An arranged marriage

When I was young, my father told me about a French trader and explorer who was living and working in North America back in the 1700s. This trader was lonely and wanted to get married, but not many French women had come to the New World. So, like other French traders and explorers of his century, this man decided that he would marry one of the native women. He contacted the chief of the nearby Chickasaw tribe, and the two men decided to negotiate for the marriage of one of the chief’s three daughters.

The only common language the men had was English, and the Chickasaw chief actually spoke better English than the French trader. To avoid stereotyping and objectionable characterizations, I will have both men speak normal contemporary English.

They met at the chief’s dwelling, and the chief explained that among his people, when a man acquired a wife, he must pay a price for her to her family. The French trader agreed to this, and the chief had each daughter come out of the dwelling, spread an animal skin on the ground, and sit on it. The first daughter brought out a deer skin, spread it on the ground, and sat on it. “Twenty pieces of silver for her,” the Chickasaw chief declared. The French trader nodded.

The second daughter came out of the dwelling with a bear skin. She spread it on the ground and sat on it. “Thirty pieces of silver,” said the Chickasaw chief. Again, the French trader nodded.

The third daughter brought with her a hippopotamus skin. She also spread it on the ground and sat on it. “Fifty pieces of silver,” said her father. The French trader looked at the three young women. All three were young and attractive, but he could not see that the third one was more special than her sisters. “Fifty pieces of silver?” he asked. “Why so much?”

“You know that we have no hippos around here,” her father said. “That hide is imported from Egypt. It traveled many miles—very expensive.” He took a deep breath and added, “The value of the squaw on the hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the squaws on the other two hides.”

J.

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