silver, according to the wealth of the deceased and his heirs, who put their several shares in little pieces of cloth and give to the chief officiating minister, whether Fandiyaru, naib, or katib, to distribute among all the others who have assisted in praying for the deceased; but all do not share in this, for it belongs, say they, to the clergy only. Sometimes others take it if they like: this depends upon the wealth of the deceased and his heirs. Before the body walks a man with a bottle full of water, scented with aromatic flowers; this he sprinkles over all he meets along the road, which is neatly swept and brushed from the house to the mosque at which the burial is to be. For this duty this person receives a piece of silk or new cotton, according to the means of the deceased; as also do the six who bear the body.

(Footnote 1887: Christopher witnessed the funeral of the grandmother of Sultan Mohamed Imadudeen, who ascended the throne in 1835, and thus describes it: 'The body was conveyed to the mosque, where prayers were read over it. The men who carried her coffin walked on cowries, which (to the value of 100 rupees) were strewed on the road from the house. As the procession moved on, handfuls of the small copper coin (50 of which go to a rupee) were scattered, for which the lower orders of the people kept up a scramble, very much out of character with the occasion, and ill according with the rest of the scene. All the men were attired in full costume, consisting of a red waist - cloth with black and white border, and a head-piece corresponding to it, both of native manufacture. At the burial, a gaudy canopy of various colours, supported on four poles, was elevated over the body, and the fatha was read. After a temporary hut had been erected over the grave for the readers of the Koran, the company adjourned to the Sultan's palace, to partake of a dinner prepared for them.')

The burial of the nobles and the rich is usually in the cemeteries around the mosques, where ground is bought dearly enough: except when they have themselves built the mosque, in which case they are wont to reserve a site for themselves and their family adjoining the mosque; and this is the most honourable place. This money is distributed, with other like profits, among the priests of the mosque; for besides the mudims, every mosque has a certain number of other priests called 'kiyeveni', who are maintained for the service of the temple and cemetery out of the funds settled by the builders of the temple. These incumbencies are very honourable, and are even bought.

Only those of that temple can perform the funeral service at a burial there, not those of another. Yet some people desire to have a large number of priests at their funeral, and then those of the temple call in as many as are wanted from the neighbouring mosques. These priests chant continually during the three hours the ceremony lasts. Over the hole of the grave a large coverlet of silk or cotton is stretched, until it is filled up and the interment completed; it then goes to the mudim. Upon and around the grave they strew a quantity of fine white sand. When they lay the body within, they turn the face in the direction of the tomb of Muhammad, and then cover it with white sand, and sprinkle it with water from a bottle, by way of refreshing it, and over the grave they lay a large cotton sheet.

After that, the relatives, who have brought a quantity of food, give to all the assistants to eat thereof. When it is a great lord, there is no more ceremony, save that the chanting continues longer, even for the space of a year; and day by day dishes of meats are sent to the place, along with some betel: these are taken by the mudims. If it be a king or queen, this continues during the life of the heir. For the rest, prayers are said for the deceased night and day until the third Friday after the burial; and most frequently the priests chant and eat their meals at the tomb itself, where there is a hut erected for the purpose: this is taken away at the conclusion of the service, on the third Friday after the funeral.

At the close they have a great feast, to which they invite all the kindred and friends, along with the priests and mudims, saying that they are then despatching the soul of the defunct to Paradise. On that day they place at the two ends of the grave, two stones of the same size, and fixed upright, high or low, according to the quality of the dead person. Upon these they engrave the name of the deceased and his praises. Every year, on the same day, they have a similar feast, with the same ceremonies, in the courtyard of the dead person's house, or in that of his principal heir, in a hut just like the former one. Footnote 1887: 'They are careful, in erecting tombstones over their lost relatives, to preserve the date of their death, the anniversary of which is observed by almsgiving and prayer on the part of the surviving members of the family.')

In short, the expense in all this is often so great that their means are exhausted. Every year, at the festival of the dead, they place some fresh white sand on the grave, and burn a quantity of perfumes and incense. Such as have the means, leave funds in the hands of certain persons in trust to keep their graves covered with white sand, to tend them every morning, and to keep them enclosed with little wooden posts and rails, so that none may tread thereon; for they have a horror of treading on ground wherein anyone is buried, and take care not to do so, deeming that the dead would feel insulted, and that it is a great sin.

Some sepulchres (tombs) they hold sacred, and at them keep many lamps burning continually. (Footnote 1887: 'A remarkable object on the island is a tomb erected over the remains of a person who is regarded by the natives as the most eminent of their saints. The building, which is surmounted by a cupola and a short spire, is thirty feet high; the gate, over which a lantern is placed, is of copper network.' Christopher also mentions tombs at the S.E. point of Male' island as being specially sacred. They are said to be of certain Persians who came in search of a countryman (Tabriz, or from Tabriz), who is believed to have reintroduced Islam after the expulsion of the Portuguese. Only two out of about sixty tombs were legible, and these were dated 994 A.H., 1586 A.D.)

Moreover, they hold in great reverence the bones of the dead, and when they are digging a grave, or on other occasion discover any, no one, not even the Fandiyaru or the katibs, would dare to touch them but with a cloth; wherefore they never bury two bodies in the same place. I have never observed that they used any mourning garments, or other than their ordinary; only this, that the kinsmen, on the way to a funeral, take off their turbans and walk bareheaded, and so continue for that day and some days thereafter, if so minded; for there is no fixed time; and, moreover, they abstain from chewing betel.

Such as are slain in battle against men of a contrary faith are buried without ceremony, in their own clothes, on the spot where they have been slain. No prayers are said for them, for they are deemed sanctified and blessed, and are called 'sahidu', martyrs, and in fact are invoked in time of affliction. They never transport a corpse from one island to another; even were it the king, he is buried where he dies.

If, haply, one of them dies at sea, the body is washed and prepared for burial, with all the ceremonies aforesaid; it is placed in a coffin fixed upon three or four pieces of kan'doo wood, so that it may continue afloat, and then is cast into the sea. In the coffin they put some money, according to their means, with a writing mentioning the religion of the dead man, and entreating those who may meet with it to take the money and to bury the body honourably: this have I seen done many a time.

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