In the beginning of his section on the Arabian Sea, Marco Polo starts his narration with the description of two islands, named Male and Female Island. As a modern reader, the names of these islands of these islands immediately made me curious, particularly the reason as to why the inhabitants of these islands decided to separate by gender, however it was only vaguely mentioned that the men would not be able to live with their wives for the entire year (295). There is no description surrounding Polo’s stay on these islands, nor anything to do with its physical description, which indicates that Polo did not visit these islands, but instead heard stories of these locations in passing during his travels.
Polo first describes the religion of the inhabitants of the islands, which once again reinforces the notion that religion was one of the key factors in differentiating individuals. He states that the individuals on the island follow Christianity and all the residents are baptized. Due to their following of the Old Testament, Polo does not speak of the inhabitants in a negative manner. If this were a community of a different religion, Polo would not only speak of this decision to separate and the residents in a negative manner or one that highlights the differences between their customs and his own, but he would go into depth on other aspects of the community, like their death practices. Polo does not describe much about the community besides this anomaly, which insinuates that the other aspects of these islands are normal to him and his own cultural standards and practices.
Marco Polo mentions that the men of Male Island are only allowed to be on Female island for three months, solely for the purposes of reproduction, and are not able to have sex with their wives when she becomes pregnant, but are able to do what they desire when she is not. Polo describes that children stay with their mothers, but sons would have to leave at the age of twelve years old to live with their fathers on Male Island. The implications of reproduction and sex is hard to read as a modern reader, as women on Female Island simply existed to give birth and raise children. The fact that they only meet their husbands after nine months, probably after the possibility of childbirth, only to do the whole process over again is frustrating. Polo states that fact that husbands have control of their wive’s bodies as an unsurprising custom, revealing the underlying meaning of consent, or the lack thereof, as an accepted standard for Polo and his society.
I was surprised to read about the type of interdependence that the two islands had on each other. The men provided on fishing and other physical practices, while the women only managed agricultural work, on top of their duties to childrearing. I assumed that their would be a more equal distribution of labor in order for sustenance, since the groups are separated for most of the time, but it seems that this is a way for men to be in control of their wives in a different manner, forcing them to be reliant on their husbands for basic needs like food.