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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Capulets and Montagues over the Centuries


Roseanne McCoy, born in 1859 into a family where feuding was to be a way of life, and her infant daughter, were laid into premature graves less than thirty years later. See the History Channels’ excellent portrayal of this infamous feud.

Lal Bibi, an innocent 18 year old Afghan woman, chained to a wall and beaten and raped for five days by local militia, may die a premature death because of a family feud. Read the June 2, 2012 New York Times account. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/02/world/asia/afghan-rape-case-is-a-challenge-for-the-government.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper 

The dispute between the Hatfields and McCoys supposedly started over a stolen pig.  But there are those who believe the bad feelings between these Appalachian clans had their roots in the American Civil War.  

Jim Vance, uncle to “Devil Anse” Hatfield, the leader of that clan, had been released from the Confederate Army because of a broken leg. Vance, a member of the Hatfield Wildcats, a sort of local militia, was believed to have killed Asa Harmon McCoy out of anger for his joining the Union army.  Since neither family had much sympathy for Harmon McCoy, his murder did not immediately lead to further bloodshed. 

Thirteen years later, when a stolen pig claim was litigated to the dissatisfaction of the McCoys, the McCoys killed Bill Staton, a relative of both families, whose testimony they believed had been the cause of their loss of the pig lawsuit. The McCoys who killed Staton then were acquitted on the grounds of self defense.  

Roseanne McCoy and Johnse Hatfield were cast as two star-crossed lovers in this family feud. After Johnse was smitten by Roseanne, to the distress of both families, he brought her back to the Hatfield family home. The McCoys saw to it that Johnse was arrested on bootlegging charges. Following his rescue by the Hatfields, the result of Roseanne’s “midnight ride” to warn his family, Johnse proved able to move past his stars much more nimbly than Romeo. The lout abandoned a now-pregnant Roseanne. Not long afterwards Johnse married another McCoy, a cousin to Roseanne. Even though Johnse reputedly was more of a lover than a fighter he certainly did not bring peace to either family. 

Over the next several years, Hatfields and McCoys continued to kill each other in numbers and manners I won’t recount here. Watch the well- documented History Channel mini-series or read any of the accounts if you wish to hear about the full body count. 

More than a century later, in another mountainous region across the world, Lal Bibi, an 18 year old Afghan woman, had not yet had a chance to be anyone’s lover, star-crossed or otherwise.  We don’t know if historical disputes predated the current one involving Lal Bibi’s distant male cousin, Mohammed Issa.  He either had started a relationship with a local girl and was unsuccessful in an attempted elopement or failed to pay the bride price for his fiancĂ©. In any event, the unnamed girl’s family believed it had been wronged.

The Hatfields would have dredged up some charge of trafficking in poppies and if that failed to punish the would-be suitor, they would have shot him and/or several of his male relatives.  In Lal Bibi’s case, when the wronged family failed to obtain a satisfactory settlement, they seized Lal Bibi, who had no involvement in her distant cousin’s alleged wrongdoing, and chained her to a wall, raping and beating her for five days. In addition to her pain and suffering during her kidnapping, once released, her rapes rendered Lal Bibi unmarriageable and shamed; in her society, dead.  

Defying tradition, her family took her to a hospital and then filed a complaint with the governor.  Nevertheless, they say they will kill Lal Bibi if the government does not provide justice for the crimes against her. Lal Bibi, perhaps more accurately, says, “I am already a dead person.” She believes, as apparently her family does, she cannot live with the shame.   

Tribal customs and perhaps genetics, in the case of the Hatfields/ McCoys, play a role in the feuds. The violence between the Hatfields and McCoys may have had its roots more in genetics than in stolen pigs. (“ Medical researchers have discovered that many McCoys suffer from the autosomal dominant Von Hippel–Lindau disease, with approximately 75% of them having tumors on their adrenal glands…The male members of the  (Hatfield) family may have belonged to Y chromosome haplogroup E1b1b” ) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatfield-McCoy_feud#Family_genetics 

We don’t know whether a genetic tendency towards aggression in some males in the Afghanistan feud plays a role, but we can see compassion and common sense have not eliminated the age-old desire for revenge. When legal remedies for wrongs are not satisfying, Lal Bibi’s family and her tormentors just like the Hatfields and McCoys take their version of justice into their own hands. In Lal Bibi’s case that means her family will kill their own daughter. 

As Shakespeare, writing for the prince, told the Capulets and Montagues: “All are punished.”   Over the centuries how is it that the insanity of such feuds continues? 

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