“It’s well written,” said Moissey Filippovich soothingly,
When the Abyssins are engaged in a law-suit, the two parties make choice of a judge, and plead their own cause before him; and if they cannot agree in their choice, the governor of the place appoints them one, from whom there lies an appeal to the viceroy and to the Emperor himself. All causes are determined on the spot; no writings are produced. The judge sits down on the ground in the midst of the high road, where all that please may be present: the two persons concerned stand before him, with their friends about them, who serve as their attorneys. The plaintiff speaks first, the defendant answers him; each is permitted to rejoin three or four times, then silence is commanded, and the judge takes the opinions of those that are about him. If the evidence be deemed sufficient, he pronounces sentence, which in some cases is decisive and without appeal. He then takes the criminal into custody till he hath made satisfaction; but if it be a crime punishable with death he is delivered over to the prosecutor, who may put him to death at his own discretion.
They have here a particular way of punishing adultery; a woman convicted of that crime is condemned to forfeit all her fortune, is turned out of her husband's house, in a mean dress, and is forbid ever to enter it again; she has only a needle given her to get her living with. Sometimes her head is shaved, except one lock of hair, which is left her, and even that depends on the will of her husband, who has it likewise in his choice whether he will receive her again or not; if he resolves never to admit her they are both at liberty to marry whom they will. There is another custom amongst them yet more extraordinary, which is, that the wife is punished whenever the husband proves false to the marriage contract; this punishment indeed extends no farther than a pecuniary mulct, and what seems more equitable, the husband is obliged to pay a sum of money to his wife. When the husband prosecutes his wife's gallant, if he can produce any proofs of a criminal conversation, he recovers for damages forty cows, forty horses, and forty suits of clothes, and the same number of other things. If the gallant be unable to pay him, he is committed to prison, and continues there during the husband's pleasure, who, if he sets him at liberty before the whole fine be paid, obliges him to take an oath that he is going to procure the rest, that he may be able to make full satisfaction. Then the criminal orders meat and drink to be brought out, they eat and drink together, he asks a formal pardon, which is not granted at first; however, the husband forgives first one part of the debt, and then another, till at length the whole is remitted.
A husband that doth not like his wife may easily find means to make the marriage void, and, what is worse, may dismiss the second wife with less difficulty than he took her, and return to the first; so that marriages in this country are only for a term of years, and last no longer than both parties are pleased with each other, which is one instance how far distant these people are from the purity of the primitive believers, which they pretend to have preserved with so great strictness. The marriages are in short no more than bargains, made with this proviso, that when any discontent shall arise on either side, they may separate, and marry whom they please, each taking back what they brought with them.
An account of the religion of the Abyssins.
Yet though there is a great difference between our manners, customs, civil government, and those of the Abyssins, there is yet a much greater in points of faith; for so many errors have been introduced and ingrafted into their religion, by their ignorance, their separation from the Catholic Church, and their intercourse with Jews, Pagans, and Mohammedans, that their present religion is nothing but a kind of confused miscellany of Jewish and Mohammedan superstitions, with which they have corrupted those remnants of Christianity which they still retain.
They have, however, preserved the belief of our principal mysteries; they celebrate with a great deal of piety the passion of our Lord; they reverence the cross; they pay a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints; they observe the festivals, and pay a strict regard to the Sunday. Every month they commemorate the assumption of the Virgin Mary, and are of opinion that no Christians beside themselves have a true sense of the greatness of the mother of God, or pay her the honours that are due to her. There are some tribes amongst them (for they are distinguished like the Jews by their tribes), among whom the crime of swearing by the name of the Virgin is punished with forfeiture of goods and even with loss of life; they are equally scrupulous of swearing by St. George. Every week they keep a feast to the honour of the apostles and angels; they come to mass with great devotion, and love to hear the word of God. They receive the sacrament often, but do not always prepare themselves by confession. Their charity to the poor may be said to exceed the proper bounds that prudence ought to set it, for it contributes to encourage great numbers of beggars, which are a great annoyance to the whole kingdom, and as I have often said, afford more exercise to a Christian's patience than his charity; for their insolence is such, that they will refuse what is offered them if it be not so much as they think proper to ask.
Though the Abyssins have not many images, they have great numbers of pictures, and perhaps pay them somewhat too high a degree of worship. The severity of their fasts is equal to that of the primitive church. In Lent they never eat till after sunset; their fasts are the more severe because milk and butter are forbidden them, and no reason or necessity whatsoever can procure them a permission to eat meat, and their country affording no fish, they live only on roots and pulse. On fast-days they never drink but at their meat, and the priests never communicate till evening, for fear of profaning them. They do not think themselves obliged to fast till they have children either married or fit to be married, which yet doth not secure them very long from these mortifications, because their youths marry at the age of ten years, and their girls younger.
There is no nation where excommunication carries greater terrors than among the Abyssins, which puts it in the power of the priests to abuse this religious temper of the people, as well as the authority they receive from it, by excommunicating them, as they often do, for the least trifle in which their interest is concerned.
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