Monday, October 15, 2007

Bond Maids

The practices of having bond maids and child brides were carried out until the late fifties in Sibu by the Foochows.

It was also not uncommon then for girls to be given away to Malay or Iban families. One of my mother's cousins had 7 girls and 4 boys and had found it difficult to keep the thirteenth child, a daughter. So arrangements were made by their Malay friend to come and pick up the new born baby. Gifts were bought for the child as a send away token and the Malay family was delighted to welcome the child. They bought new baby cot, clothes and the traditional baby mosquito netting.

However, two weeks later, the children formed a brigade and marched against the father and demanded the baby to be taken home. While their mother was still in confinement and was not allowed to look at what they were doing, the older children took their father along with them and marched towards the kampong. After some negotiations, the tearful children brought back their new baby sister.

To this day, this particular family has grown wonderfully to respectable men and women in the society and the baby girl has indeed succeeded in life and has her own wonderful family. The fortunes of my uncle turned and finally he made it years later. He often wondered what would have happened if the adoption did take place and the Malay couple refused to return the child.

During my childhood many of my friends in the kampong were actually Chinese girls given away when their parents could not afford to raise them. Today they are well educated and having high social status. If they had remained in their Chinese homes probably they would be still in the villages, married with many children. But they would have succeeded one way or another too, like so many other Foochow women.

Another lot of the unfortunate Foochow girls were those sold by their fathers to well to do families. This was quite a common practice in fact as the families were poor and they could not feed another mouth. Another family who had enough would buy the child without any qualms although they would make sure that the baby was of good physical built, intelligent enough and fair in complexion. A dark child could not find a good home amongst the Foochows and she would then be sold or given to an Iban or Malay family.

These girls became bond maids or maid servants in the Foochow homes and they would be at the beck and call of their mistress and "adopted sisters". their duties would be to cook, wash,tend to the family members,iron,grow vegetables and feed the pigs to mention a few. Beating of bond maids was common and in fact I saw some very brutal beating when I was a child. The mistress would have let out all the reasons why the poor bond maid was beaten: " Can eat but cannot work...lazy like a worm...only know how to look at boys...slow..." Thus while the mistress pound away on the head of the poor girl, the whole neighbourhood would hear a clear verbal evaluation of the performance of this young girl who was only ten, about my age. It was very pitiful indeed and no one dared to stop the mistress from using her hand in this way.

My own grandfather had in his lifetime bought many girls because he was able to buy them and the local community respected him. Our family treated the adopted girls well and brought them up. Some even went to school for a few years. When they grew up, they were married off properly to good men, specially selected by my grandfather and uncles, with proper match making. These bond maids were greeted as "aunties" by all the grandchildren and we had a lot of respect for them.

After their marriage, they would come "home" to visit every one, bringing dumplings, and other goodies.They would be invited to attend any weddings, and birthdays. whenever a member of the family gave birth, they would rally around, ever ready with chickens and good mee sua. At funerals, they would come and help to sew all the funeral clothes and mourning clothes, while weeping sorrowfully like any one of us.

And as they prospered, we were extremely happy for them. Our ties could not be broken as they had been truly an important part of our family.

Our grandfather's last bond maid had married reluctantly in the early seventies and she was well matched to a very enterprising young man who could anything for my gandmother. He was such a handy man to have around, especially when our grandmother
was getting on in age.

Today I must say, all the bondmaids from our family have done well and succeeded in life. Recently one celebrated her 80th birthday with great pomp and splendour. Another one has become a "towkay neo" or wife of an entreprising rich man. One has a son who has graduated as a medical doctor. We are just so proud of them.

But I am glad in a way, the days of old style bond maids are over in the Sibu Foochow society.

0 memories:


web statistics