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THE SACRIFICE OF WIDOWS

Cremation rites have remained practically unchanged for the last three hundred years, except perhaps for the suppression of the notorious Indian custom of suttee, the sacrifice of widows of deceased notables, burned alive on their husband's pyre. This custom seems to have enjoyed great popularity at one time among the Balinese aristocracy, although today it has become merely a legend.

A hundred years ago the pioneer historian of the Malay Archipelago, John Crawfurd, gave us the first English account of a widow-burning that took place in I633, when the Dutch sent a mission to Bali to gain the prince of Gelgel, then sole sovereign, as their ally against the Sultan of Mataram, who was driving attacks on Batavia. The Dutch found the Balinese king making preparations for the cremation of his wife and his two eldest sons.

The manuscript account of the mission was translated by a Monsieur Prevost and published in an early histoire des Voyages. Among the passages of the Dutch narrative quoted by Crawfurd are the following:". . . About noon, the queen's body was burnt without the city with twenty-two of her female slaves. . . . The body was drawn out of a large aperture made in the wall to the right side of the door, in the absurd opinion of cheating the devil. . . .

The female slaves destined to accompany the dead went before, according to their ranks . . . each supported behind by an old woman, and carried on a Badi (tower), skillfully constructed of bamboos, and decked all over with flowers. Before them were placed a roast pig, some rice, betel and other fruits as an offering to their gods, and these unhappy victims of the most direful idolatry are thus carried in triumph, to the sound of different instruments, to the place where they are to be poignarded and consumed by fire.

There, each found a particular scaffold prepared for her, in the form of a trough, raised on four short posts and edged on two sides with planks. . . . Some of the attendants let loose a pigeon or a fowl, to mark that their soul was on the point of taking its flight to the mansions of the blessed. . . . they were divested of all their garments, except their sashes, and four of the men, seizing the victim, two by the arms, which they held extended, and two by the feet, the victim standing, the fifth prepared himself for the execution, the whole being done without covering the eyes. . . .

" Some of the most courageous demanded the poignard themselves, which they received in the right hand, passing it to the left, after respectfully kissing the weapon. They wounded their right arms, sucked the blood which flowed from the wound, and stained their lips with it, making a bloody mark on the forehead with the point of the finger. Then returning the dagger to their executioners, they received a first stab between the false ribs, and a second under the shoulder blade, the weapon being thrust up to the hilt towards the heart.

As soon as the horrors of death were visible in the countenance, without a complaint escaping them, they were permitted to fall on the ground . . . and were stripped of their last remnant of dress, so that they were left in a state of perfect nakedness. The executioners receive as their reward two hundred and fifty pieces of copper money of about the value of five sols each. The nearest relations, if they be present, or persons hired for the occasion . . . wash the bloody bodies . . . covering them with wood in such manner that only the head is visible, and, having applied fire, they are consumed to ashes. . . .

"The women were already poignarded and the greater number of them in flames, before the dead body of the queen arrived, borne on a superb Badi of pyramidal form, consisting of eleven steps, supported by a number of persons proportioned to the rank of the deceased. . . . Two priests preceded the Badi in vehicles of particular form, each holding in one hand a cord attached to the Badi, as if giving to understand that they led the deceased to heaven, and with the other ringing a little bell, while such a noise of gongs, tambours, flutes and other instruments is made, that the whole ceremony has less the air of a funeral procession than of a joyous village festival. . .

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