Long-Distance Loves

‘Trouwen met de handschoen’, or ‘marrying the glove’, was a form of marriage by proxy that was common in Dutch colonial times. The marriage occurred in the Netherlands in the absence of the groom, who was represented by the glove. His bride would then undertake the long voyage to join him in the East Indies.

While the prospect of a well-to-do husband in the Indies seemed to hold great promise for many young girls and their families, the reality could be harsh. H. W. Ponder was struck by this upon visiting a Dutch graveyard in Banda:

“It seems reasonable to surmise that ‘handschoen’ marriages were oft-repeated for the consolation of sorrowing perkenier widowers; for in all these family burial-grounds, though scarcely a full inscription remains, there are many stones on which, with a little patience, women’s names can be deciphered, with ages ranging from eighteen to nineteen to the early twenties.
It would seem that these youthful Mejouffrouws, fresh from school amid the stodgy conventionalities of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Holland, sent out by parents whose heads, like the poor lasses’ own, were turned by extravagant tales of the nutmeg princes’ wealth, did not long survive their transplanting and disillusion. I fancy that many broken hearts lie buried here under the whispering nutmeg-trees.”

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