Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Hindoo men (FAIL!) and Hindoo Women (WIN!)

The Monthly Miscellany brought out by the East India Company, in its edition of March 1816, carries a description “On the persons of the Hindoos". Here is an extract.

…. very few of the inhabitants of Indostan are endowed with the nervous strength, or athletic size, of the robustest nations of Europe.

On the contrary, southward of Lahore we see throughout India a race of men, whose make, physiognomy, and muscular strength, convey ideas of an effeminacy which surprises when pursued through such numbers of the species, and when compared to the form of the European who is making the observation. The sailor no sooner lands on the coast, than nature dictates to him the full result of this comparison; he brandishes his stick in sport, and puts fifty Indians to flight in a moment: confirmed in his contempt of a pusillanimity and an incapacity of resistance, suggested to him by their physiognomy and form, it is well if he recollects that the poor Indian is still a man.

The muscular strength of the Indian is still less than might be expected from the appearance of the texture of his frame. Two English sawyers have performed in one day the work of thirty-two Indians: allowances made for the difference of dexterity, and the advantage of European instruments, the disparity is still very great; and would have been more, had the Indian been obliged to have worked with the instrument of the European, as he would scarcely have been able to have wielded it.

As much as the labourer in Indostan is deficient in the capacity of exerting a great deal of strength at an onset, so is he endowed with a certain suppleness throughout all his frame, which enables him to work long in his own degree of labour; and which renders those contortions and postures, which would cramp the inhabitant of northern regions, no constraint to him. There are not more extraordinary tumblers in the world. Their messengers will go fifty miles a day, for twenty or thirty days without intermission. Their infantry march faster, and with less weariness than Europeans; but could not march at all, if they were to carry the same baggage and accoutrements.

Exceptions to this general defect of nervous strength, are found in the inhabitants of the mountains which run in ranges of various directions throughout the continent of Indostan. In these, even under the tropic, Europeans have met with a savage whose bow they could scarcely draw to the head of a formidable arrow, tinged with the blood of tigers whose skins he offers to sale. Exceptions to the general placid countenance of the Indians, are found in the inhabitants of the woods, who, living chiefly on their chase, and perpetually alarmed by summons and attacks from the princes of the plains, for tributes withheld, or ravages committed, wear an air of dismay, suspicion, treachery, and wildness, which renders them hideous; and would render them terrible, if their physiognomy carried in it any thing of the fierceness of the mountaineer.

The stature of the Indian is various: the northern inhabitant is as tall as the generality of our own nation: more to the south their height diminishes remarkably ; and on the coast of Coromandel we meet with many whose stature would appear dwarfish.
And what about the Hindoo women? The description is more charitable

Nature seems to have showered beauty on the fairer sex through Indostan, with, a more lavish hand than in most other countries. They are all, without exception, fit to be married before thirteen, and wrinkled before thirty—flowers of too short a duration not to be delicate; and too delicate to last long. Segregated from the company of the other sex, and strangers to the ideas of attracting attention, they are only the handsomer for this ignorance; as we see in them, beauty in. the noble simplicity of nature. Hints have already been given of their physiognomy: their skins are of a polish and softness beyond that of all their rivals on the globe: a statuary would not succeed better in Greece itself, in his pursuit of the Grecian form; and although in the men he would find nothing to furnish the ideas of the Farnesian Hercules, he would find in the women the finest hints of the Medicean Venus.
(Read the full piece here, Page 445-6)

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