Throughout history, there have existed weird practices – weird for us, the 21st-century people – that were an integral part of society. Almost all of these have been weeded out of today’s culture since most were detrimental for the individuals involved in some form or other. Let’s take a peek back in history and look at five weird old practices from around the world:
- Lotus Feet
Foot binding or Lotus feet was an ancient Chinese Tradition in which the feet of young girls would be broken at the heels and tightly bound together to prevent further growth. It was a means of flaunting one’s status for only the rich, and affluent women could have it done. The ideal bound feet was to be only 3 inches long.
Lotus feet was not at all practical! It prevented the women from walking fast or even for a long time; it could decay and develop an infection if the bindings were not changed regularly and more importantly – beneath the layers of cloth and decorated shoes; their feet were an unsightly mess. So why was this done? Bound feet were considered beautiful as they made a woman’s walking more dainty.
It caused a woman to move slowly, in small steps and swaying from side to side (like the swaying of a lotus, hence the name) – a fact which men of the century found erotic. Scholars have also suggested that perhaps this was a means of preventing women from joining social politics, making gear entirely dependent on her man for these women could not venture far without help. Since the 103 years that it has been banned, very few women in China’s backwaters still exist with bound feet, but they have been rendered deformed with disabilities.
Throughout the ages, women have been going to extraordinary lengths to make sure they achieve a familiar figure. During the 17th century, this was followed by the introduction of the corset since Queen Victoria ascent to the throne. A bodice made from baleen, silk weave, and lace and supposed to give a lady a slender waist. Needless to say, women went too far with it, and this came with its set of medical problems which the doctors of the day were blind to.
It was normal for a woman to have a waist as thin as eighteen to twenty inches and wear tight iron corsets (in extreme cases). While it is said that a well-fitted corset provided no restriction to breathing, it still made it impossible for one to bend. Along with this, women also started wearing crinoline cages as a replacement for layers of petticoat.
During the First World War, women were told to stop buying corsets so that metal would be available to the soldiers. While it slowly faded out of fashion due to its ill effects, it seems as of 2010 they are yet again coming into fashion.
Once, Kyoto, the then capital city of Japan was home to thousands of geisha with houses dedicated to training others. Back in the days, children from low-income families who were sold off and considered too beautiful to be left to rot elsewhere were bought by these households and rigorously trained in performing arts, dance, and singing.
The word Geisha itself means performer. Most worked to entertain men by keeping them company while drinking and performing when asked. Becoming a geisha involved rigorous training, years of practice and an extensive makeup ritual. Their levels of the hierarchy could be made out from how extensive their hair style was.
Their face was traditional painted white with their lips a stark red. Traditional geisha had only one or rarely two masters in their entire lifetime, and their expensive upkeep necessitated that a man could not afford more than one at a time.
The Japanese art of Seppuku or Hara-kiri was a part of the code of the samurais. If a samurai had been caught by enemies on all sides, it was preferred that he die using seppuku than give out information. The process involved stabbing oneself in the stomach with a katana and slashing the wound left and right.
Sometimes honorable samurais when convicted of crimes were provided the option of dying this way rather than other, demeaning methods of death. During the ritual, a samurai would be bathed and clothed in white and given a last sumptuous meal. After he finished eating, the katana would be placed on his plate.
A death poem would be written, and the samurai would then stab himself towards the left, drag the blade towards the right and turn it upwards so as to open up the stomach. Then, his second in line or the Kaisha Kunin would decapitate his head leaving it attached to his body by a thin strip of flesh. Female samurai could only do it after seeking permission.
The ancient Hindu tradition in which a widowed woman was expected to leap in a burning pyre to commit suicide. While it was supposed to be done voluntarily and most accounts from the ancient times refer to it as being done voluntarily, during as late as the 17th and 18th century, it had become more of a social norm.
Women were expected to it and hence social pressure made it a compulsion for many. The theory of it was that there was not much left a woman after the death of her husband (more so if she was childless), as remarriage of women was not allowed.