Six Widows and a Seventh (GM)

1939 November 28 Six Widows and a Seventh

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Page 5

Six Widows and a Seventh

Chinese Divorce & A Perak Suit

Expert evidence on Chinese custom in relation to the divorce as practiced among the Chinese in Perak was given in the Perak was given in the Perak Supreme Court by Mr. Lee Swee Hoe, J.P., in the civil suit in which the seven widows of Yap Swee, a former miner of Kinta, are involved.

Ng Yoon Thai, fourth wife of the miner, claims a share in the property by virtue of the fact that she is a lawful widow.

The suit is opposed by the son and six widows of the deceased, and the European administrator of the estate, Mr. L. J. Peace.

Mr. Lee Swee Hoe said that the Cantonese and Hakkas generally practiced divorce. He himself was a Hakka.

Secondary wives had been divorced. Witness had no knowledge of Chinese customs observed in China. Customs in Perak were slightly different from those practiced in China.

Secondary Wive’s Position

If the secondary wife left or ran away from the house, the husband had the right to divorce her. If she went away and refused to come back, the husband could divorce her. Once a secondary wife was divorced, she had no claim in the poverty and no claim for maintenance.

The form the divorce took was simple. The husband told his friends and relatives that he divorced so and so.

In China, witness continued, the practice in divorces was to tell the elders of the situation in the ancestral temple. This custom was not practiced in Malaya.

There were certain duties obligatory on the wife in conjunction with the funeral of the husband. She had to wear morning and attend the funeral. If she did not do so, the family did not recognise her.

There were differences between the principle wife and secondary wives. In all formal and social functions, the secondary wives took second place to the principal wife. Secondary wives were generally of lower social standing than their husbands.

Grounds and formalities of divorce of principal and secondary wives were the same in Perak.

It was necessary for the husband to make a declaration of divorce. The declaration was generally made to friends and clansmen. There was no particular form. The husband just had to make a round of visits and tell the people about the divorce.

In the case of adultery, it was the husband who judged if there had been adultery, and as to the provision of a separate establishment, it was the husband who decided if he could afford it.

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