JUMPING THE BROOM

Jumping the broom is a cultural practice that can be roughly traced back to the 16th century if not even farther in history.  Its origin or time of origin is uncertain. There are also different beliefs about how it started.

Though it is true that the slaves practised jumping the broom ,this custom didn’t emanate from slavery as is popularly claimed and also supported by the Hollywood film ‘Jumping the Broom’. The slaves only practised it in honour of their tradition and also because legal marriage was inaccessible to them.  Some have claimed that this custom started in Wales where couples jump over a flowering broom (shrub), others attribute it to the Romani gypsies and some are adamant it started in West Africa from the Ashanti group of Ghana who waved broom over the head of newly-wed couples to ward off evil spirits.

While who started it or where cannot be ascertained, the custom is known to have been practised in Africa, Wales, Scotland, amongst Romani gypsies, in England, America and some aboriginal or shamanistic cultures. The symbolism attached to this practice varies according to cultures though similar. To some it means crossing from the old life of being single to married, to others it signifies the bride’s promise to clean the house, a reminder for the couple to work in unity, to represent the couple’s new home and to decided who makes the decision, a honour bestowed on the first to touch the floor after jumping and in some tradition, the highest jumper (usually men). The straw of the broom also symbolizes  family and the bind, the hand of God holding both families and the couple together.

This culture has seen a decline because of its popular association to slavery most modern couple avoid this so as to forget the horrors of slave trade but it is still practised by many as a form of cultural heritage. The decorated broom is normally placed in front of the church or reception so the groom can jump over it on their way out after the ceremony or in front of the their new home.

http://www.celebrateintimateweddings.com/ceremonybroom.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/northamptonshire/content/articles/2004/08/05/pagan_wedding_feature.shtml

CULTURE: FROM THE FUNNY TO THE BIZARRE

This week, I have decided to pick different cultures from around the world. Some are funny and others are just downright weird! While some of these cultures are no longer practised, some have only been recently stopped.

We all know that beauty sometimes comes with pain, the pain of getting a tattoo done, piercing a body part or even threading an eyebrow. The Chinese however have taken this further. Foot binding is a tradition practised on young Chinese girls form the age of 4 and sometimes later. The young girls’ feet are broken and wrapped with a very tight bandage so the toes are twisted backward. This supposedly is to make the feet smaller (3 inches) and beautiful.

Gurning is a funny-face-pulling sport in rural England that has been in existence since 1267. This is done by making distorted facial expressions. At the World Gurning Championship in Egremont, gurners donned a horse collar and pulled the most grotesque face possible. While this seem silly, gurners takes it very seriously. Peter Jackman, a four-time winner, went to the extent of removing his teeth in 2000 to make it possible to make certain face manoeuvres.

While some cultures will simply mourn the dead by crying and maybe dressing in black for certain days, the women of the Dani tribe, Indonesia have to cut their fingers every time a relative dies. The purpose of this is to ward off evil spirits and appease ancestral ghosts. Double bad new for these women then when a family member dies!

Lip Disc is a type of body modification popular in Africa and Asia. A hole is pierced in the lower or upper lip and sometimes both and a disc made of clay or light wood is placed in it thereby stretching it to accommodate a larger one until the lip stretches to its limit. Neck rings are also popular among African and Asian women, they are placed around the neck at the tender young age of 2 to 5 to allow the necks stretch slowly with time than forcefully and painfully at puberty.

In Sweden, if a bride or groom leaves their table to use the bathroom, the other get kissed by the guests. If the groom leaves the table, then the bride gets kissed by every male in the reception and vice- versa. Field day eh?

In Germany, family and friends of the couple gather together for a party before the wedding. They break everything breakable from dishes to flower pots and toilets. The couple are then required to clean up the mess as a symbol to indicate unity and their ability to work together in tough times. I won’t be surprised if housewares traders in Germany are fond of this practice.

In some parts of India, the groom is required to take off his shoes which the bride family then tries to steal while the groom’s family prevents them. Whoever wins gets paid a ransom. I can just picture elderly men and women head butting each other just to get a shoe. Some entertainment that!

A group of people called Daur in Chinese in order to finalize the wedding date, the soon to be couple are required to kill a chick and inspect the liver. If it is good, they proceed and if not, they repeat the process until they find a chick with a good liver. Poor chicks!

In Thailand, 3,000 kilograms of fruits and vegetables are set out annually to feed approximately 2000 monkeys. The feast is held in honour of the gods and also to thank the monkeys for attracting tourists. Lucky Monkeys!

Some of these practices are just people’s unique way of catching fun. Others have been stopped because of their extreme nature. Also the exposure of some of these people to the outside world has helped them reconsider some of their practices.

INDIA

India is a South Asian country with a population of 1.2 billion people according to its 2012 census. It was one of the Britain colonies and was ruled for nearly 200 years before gaining Independence in 1947. India is a very religious yet liberal country and so there is freedom to practice any religion according to one’s belief and faith. The prevalent religion is Hindu practised by 80% of the population and followed by the 14% which are Muslims and 2% Christians, some Buddhist, Sikhs and Jains.

Though English is the official language, there are 18 other main languages; Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. These languages are divided into two categories namely, Indo- Aryan (language of invaders) and Dravidian (the native south Indian languages).

In India, traditions are taken seriously as they are values that transcend down generations. Showing respect to elders is one of these beliefs and touching their feet to ask for blessing is customary. Indians are generally very hospitable and welcoming. Irrespective of their means, a visitor is properly taken care of and never allowed to go hungry.

The most common traditional Indian clothing is the Sari for women and Dhoti for men. The sari is an intricately designed and embellished wrap. Teenagers wear half saris and the women wear full ones. The Dhoti is worn with a Kurta (shirt) and Ghandi Ttopi (cap). These are mostly sown out of cotton. Saris sown out of silk are considered elegant and worn mostly by the rich or the royal family. Indian women do not hold back when it comes to adornments, they lavishly decorate themselves with flowers on their braids and ornaments like anklets, nose chains, necklaces, bracelets, long earrings, beads gracing their waist and tattoo known as henna.

Women in India are greatly reverenced as they are seen as gods according to tradition. One of the powerful deities in India, Durga, is a woman and some of the most important temples in the country are dedicated to goddesses. Though most women were denied education in the past  hence rarely pursuing a career, 124 million of the 397 million India workers are now women with role models such as Indira Gandhi in Politics, Medha Patker in social movements, P.T.Usha and Malleswari in Sports, to name a few taking the lead and fairing excellently in their profession.

Indians are also known for their peculiar music and dance forms. The dances involve hand, feet and waist movements done in graceful style and poise. Enhanced by make- up and costume each stroke and facial expression communicates a certain message. One of the popular one is Bharatanatyam, it is highly revered and seen as a form of religion by its performers.

Rural areas in India are economically and traditionally significant as they hold the essence of the country’s custom and though Indians have imbibed the western culture, there is a distinct persistence of “Indianess”. The artefacts, cuisine, handicrafts, attire and lifestyle of the rural folks is still followed and preserved by Indians.

India is the tenth largest economy in the world with 6.23% contribution from tourism. Apart from the Taj Mahal that it is popularly known for, other interesting tourist attractions are Tso Moriri Lake, Ladakh, Gao, Charminar in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, Jaipur also known as the Pink City, Kashmir (one of the most beautiful places in the world) and numerous temples. The best time to visit India is between March and May which is summer. There is a lot to see and the people are welcoming!

“India’s population ‘to be biggest’ in the planet”. BBC News. 2004-08-18. Retrieved 2012-09-24.

 http://trak.in/tags/business/2010/04/19/top-10-ten-tourist-attractions-destinations-india/

http://www.everyculture.com/Ge-It/India.html#b

http://www.indianchild.com/culture%20_1.htm

http://www.indianmirror.com/culture/cul8.html

功夫 KUNG FU

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I don’t know about everyone else but the first thing that comes to my mind upon meeting an Asian person is Kung Fu then Chow Mein and later on technology. These are the mental tags that pops up in my head.

We have all heard tales, stories and seen films about Kung Fu. There are different versions as to where Kung Fu originated from but as Kung Fu probably started before civilisation or documentation we cannot be certain as to who started it, where or why. It has been claimed that the monks in Shaolin Temple started it and also that they were taught by an Indian monk called Bodhidharma. Other versions recount that the art had started even before the shaolin temple was built.

As opposed to the belief that Kung Fu is a single martial art like Taekwondo or Judo, it comprises hundreds of different types of Chinese martial arts like the Shaolin (Eagle Claw, White Crane, and Praying Mantis), Tai-Chi-Chuan (great-limit boxing), Hsing-i (forming an idea), Eight Trigrams, Yung-ch’un (singing of spring), Tantric, Arhat, Long Fist, Hung Gar, Drunken Boxing and Monkey. Some of these styles have been imitated from the unique techniques of defence and attacks used by animals as it is believed that these techniques have kept animals safe in a harsh natural environment and therefore powerful and effective . There is also a distinction between internal and external Kung Fu. In external, one exercises his physical body and in internal exercises mind, spirit and ch’i (flow of life energy)

Hollywood films might have led us to believe in myths like the single death blow, the agile ability of a Kung Fu fighter to disarm weapon wielding opponents or even fight off multiple opponents or that Kung Fu masters can cure cancer. While it is true that Kung Fu is effective for defence, mental and physical health it has its limits.

Kung Fu is an integral part of the Chinese culture. After the Second World War, under the communist rule the practice of Kung Fu was prohibited to prevent those practising it from forming an allegiance against the government and wasn’t allowed until the 1980s when the communist leaders realised that the art was dying due to the death of traditional masters. The art didn’t fully recover from this as its present level of practice is a far cry from how it was practised in early times.

Kung Fu aims to imbibe moral achievement in its learners as well as physical training. It emphasizes values like endurance, respect, courage, tolerance, discipline, perseverance, loyalty and reverence for life. The idea of Kung Fu came about for prolongation of life rather than to kill. The violence found in other martial art is absent in Kung Fu because the nature of the training encourages a calm disposition and astute view of life therefore eliminating selfish and aggressive attitude.