Sunday, January 3, 2010

Walking cemeteries

I found out that a great majority of nurses in rural areas in South Korea know how to say the word "push" in a variety of Southeast Asian languages. Since most females of marrying age move to the cities so they can attend universities and find careers the men who stay sometimes don't have any option but to search abroad for companionship. I once saw this large banner on the outside of an apartment building that translated something like "virgin maiden Vietnamese bride" above a phone number. I don't think I translated it exactly right, but the idea was there. The problem is that Korea is far from being a country of immigrants, and with even less foreigners living in rural areas, there's not much available in the way of Korean language classes for the immigrants that do end up here. So the Southeast Asian brides looming about might not learn some essential vocab before babies start popping out of their bodies.

Something else entirely unrelated: I just finished reading this book called "The Chronicles of the Guayaki Indians" by Pierre Clastres. It's by far one of the saddest and simultaneously beautiful stories I've yet had a chance to read. The author is an anthropologist who lived with the tribe for a year. But he writes with a poetry and compassion that is so intense, especially when he tackles their ritual practices of infanticide and cannibalism. The tribe's entire population dropped by about 25% in the time that he was there, and within a short time after the entire tribe ceased to exist. Their language, culture, myths, and rituals pretty much died with them.

All the people in the tribe were "passionate cannibals", but they never killed people for the purpose of food or sacrifice. They ate their dead. Every member of their tribe who died, they ate every part of. This was as much for the practical nutritional purpose of not wasting food products, as it was for their religious purposes. In their tribe, the myths behind rituals ran parallel and fed into all of the practical reasons for them. The two were inseparable in a way. In this case, the tribe ate their dead to make certain that their souls would not come back to kill them. They needed to devour their bodies to keep the deceased people's souls in the world of the dead and out of the world of the living. In this way, the entire tribe became walking cemeteries and supreme masters of recycling, since the consumption of each dead person was the burial and the feast at the same time.

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