Thursday, September 24, 2015

Marriage And Cattle

As tradition dictates, my classes always watch Johnny Lingo and the next day, take an essay test over the film. Who is Johnny Lingo, you ask? Read on, from March 10, 2006!

We watched Johnny Lingo in class yesterday. If you haven't heard of Johnny Lingo, it is a thirty minute film which has attained cult status among Mormons. Produced by Brigham Young University in 1969, most young people in the Latter Day Saints view this video at some time in their adolescence. Set in Polynesia in the early 1900's, this is a tale of marriage custom. But on a deeper level, it is a story of how kindness and love can transform another. Johnny Lingo is the richest and most eligible bachelor on the island. According to tradition, men barter for brides by offering cows in return for a maiden's hand. An average woman can be had for a cow or two. The exceptional bride goes for four or five. It's an exciting ritual when bargaining time comes. The village gathers to watch the prospective groom and the father-in-law-to-be haggle over the price the way a customer and car salesman might do in our culture. The population is abuzz when Johnny returns from trading with the intention of purchasing his wife. There is incredulity as the rumor spreads that the girl in question is Mahana, the homeliest girl on the island. Gossip has it that Johnny will buy her because he, the sharpest trader, can obtain Mahana for next to nothing. Imagine the disbelief when Johnny offers the unheard of price of eight cows for a young lady no one wants! Some think her father would pay to get the daughter he is ashamed of off his hands! As the shock wears off, Mr. Harris, the American trader, surmises that Johnny did it to say he set a record. But when the couple comes home from their honeymoon, everyone is stunned to find Mahana has blossomed into the most beautiful girl anyone has ever seen. Mr. Harris asks Johnny about the transformation. He is told that Mahana's father treated her like she was worthless and ugly and she WAS what he told her she was. But when Johnny publicly did something no man in the history of the island did to obtain her and treated her as his most precious asset, Mahana turned into the stunning woman she always had the capability of becoming.

My sophomores wrote several paragraphs about the film. One question: "Describe the marriage you think Johnny and Mahana had." The answers detailed a strong, close to perfect union. The explanations centered on his treatment of her and her reciprocal love. In a society of feminism, not one girl questioned the practice of a man buying a woman to be his spouse. In our culture, it would be considered repressive and ignorant. The girls loved it, if only because the result was so positive and it fit into a centuries old tradition. And they might not admit it but I believe that girls want to be treated as Johnny treated Mahana. The boys...well, boys aren't much into love, marriage, and bliss at sixteen.

I don't agree with Mormon theology and interpretation of scripture. However, they have it right when it comes to the emphasis on self-worth and its effect on marriage. They also do a much better job than society as a whole in producing marriages, at least in divorce statistics, that are stable. In Johnny Lingo, God is never mentioned but Biblical foundations for the home are taught. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25 that husbands are to "love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Isn't that what Johnny did? He paid a fortune for Mahana and look at her response. I am no marriage expert but isn't that what any wife wants, to be loved and treated with courtesy and respect? Johnny Lingo was not just the shrewdest trader on the island- he was the smartest man on the island. He knew if you wanted an eight cow wife, you treat her like an eight cow woman.

Applicable quote of the day:
"A young lady had only one complaint about her good husband. 'My husband always praises me to other people. Often, I hear from friends the wonderful things he has said about me. But I miss something because he never gets around to saying these things to me, to my face.' "
James Keller

God bless,
Luke 18:1

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1 comment:

JKC said...

I have read about this before, and it is such a beautiful story. However, in India, with the dowry system still alive and well (thankfully, it is slowly dying), it is the girl whose family must pay the dowry to the boy and his family. This has always had such a sickening effect on me - it makes it appear, to me, that the girl is having to pay someone to marry her. What a horrible thought. Yet, when the boy "pays" for the girl, what a precious thing he has done.

I have been told that, in India it is thought that when the boy pays the dowry it is then considered that he owns her, as he would property or cattle, but if she pays the dowry, then the boy does not "own" her thus giving her more a feeling of dignity and independence. That explanation probably came from a man!!

However, I love this story and I tell it often when expressing my disapproval of the dowry system as it is in India.

It is truly a great lesson.