In Their Own Rites

Brides, Babies, the
Dead & Your Ex-Lovers

And now for something completely different: need to cry a lot at your wedding? Check. Thought about giving the bones of your deceased relatives a brush? Check. What about dropping your baby off a balcony? Check that too. Aren’t we dizzy yet? Wait, the best is always last.
Ever thought of introducing your lover to your former partners? There’s a whole fair for that. Not to worry, though; each of these rituals is confined to a different culture; few partake of more than one of them. Besides, most of the population, of course, simply skip them all.
It’s not that we’re about to go all NatGeo on you, after the week we all just had. But this being Friday, reading about what people do around the world to give their lives meaning may feel just like putting out our own skin to dry: we have no choice but to be ‘us’ most of the time, but no one says we can’t get out of ourselves and enjoy the pasture.
Or something, we’re not sure. The only thing that may be undeniable about all these, though, is that none of this community rites you’re about to read below are harmful to those who enjoy participating in them. On the contrary, they’re are important cultural signposts that bring everyone together, and boy, don’t we need more examples like that?
So let’s get to it without bias, shall we? After all, heaven knows we all have our share of strange and mostly hardly logical rites and little idiosyncrasies that we go through our lives, just to belong to what most of everyone else is already part of. Even when we refuse to ‘play along’ with it, we’re already being one with it, knowingly or not.

THE CRYING GAME
That is done by the bride herself. Among the Tujia people of Southwest China, it’s a social requirement that every woman must cry before getting married. For a full month before the wedding, a hour a day. After the first 10, she’s joined by her mother-in-law, then grandmother, then, well, you got the idea.
It’s a mostly gender-codified ritual that was popular in the region three centuries ago, but that has now kind of lost much of its appeal to modern Chinese women. But as a ritualized form of expressing a woman’s position in the old order, it’s quite expressive and, to trained eyes and minds, speaks volumes of how far we’ve got.
Even without all the present-day implications of marriage for people living in rural areas, the ritual has a way to give shape and form to a likely real sentiment about the whole affair of ‘being given’ in marriage. In some parts, there’s even a ‘Crying Marriage Song’ to go along with all the wailing. Quite moving, really.

CLEAN UP YOUR DEAD
Not restricted to women is yet another ritual celebrating the dead in Mexican society. Once a year, during the Day of the Dead in the Campeche region, families go to the cemetery, dig up their dead relatives, and give their bones a real do-over. After they’re done, they get dressed with fresh clothes and literally put out to dry.
The ritual may be traced back to the Mayans (always them), since the town is built on an old area that was once one of their city-states. Everyone participates, the dead and the living, the old and the young, in what is considered a bonding rite among residents. Very important: the corpses are only dug up after three years of rest.
Pomuch may be a Mayan town, but the whole Mexico’s society celebrates the Dia de los Muertos in quite colorful and cheerful ways. Anthropologists have been debating for ages how such ingrained familiarity with death impacts the people, without much progress understanding it. It hardly matters, though; The Pomuch, dead or alive, are just fine about it.

PLEASE, DROP MY BABY
Death has almost never occurred in 700 years of a ritual common among Muslim and Hindu communities in the Indian states of Karnataka and Maharashtraduring. The annual, and risky, ceremony is supposed to grant good luck to the baby (naturally, assuming he doesn’t get hurt) and prosperity for their families.
Someone climbs a 30ft high balcony with a baby in the basket, hails the adoring crowd below by swinging the bundle of joy back and forth, and drops him or her for a dozen men or so holding a blanket. There’s more: the baby bounces from the blanket to someone who’ll be the catcher of the day, no doubt, who then handles the crying child to the mother.
As the poor woman is now finally able to resume breathing, it’s hard to say what that does to the kid’s development, but it’s not unlike the unsafe habit of tossing a baby into a pool, so they can swim. They usually do, but many a grownup can recall the murderous feelings they had towards their parents when it happened. We’re waiting to hear from an India kid.

ALL IN LOVE IS FAIR
Color us Barbra but we somehow have a soft spot for this Vietnam rite: a yearly two-day festival designed to bring former lovers together again. You’re instructed to bring your current beau to meet your exes, and as far as we can tell, everything is pretty civilized, with no big jealousy scenes or attempts to restore those old ties that once bond.
It’s a love market, really, held for centuries, and hundreds of people show up in Khau Vai, a hillside village far from Hanoi, in a mountain setting that’s quite romantic, if we may say so. According to local lore, its origins come from an ethnic girl who fell in love with the wrong boy, and generated a huge blood battle. And you thought it was original, right?
Seeing the carnage their passion had ignited, they parted ways but decided to keep seeing each other, annually, supposedly to deep concerns from their current partners. Or so we imagine it. During the fair, locals reenact their doomed love. It’s a strange but also democratic affair, since both mates get to talk openly with those who either dumped them, or still hold candles for each other.
THE WAY WE WERE
There are countless archaic rituals like these, and many more that have already been forgotten. Regardless of their characteristics, and even if their origins have already been lost to time, they help preserve a certain sense of being together, in communities that our modern world seems bent on destroying or dissociating of any meaning.
As they become more like curiosities and relics of a long ago, they’re already devoid of the intensity and passion that originated them in the first place. But even as they survive only as reenactments, with a newly applied, tourism-ready polished front, they still hold together those who may identify with them. Something that no new iPad can ever grant to any given group of people.
Then again, we’re being shallow here, offering these as exotic attractions that you may talk about with your friends later. Or it may be that we’re just honestly looking for a way to end this post. Either way, we thought that they kind of go along quite nicely put together like that, and if they also prompt in us a bit of introspection and humility, then be it. Happy Friday.

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