Siamese Marriage

Posted on 09/17/2012 by


In Genesis 2:24 the Bible says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Eve was created from a rib taken from Adam’s side while he was asleep. Adam and Eve were truly “one flesh.” One flesh means that two are completely one entity. They cannot be divided and still be one flesh.

Recently, I watched a TV program about two individuals that shared a true one flesh relationship. I found their life fascinating and want to tell you a bit more about them today.

Two brothers were born to a fisherman and his wife on May 11, 1811 in a place called Siam. Their birth was seen as a bad omen for the community. The King of Siam heard about the birth of the two brothers and called for them to be killed because of the evil that would come from their arrival. Why were they so feared by the people of Siam? The two brothers were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage. They were almost completely separate and normal except for this small connection in which their livers were fused together. The brothers, Chang and Eng Bunker, were known as the “Twins of Siam” and this is where we get the term Siamese twins to describe conjoined twins today.

When they were teenagers Robert Hunter, a British merchant, discovered them and put them under contract to be an attraction for sideshows across the world. Once they were adults, they finished their contract with Robert Hunter and were successful promoting themselves as freak show entertainment. They were known for their ability to coordinate their actions and performed many skills that included cartwheels and were quite good at badminton.

Needing a break from show business, Chang and Eng took a break and bought property in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. They built a house and started a farm business. In Wilkesboro, they met two sisters, Adelaide and Sarah Ann Yates, with whom shortly they married in April of 1843. They shared a bed built for four. The marriages were very fruitful with Chang and his wife having 10 children and Eng and his wife having 11. Unfortunately, over time it is reported that Adelaide and Sarah Ann could not get along with each other any longer and a second home was built a couple of miles down the road. Although one might surmise that another home might be a necessity considering the size of the family. The twins alternated spending three days at a time in each home with the guest twin submitting to the host twin at each location.

The twins had been examined by doctors everywhere they had traveled and there was always debate concerning whether they could be separated. The local doctors’ verifications were an easy way on the sideshow trail to prove the legitimacy of their act and that the twins were genuinely conjoined. Chang and Eng had considered separation many times during their life but the medical knowledge of the 1800s did not have the certainty to say if they would survive such an undertaking. The fallout of their wife’s drove them to New York one more time to consider being disjoined. They had all but agreed to go through with the attempt but their wives pleaded for them to not for fear of losing their husbands.

They continued living in North Carolina in separate homes after this as before. This time was tough on the twins. Chang had for the most part become an alcoholic during this time. Eng on the other hand had become a gambler. One day in January 1874, Chang, fighting pneumonia, passed away in his sleep. Eng awoke to find that his twin was dead and called for his wife and kids to help him. They summoned the local doctor to attempt an emergency separation of the twins. Once the doctor was there, however, Eng refused to be separated. He died around three hours later.

In Ephesians 5:28 the Bible says, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” In the Siamese relationship everything that Eng and Chang did affected the other. If Eng took a medication, Chang was bound to have some reaction to it. If Chang needed some fresh air, Eng had to be agreeable and cooperate to help Chang get what he needed. In our relationship, we are to show the same compassion to love our wife. We need to treat them as if they are part of our same flesh and as if our actions affected our own bodies. In Ephesians 5:29 the Bible says, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. In mind, body, spirit, and talent, the married couple should be united as one.

One thing I found quite interesting about Chang and Eng was how their wives affected their lives. Chang and Eng had no choice but to be of one flesh and it is reported that they worked remarkably well together. They were known for being able to look out for the other brother’s best interests when needed. Their wives, Adelaide and Sara Ann grew up being very close to each other. While they married into an unusual arrangement with the conjoined twins, they had to understand that the nature of their marriages would have to be as one flesh for all as well. The wives grew quarrelsome with each other, though, and caused many problems for the twins as they grew older. It is believed that the wear and tear of traveling back and forth between houses and the stress the twins were under affected their health in severe ways in their last years. One had a stroke a couple of years before their death and it is believed the pneumonia at death was a result of having to travel in the cold to visit the other’s house.

I found the following quote from Zechariah Schiebout in the article “When Two Become One Flesh” to be a very apt description of a one flesh marriage. “Marriage is the making of two into one, the Siamese-ing of consenting adults, the uniting of two lives so closely that hurting one’s spouse is hurting oneself, and loving one’s spouse is loving oneself. Our spouse’s tears become our tears; when they cry, we taste the salt. And their joys become our joys; when they succeed, we celebrate. The joys double in intensity, and so do the sorrows. Whatever we say about marriage, it is no ordinary institution in which men and women may come and go as they please unaffected. When a man and woman say, “I do”, their lives impact each other permanently and powerfully, and no divorce, not even an amiable one, can restore a spouse to pre-nuptial condition. If the two who became one are ripped apart into two by divorce, life-long brokenness results”

Finally, Chang and Eng had many opportunities to separate their union. There were doctors that told them that they could be separated and they would be alright. The argument about whether they could be separated successfully is still in debate until this day. Their marriages were stressful to say the least, but neither chose to separate that union either. Chang and Eng were faithful to each other and to their spouses until the end.

In researching Chang and Eng Bunker I came across a fascinating article in the National Geographic from June 2006. The writer had gone to Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to interview the relatives of Chang and Eng Bunker. There are more than 1500 descendents of the two today and around 200 still live in the Wilkesboro area. One tiny paragraph jumped off the page when I read it. It was a quote from Tanya Blackmon Jones, a great-great-granddaughter of Eng Bunker. She relayed the story of a pediatric surgeon from England that specialized in separating conjoined twins who had visited her in her job at the town cultural center.

“The surgeon sat in my office and wanted to talk,” Jones recalls. Most of all he wanted to talk about one of his cases: conjoined sisters with organ sets that seemed perfectly intact and separate. The surgical team waited until the twins were old enough to withstand the operation. When separated, one twin died. Her weaker heart couldn’t tolerate the surgery. The doctor looked stricken. “Just because we can separate them, does it mean we should?” he asked.

I had to think about all of the marriages that we see today. Most people are struggling in some way with their marriage. The problems seem to be insurmountable. There does not appear to be hope. People are desperate to find some relief, some help, and some comfort. But we have seen people put their trust fully in God and have their relationships healed. I am reminded in Mark 10:9 the Bible says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” I think back to the pediatrician who visited the granddaughter and the answer seems much clearer, “Just because we can separate them, does it mean we should?”

Posted in: Husband, Marriage