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Murder, eating dead bodies, self-castration…the making of a horror movie? No, these are just some examples of strange rituals practiced around the world. Although most of these have ceased, some of these rather gruesome rituals are still being practiced in third world countries. And after reading through some of these, you’ll be quite glad you live in the modern world.
Among the Masai tribesmen of East Central Africa, spitting is considered an act of respect and friendship. A newborn Masai child is spit upon by friends and relatives wishing to give the child good luck. Masai tribesmen spit at each other when they meet, just as we say “Hello,” and spit again to say “Good-bye.” When two Masai make a trade in business, they spit at each other to seal the bargain. Gee, I hate to see how these people date each other!
Yanomamo Ash Eating
Located in Venezuela and Brazil, the Yanomamo tribe forbids keeping any part of the body of a deceased person. When a person dies, the body is cremated and the crushed bones are added to the ashes. The ashes are then given to the family and must be eaten.
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings as part of a religious ritual. Human sacrifice has been practiced in various cultures throughout history with the Mayans and the Aztecs being most notorious for their ritual killings. Victims were typically ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease gods, the spirits or the deceased. Victims ranged from prisoners to infants to Vestal Virgins who suffered such fates as burning, beheading and being buried alive.
While this practice has become less common in developing worlds, it is actually still being practiced in the least developed areas of the world where traditional beliefs still persist. (Note to self: before I go on my next vacation I must thoroughly research just where these countries are so that I don’t become some tribesman next dinner.)
Seppuku (or as it’s commonly known “harakiri”) is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. As part of the samurai bushido honor code, seppuku was used voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies (and likely suffer torture), as a form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed serious offenses, or performed for other reasons that had brought shame to them.
The ceremonial disembowelment, which is usually part of a more elaborate ritual and performed in front of spectators, consists of plunging a short blade, traditionally a tanto, into the abdomen and moving the blade from left to right in a slicing motion. The samurai’s attendant would then perform daki-kubi, a cut in which the warrior was all but decapitated.
As practiced from the 11th to 20th centuries in Western societies, a duel is an engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons (usually a sword or pistols). The duel usually developed out of the desire of one party (the challenger) to redress a perceived insult to his honor. The goal of the duel was not so much to kill the opponent as to gain “satisfaction,” i.e., to restore one’s honor by demonstrating a willingness to risk one’s life for it. To decline a challenge was often equated to defeat by forfeiture, and sometimes regarded as dishonorable.
A eunuch is simply a man who has been castrated. Typically the man was castrated in order to perform a specific social function, as was common in many societies of the past. In ancient China castration was both a traditional punishment (and a means of gaining employment in the Imperial service. At the end of the Ming Dynasty there were 70,000 eunuchs in the Imperial palace. The value of such employment—certain eunuchs gained immense power that may have superseded that of the prime ministers—was such that self-castration had to be made illegal. Eunuchs castrated before puberty were also valued and trained in several cultures for their exceptional voices, which retained a childlike and other-worldly flexibility and treble pitch. Such eunuchs were known as castrati.
A concubine is generally a woman in an ongoing, matrimonial-like relationship with a man, whom she cannot marry for a specific reason. The reason may be because she is of lower social rank than the man or because the man is already married. Generally, only men of high economic and social status have concubines. Many historical rulers maintained concubines as well as wives. As concubines, these women have limited rights of support from the men, and while their offspring were publically acknowleldged as the man’s children, they were however, deemed having lower social status than the children born by the official wife or wives.
Foot binding was a custom practiced on young girls and women for approximately one thousand years in China, beginning in the 10th century and ending in the first half of 20th century. Multiple theories attempt to explain the origin of foot binding: from the desire to emulate the naturally tiny feet of a favored concubine of a prince, to a story of an empress who had club-like feet, which became viewed as a desirable fashion.
Yet whatever the reason for it, the process is nothing short of barbaric. First, each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood. This concoction caused any necrotised flesh to fall off. Then her toenails were cut back as far as possible to prevent ingrowth and subsequent infections. To prepare her for what was to come next the girl’s feet were delicately massaged. Silk or cotton bandages, ten feet long and two inches wide, were prepared by soaking in the same blood and herb mix as before. Each of the toes were then broken and wrapped in the wet bandages, which would constrict when drying, and pulled tightly downwards toward the heel.
There may have been deep cuts made in the sole to facilitate this. Needless to say feet binding could lead to serious infections, possibly gangrene, and was generally painful for life. Thankfully the ban on foot binding was enacted by the Japanese government in 1915 and the prohibition remains in effect today.
What a lovely word for such a gruesome practice! Sati is a religious funeral practice among some Hindu communities in which a recently widowed Hindu woman either voluntarily or by use of force and coercion throws herself on her husband’s funeral pyre in oder to commit suicide. The act of sati was supposed to take place voluntarily, and from the existing accounts, most of them were indeed voluntary. The act may have been expected of widows in some communities. The extent to which any social pressures or expectations should be considered as compulsion has been the matter of much debate in modern times. It is frequently stated that a widow could expect little of life after her husband’s death, especially if she was childless. However, there were also instances where the wish of the widow to commit sati was not welcomed by others, and where efforts were made to prevent the death. Thankfully, this practice is now considered rare and has been outlawed in India since 1829.
Of all the bizarre rituals, this one has to be one of the most horrific! The procedure of self mummification is exactly what it sounds like (and much more tortorous!) For three years the Buddhist monks or priests who performed this ritual would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat.
They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it killed off any maggots that might cause the body to decay after death.
Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.
When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed for all eternity. To date, between only 16 and 24 such mummifications have been discovered.
Tibetan Sky Burial
Sky burial or ritual dissection was once a common funerary practice in Tibet wherein a human corpse is cut in specific locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements or the mahabhuta and animals – especially to birds of prey. To Tibetans, many of whom adhere to Buddhism, their belief is in the rebirth of soul. Therefore to them, there is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel.
Birds are encouraged eat it, or nature may let it decompose. So the function of the sky burial is simply the disposal of the remains. The preparation of the body for this ritual is fairly simple and yet, rather gruesome: the flesh is stripped from the body with the bones being broken up with sledgehammers and then fed to vultures.
While Communist China outlawed this practice in the 1960s, it was legalized again in the 1980s and is still being practiced today.