John Patton (1824-1907) was a missionary to the New Hebrides. With the rather common attack upon Christianity in the West as somehow being degrading of women, it is interesting to read Patton’s observations about an explicitly non-Western and non-Christian culture on this point:
Amongst the Heathen, in the New Hebrides, and especially on Tanna, woman is a down-trodden slave of man. She is kept working hard, and bears all the heavier burdens, while he wills by her side with musket, club or spear. If she offends him, he beats or abuses her at pleasure. A savage gave his poor wife a severe beating in front of our house, while in vain we strove to prevent it. Such scenes were so common that no one thought of interfering. Even if the woman died in his hand, or immediately thereafter, neighbors took no notice, if any at all.
…The girls have, with their mother and sisters, to toil and slave in village plantations, to prepare all the materials for fencing these around, to bear every burden, and to be knocked about at the will by men and boys.
Oh, how sad and degraded is the position of woman where the teaching of Christ is unknown, or disregarded though known! It is the Christ of the Bible, it is His Spirit entering into humanity that has lifted woman, and made her helpmate and the friend of man, not his toy or his slave.
“At Home with the Cannibals”.
Leaving all the consequences to the disposal of my Lord, I determined to make an unflinching stand against wife-beating and widow-strangling [when a man died, they would strangle his wife], feeling confident that even their natural consequence would be on my side. I accordingly pleaded with all who were in power to unite and put down these shocking and disgraceful customs. At length, ten Chiefs entered into a covenant not to allow any more beating of wives or strangling of widows, ….One Chief boldly declared, ‘If we did not beat our women, they would need work; they would not fear and obey us; but when we have beaten and killed, and feasted on two or three [they were cannibals] the rest are very quiet and good for a long time to come!”
I tried to show how cruel it was, besides that it made them unable for work, and that kinds would have a much better effect; but he promptly assured me that Tannest woman ‘could not understand kindness.’
“Superstitions and Cruelties.” He then continued onto explain how he sought to teach the men to not abuse the woman. I imagine one point which would be offensive to some now is that he taught the men to bear the heavier burdens, “as men were made stronger, and they were intended to bear the heavier burdens”.