Goddess needed:
March 13, 2001 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Goddess needed: "Palatial accommodations, round-the-clock personal service, public adoration guaranteed, school and homework optional. Must be five years old or under and willing to serve until puberty."
posted by todd (15 comments total)
I usually try to keep a relatively open mind with respect to other cultures, but this bothers me. To stunt the girls' development and then turn them out is abuse, imho. Here is another story on the Kumari.
posted by gimli at 5:09 PM on March 13, 2001

I can be perhaps a bit more sympathetic than giml8i. I stunted my wife's growth and then turned her out, though she was not a virgin when we met and we parted ways long after her puberty.
posted by Postroad at 5:14 PM on March 13, 2001

Whoah. I saw that Kumari in Kathmandu, way back in 1992. She was shy.

From what I've heard, ex-Kumaris are avoided by men because they're legendarily demanding wives. The stuff of legend, yes, but not necessarily fun for the girls chosen.

That said, gimli: would you be equally opposed to the Tibetan Buddhist practice of picking out little boys as lamas? Teenagers training for the priesthood? And countless other "irrational" things done in the service of religion. It's a damned sight less abusive than the practice of sending girls from rural Thailand to Bangkok in order to make their families money as prostitutes.
posted by holgate at 5:48 PM on March 13, 2001

Good point, holgate. The lama analogy did cross my mind as I wrote, and to some extent that practice brings out the ethnocentrist in me as well. It probably stems from my indoctrination into the western belief that we are (supposedly) free to choose our own path in life. In the lamas' case, at least the life chosen for them involves a rigorous education, with ample opportunities for fulfillment. Indeed, they come across as extremely happy, well adjusted people, in my limited experience. The Kumari arrangement, while certainly not as dire a predicament as that of the Thai prostitute, seems far from fulfilling to me. The way that they are discarded at puberty, rather than at least being honored for their sacrifice, disturbs me.
posted by gimli at 6:25 PM on March 13, 2001

Like holgate, I also thought of the lama analogy, but it seems to me that you can't compare the two. As gimli points out, lamas receive an education -- and, more to the point, they are not tossed out at puberty.

In some twisted fasion, one can almost look at the kumari as an extreme manifestation of our obsession with youth. Not long ago, many actresses who reached a certain age, and who, perhaps were celebrated much before reaching that age, were tossed, if not that unceremoniously, right out of the acting game -- to take just one example.

Sure, things have changed; but I believe that the attitudes about women and aging have remained much the same, even if we didn't start with such an extreme as the kumari.

Anyway, my point is that the kumari way is not that foreign to us, after all.
posted by poorhouse at 7:02 PM on March 13, 2001

Not long ago, many actresses who reached a certain age, and who, perhaps were celebrated much before reaching that age, were tossed, if not that unceremoniously, right out of the acting game -- to take just one example.

You say that as if the situation is radically different. Apart from Susan Sarandon, I can't think of another actress over 40 who's still a star. And she's now routinely cast as a mom. The only other example I can think of is Jessica Lange in Titus, but there are only so many Shakespearean roles to go around.

As Tom Hanks said about Sally Field: "In Punchline she played my girlfriend. Then a few years later in Forrest Gump, she played my mother."

Sorry for the topic drift.
posted by solistrato at 8:20 PM on March 13, 2001

rene russo.

posted by o2b at 9:16 PM on March 13, 2001

I really don't think there's a place for a religion like this in the modern world, not one that takes individuals and pledges them to a lifetime of service while eschewing normal relationships ... er, whoops, that's Catholicism. My mistake.

There's more of a connection than it at first seems, though. Priests may forgo many things in life, but they do it as adults. Still, it's those very limitations of the priestly life that are leading to a decline, at least in America, of available candidates. As a result some groups (like that linked) are urging changes. Perhaps the role of the kumari will have to be adjusted.

Given the conflict between respect for another culture and fundamental human rights, I agree there are issues here. I do think it's good to see that those issues are having a local effect that may result in needed changes within that culture's own milieu.
posted by dhartung at 9:21 PM on March 13, 2001

Ech, think on this year's Oscar nominees and recent nominees/winners: Joan Allen, Julie Walters, Ellen Burstyn, Brenda Blethyn, Kathy Bates, Meryl Streep, Cher, Judi Dench, Frances McDormand, Sharon Stone. . .

On television there are Sela Ward, Laura Innes, Patricia Heaton, Tyne Daly (over 50), Doris Roberts (near 70), Christine Lahti, Camryn Manheim, Kim Cattrall. . .

Female stars over forty aren't the exception anymore.
posted by Dreama at 9:37 PM on March 13, 2001

I can't think of another actress over 40 who's still a star

Here's some more: Julianne Moore, Glenn Close, Jamie Lee Curtis, Geena Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, or Bette Midler? And I'm sure Jodie Foster will still be a star when she turns 40 next year. Elisabeth Shue and Juliette Binoche are getting close as well, and their careers are still going strong. I was going to mention Rene Russo and Sharon Stone, too, but other people beat me to it.

Of course you're right, there is a lot of agism in acting, but it does cut both ways. I can't think of that many male stars over 40.

Also worth noting is that we're starting to see older women paired up with younger men in movies. For example, there was a character played by Famke Janssen (who's 37) in a relationship with a character played by James Marsden (who's 27) in X-Men last year, and the movie didn't even call attention to the age difference. Of course, there was extreme reverse of that with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery in Entrapment a couple of years before that, but did anyone else find that as creepy as I did? Ugh, I hope they don't do that again.
posted by Potsy at 9:51 PM on March 13, 2001

To western sensibilities this practice seems cruel I know, but compared to many girls in Nepal she's lucky.
In a predominantly Hindu society, the aim is to have as many boys as possible. Girls are loved by their parents but if money is short (as it invariably is in Nepal) it's the boys who get the education, since they are more likely to earn a good living and be able to support the family (Nepali families are close, the children have a duty to look after their parents and grandparents in old age).
In rural areas it is difficult to find any children over the age of seven or eight in school (in many areas it's as much as 2 or 3 hours walk to school, often up steep Himalayan foothills) since they are more useful on the family farm.
There is also a growing problem, similar to that in Thailand of young Nepali women and girls being kidnapped from the villages and taken to India to become as prostitutes, these girls rarely ever see home again, they are too ashamed to go back.

I could go on for hours about Nepal, it's a country I love and I have many good Nepali friends, but I'll shut up now.
posted by Markb at 3:00 AM on March 14, 2001

...in many areas it's as much as 2 or 3 hours walk to school, often up steep Himalayan foothills...

Up steep hills both ways? barefoot?

Sorry, sorry I don't mean to be a total ass, but I couldn't help it on that one.
posted by jennyb at 7:06 AM on March 14, 2001

So, let me see if I follow. Because life is really hard for Nepali kids and the chances for education are small anyway, we shouldn't care that this idea takes little girls, uses them up, and discards them when they're too old to "worship" anymore?

"Well, it's just as well that I beat you with my hand, son. If you lived with another family, they might beat you with a strap, or a wooden paddle."

posted by Dreama at 8:08 AM on March 14, 2001

Oh dammit. It's I, not B
posted by Dreama at 8:12 AM on March 14, 2001

Dreama, I was trying to emphasise the differences between Nepal and the world most of us live in. I don't want to lessen the seriousness but the article takes an isolated problem in Nepal and makes it seem like the worst thing that goes on there. To western eyes, this practice is indeed distasteful, but to a Nepali it's way down on the list - they have far worse things to worry about.
There are far more injustices happening in Nepal than this, not least the impacts of global tourism on a subsistence economy, the Indian prostitute problem, a corrupt government diverting aid money into the coffers of the rich, the remnants of an outlawed caste system....

It is terrible for the girls involved and it is a practice which belongs in the past, but Nepal in many ways is a country with more than a foot in the past and not through the choice of her people.

posted by Markb at 9:25 AM on March 14, 2001

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