Memoirs of an Arabian Princessby Emily Ruete
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"The 'Memoirs," originally written, during a period of ill-health, for the future perusal of the author's children, describe with great simpleness the Princess of Oman's childhood in the Sultan's palace and subsequently at the home of one of her brothers. The life of the harem, education of children, female fashions, the position of women in the East, Arabian suitorship and marriage, social customs, Mohammedan beliefs and festivals, medical methods, and the system of slavery are set forth from an Intimate point of view.
In the tale of the Arabian Princess there is an almost constant note of cheerfulness, and often of childlike merriment and irresponsibility and lighthearted enjoyment, interrupted sometimes by a sharper tone of passionate feeling. The voice of the Hindu woman is a bitter cry of despair, relieved only by a pitiful prayer for help and deliverance from the most cruel bondage that modern times have witnessed. Nothing could better illustrate the difference between Mohammedanism and the Hindu religion. In spite of the degrading feature of polygamy, which hopelessly poisons the social life of the Mohammedan East, the faith of Islam is a benevolent and enlightened creed, even for women, compared with the cruel iron harness which the Hindu religion, as popularly observed through India, fastens upon every joint and limb of the unfortunate Hindu woman.
The story of the Arabian Princess is a very curious and interesting tale, written by a woman who was born and bred in that most characteristic and impenetrable of Eastern institutions, the harem of an Oriental sultan, and written after fifteen years of life in Germany had thrown into strong relief in memory the most peculiar features of Eastern life.
The little island of Zanzibar, lying off the eastern coast of Africa, was conquered at the close of the last century, by the Sultan of Oman and Muscat (Asia), and became the chief residence of that monarch, and there the little Princess Salme, afterwards the Princess Emily Rueto, was born and brought up. This remote and isolated spot had hardly been touched by the tide of Western ideas and habits, and here survived, at least in the childhood of the Princess, an East that takes us back to our Arabian Nights with a magic stroke; an East, a little shabby and provincial and degenerate, it is true, and with here and there a taint of the West, but, on the whole, the East that we know so well, a land of sultans and slaves, eunuchs and fair Circassians, of treachery and superstition, of religion and crime. The description of the royal palace is most colorful,—a little city with its fifteen hundred inhabitants, its crowded courtyards, full of life and the images and sounds filled by a confusion of many tongues, Arabic, Abyssinian, Persian and Circassian, its medley of bright garments, brilliant jewels, flashing weapons and beautiful fruits and flowers, its bewildering crowds of princes and princesses, slaves and wives. And the life of the palace has the characteristic mingling of gaiety and indolence, luxury and discomfort, indulgence and restraint, violent outbursts of passion and Mohammedan resignation to destiny. The venerable Sultan himself, with his stately figure and long-white beard, is a benevolent and imposing personage. He seems to have been an example of the ideal Eastern ruler, a father not only to all his numerous wives and sons and daughters, but also to his whole people, kind and just, and greatly beloved by both family and subjects.
The Princess gives many interesting details of Eastern life and customs, and of the position of women in Persia and Arabia. As the custom of child-marriage does not prevail among Mohammedan natives, their women are spared the cruel torments which are the results of this custom. Widows are treated with respect and kindness, and after a short time are at liberty to marry again. Altogether, the Princess seems anxious to convince us that although the women of the East are treated like children, and are subjected to many annoying restraints, they are often indulged and petted children, and are far from unhappy or dissatisfied, and often exercise great influence over their husbands, whose household affairs are always absolutely administered by the legitimate wife, and the Mohammedan in moderate circumstances has not usually more than one wife at a time. It is pleasant to learn that the life of Eastern children may be happy and joyous. The daughters are treated with as much affection as the sons, and their education as children is much the same. The little Salme grew up in her father's palace, finding it quite natural to have seventy-six step-mothers, and thirty-six brothers and sisters of various ages, besides a host of little nephews and nieces and cousins to play with.
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