Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Motherhood and Infanticide by Alexander F Chamberlain 1895

Motherhood and Infanticide by Alexander Francis Chamberlain 1895

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The intimate relationship recognized as existing between the infant and its mother has been among many primitive peoples a frequent cause of infanticide, or has been held at least to excuse and justify that crime. Of the natives of Ashanti, Ellis says: —

"Should the mother die in childbirth, and the child itself be born alive, it is customary to bury it with the mother. . . . The idea seems to be that the child belongs to the mother, and is sent to accompany her to Srahmanadzi [ghost-land], so that her srahman [ghost] may not grieve for it." Post states that in Unydro, when the mother dies in childbirth, the infant is killed; among the Hottentots it was exposed (if the mother died during the time of suckling, the child was buried alive with her); among the Damara, "when poor women die and leave children behind them, they are often buried with the mother."

According to Collins and Barrington, among certain native tribes of Australia, "when the mother of a suckling dies, if no adoptive parents can be found, the child is placed alive in the arms of the corpse and buried together with it." Of the Banians of Bombay, Niebuhr tells us that children under eighteen months old are buried when the mother dies, the corpse of the latter being burned at ebb tide on the shore of the sea, so that the next tide may wash away the ashes. In certain parts of Borneo: "If a mother died in childbirth, it was the former practice to strap the living babe to its dead mother, and bury them both together. 'Why should it live?' say they. 'It has been the death of its mother; now she is gone, who will suckle it?.'"

In certain parts of Australia, "children who have caused their mother great pain in birth are put to death," and among the Sakalavas of Madagascar, the child of a woman dying in child-bed is buried alive with her, the reason given being" that the child may thus be punished for causing the death of its mother."

As has been noted elsewhere, not a few primitive peoples have considered that death, in consequence of giving birth to a child, gained for the mother entrance into Paradise. But with some more or less barbarous tribes quite a different idea prevails. Among the Ewe negroes of the slave coast of West Africa, women dying in childbirth become blood-seeking demons; so also in certain parts of Borneo, and on the Sumatran island of Nias, where they torment the living, plague women who are with child, and kill the embryo in the womb, thus causing abortion; in Java, they make women in labour crazy; in Amboina, the Uliase and Kei Islands, and Gilolo, they become evil spirits, torturing women in labour, and seeking to prevent their successful delivery; in Gilolo, the Kei group, and Celebes, they even torment men, seeking to emasculate-them, in revenge for the misfortune which has overtaken them.

Of the Doracho Indians of Central America, the following statement is made: "When a mother, who is still suckling her child, dies, the latter is placed alive upon her breast and burned with her, so that in the future life she may continue to suckle it with her own milk." Powers remarks concerning the Korusi (Patwin) Indians of California: "When a woman died, leaving her infant very young, the friends shook it to death in a skin or blanket. This was done even with a half-breed child." Of the Nishinam Indians, the same authority informs us: "When a mother dies, leaving a very young infant, custom allows the relatives to destroy it. This is generally done by the grandmother, aunt, or other near relative, who holds the poor innocent in her arms, and, while it is seeking the maternal fountain, presses it to her breast until it is smothered. We must not judge them too harshly for this. They knew nothing of bottle nurture, patent nipples, or any kind of milk whatever, other than the human."

Among the Wintun, also, young infants are known to have been buried when the mother had died shortly after confinement.

The Eskimo, Letourneau informs us, were wont to bury the little child with its dead mother, for they believed that unless this were done, the mother herself would call from Killo, the other world, for the child she had borne.

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