The Kippumjo, which translates as ‘Pleasure Squad’, is a group of approximately 2,000 North Korean women who are recruited by the head of state to serve in a private harem. Although most women are believed to retire in their twenties, there is evidence to suggest that the age of Kippumjo members ranges between 13 and 40.

‘Although Kim Il-sung appears to have been at least in part a feminist, in that he sought to bring women’s education up to scratch and elevate their status by involving them in the workforce, he nonetheless possessed a virtual harem of young women selected purely for the purposes of entertaining him and Kim Jong-il. Kim Il-sung’s interest in young women was not just for pleasure, but for rejuvenating himself through absorbing a young virgin’s ki, or life-force, during sex. As such, it was extremely difficult being an attractive teenage girl in North Korea, lest the authorities (schools, in practice) recommend her to recruiters of the so-called “happy corps” (entertainers), or “satisfaction corps” (sexual services). Remarkably, parents were often happy for their daughters to be selected for these corps, for it would confer on them enhanced status, and therefore money. Pleasure girls retired from the corps at 22, after which they were often married off to other members of the elite. The two Kims’ easy-going sex lives were in sharp contrast to the stricter social mores of North Korea’s conservative society, yet another example of the leaders not practicing what they preached.’

– “The Kims’ North Korea. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin (Bookreview by Yoel Sano)” Asia Times, 4 June 2005

Harem (v)

‘The harem, under various regulations, is found in all eastern countries where polygamy and concubinage are permitted or practised. While the Japanese generally have but one wife, the princes and nobles keep as many concubines as they please, securing them in harems, but much less rigorously than is done in Mohammedan countries. At Hiogo, in October, 1870, Mr. Seward saw a gay Japanese yacht on board of which was a daimio surrounded by numerous retainers and bevy of highly painted and elegantly dressed young women. The daimio was “giving his harem a picnic.”

In Siam the law allows but le wife, except to the king; concubinage, however, is limited only by the means of the man. Within the capital, Bangkok, stands enclosed in a double wall the city of the Nang Harm, or veiled women, which is fully described by Mrs. Leonowens in “The Romance of the Harem” (Boston, 1873):

“In this city live none but women and children. Here the houses of the royal princesses, the wives, concubines, and relatives of the king, with their numerous slaves and personal attendants, form regular streets and avenues, with small parks, artificial lakes, and groups of fine trees scattered over miniature lawns and beautiful flower gardens. In the southern part of this strange city the mechanical slaves of the wives, concubines, and princesses live, and ply their trades for the profit of their mistresses.”

This woman’s city has its own laws, and its female judges, guards, police, prison keepers, executioners, merchants, brokers, teachers, and mechanics in every trade. No man can enter the city except the king and the priests, who may be admitted every morning under amazon guard.

The slave women can go out to see their husbands, or on business for their mistresses; the mistresses can never leave it, except by the covered passages to the palaces, temples, and gardens, until age and position have given them a certain degree of freedom. No fewer than 9,000 women, it is asserted, are thus secluded, and the Nang Harm presents the most extensive and rigorous instance of the harem system.’

– Ripley. G., Dana. C.A., Ed. (1879) The American Cyclopædia – A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company (Entrance: “Harem” [between “Hare Lip” and “Harfleur”], written by Parke Godwin).

Harem (iv)

‘Capt. Burton, who travelled extensively in Mohammedan countries in the disguise of a native, and who in the character of a physician saw something of the interior of the harem, says that the oriental is “the only state of society in which jealousy and quarrels about the sex are the exception and not the rule of life.” […]

The two ladies of W. H. Seward’s party, in his tour around the world, in May, 1871, visited the harem in the palace of the khedive’s mother (the princess valideh) at Cairo. After traversing a succession of saloons superbly furnished with velvet carpets, lace and damask curtains, satin-covered sofas and divans, large French mirrors, and crystal chandeliers, they were presented to the princess, who was surrounded by the ladies of the harem and Circassian slave girls. The princess wife of the khedive wore a green silk dress with lace, hat, gloves, boots, and fan, all from London or Paris, and her light brown hair was dressed in the latest Parisian style.

The ladies of the harem, many of them displaying diamond solitaires of immense size, confessed their partiality for European modes, all of them had ordered outfits from London, with the request that they might be counterparts of the trousseau of the princess Louise. The princess mother said that “since the ladies the harem were allowed to see the European opera and ballet at the theatre in Alexandria, they have become quite disgusted with the native performances of their own country.” She explained the condition of the slave women; they were brought from their native land when quite young, were provided with husbands and dowries, and were “very lucky.”

But the system as a domestic institution is summed up by Mr. Seward as follows: “The Mohammedan provision for woman is a prison in which her sufferings from jealousy are consoled by the indulgence of her vanity. She is allowed the society of her own sex with far less restraint than is ordinarily supposed, and she displays before her visiting friends with pride the wealth and ornaments which lighten her chains.” She goes abroad only in a carriage, and under strict surveillance; “she never reads, and, so far as possible, is required never to think.”’

– Ripley. G., Dana. C.A., Ed. (1879) The American Cyclopædia – A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company (Entrance: “Harem” [between “Hare Lip” and “Harfleur”], written by Parke Godwin).

Harem (iii)

‘Lady Shiel, wife of the British minister to Persia in 1849, who lived four years in that country, says that Persian women of the upper class lead a life of idleness and luxury, and enjoy more liberty than the women of Christendom. They consume their time by going to the bath and by a constant round of visits, and frequently acquire a knowledge of reading and writing, and of the choice poetical works in their native language. Cooking, or at least its superintendence, is a favorite pastime. In populous harems the mortality among children is very great, owing to the neglect, laziness, and ignorance of the mothers and nurses.

An American lady, Mrs. Caroline Paine, who travelled in the Turkish empire, says in her “Tent and Harem” (New York, 1859) that she made the acquaintance of Turkish women who were “wonderful instances of native elegance, refinement, and aptness in the courtesies, ordinary civilities, and prattle of society.” She says: “Turkish women are by no means confined to a life of solitude or imprisonment, and they would be scarcely tempted to exchange the perfect freedom and exemption from the austere duties of life, which is their acme of happiness, for all the advantages that might be gained from intellectual pursuits or a different form of society.”’

– Ripley. G., Dana. C.A., Ed. (1879) The American Cyclopædia – A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company (Entrance: “Harem” [between “Hare Lip” and “Harfleur”], written by Parke Godwin).

Harem (ii)

‘The Christian travellers most familiar with oriental life have passed very opposite judgements on the nature and effect of the harem system. Lady Mary Montagu, who visited the harems of the great officers of the Turkish empire, has left gorgeous pictures of what she saw. She describes the harems as glittering with splendor and inhabited by lovely girls magnificently attired, leading a gay and happy life.

Harriet Martineau, who visited some harems of the higher class in Cairo and Damascus in 1847, gives a very different picture. In a harem at Cairo she found 20 women, some slaves, nearly all young, some good-looking, but none handsome. Some were black, Nubians or Abyssinians, and the rest Circassians with very light complexions. She saw no trace of intellect in these women, except in a homely old one. Their ignorance she describes as fearful, and their grossness as revolting.

At Damascus she saw the seven wives of three men in one harem, with a crowd of attendants. Of the seven, two had been the wives of the head of the household, who was dead; three were the wives of his eldest son, aged 22; and the remaining two were the wives of his second son, aged 15. Of the five younger, three were sisters, children of different mothers in the same harem. They smoked, drank coffee and sherbet, sang to the accompaniment of a tambourine, danced in an indecent manner, and all the while romping, kissing, and screaming went on among old and young. She pronounces them the most studiously depressed and corrupted women she ever saw.’

– Ripley. G., Dana. C.A., Ed. (1879) The American Cyclopædia – A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company (Entrance: “Harem” [between “Hare Lip” and “Harfleur”], written by Parke Godwin).

Harem (i)

‘Its prevalence among the Mohammedans has been established by the following passage of the Koran: “And speak unto the believing women, that they restrain their eyes, and preserve their modesty, and discover not their ornaments, except what necessarily appeareth thereof; and let them throw their veils over their bosoms, and not show their ornaments, unless to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or unto such men as attend them and have no need of women [eunuchs], or unto children.” […]

The inmates of the harem consist of a wife or wives and of any number of female slaves, some of whom are kept merely as servants to cook, to clean the rooms, and to wait upon the wives and concubines.

It is estimated, however, by the best informed travellers, that only one man in 20 has more than one wife. It is only the very rich that maintain populous harems, and many of these are content with one wife. In frequent instances the wife who will not tolerate a second spouse in the harem will permit the husband to keep concubines for the sake of having them to wait upon her. It is said that Mohammedan women do not dislike the seclusion in which they are kept, but take a pride in it as an evidence of their value. If the husband permits them to be freely seen by other men, they regard his liberality as indicative of indifference.’

– Ripley. G., Dana. C.A., Ed. (1879) The American Cyclopædia – A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company (Entrance: “Harem” [between “Hare Lip” and “Harfleur”], written by Parke Godwin).