From scaring skin to resemble a crocodile hide to the autopsy of a human’s remains, beauty and death are controversial topics. And what one culture views as normal and common, for another might be taboo…
For some people, the idea of intentional skin disfigurement would be taboo. But in the remote village of Yamok in Papua New Guinea, the Mingi view scarification as the mark of a Sepik man. In perhaps one of the most painful and bloody rituals in the world, Mingi initiates will have their skin cut to ribbons with razorblades. Sliced up to a thousand times, their skin will be slashed to resemble the hide of a crocodile, the biggest and deadliest animal on the Sepik River. The initiates are able to chew on a leaf, but have no anesthetic to dull the sting, so that they may endure and remember physical pain. In time, these brutal, prized cuts will heal as perfect ‘crocodile scars,’ marking them as survivors and true Sepik men.
Interested in the taboo of initiation rituals, beauty and skin disfigurement? Tune into INITIATION RITUALS, BIZARRE BODIES and SKIN DEEP Taboo episodes! Taboo airs at 7 pm ET/PT all week long on the National Geographic Channel. Get the full schedule here.
Societies have developed rules around death. We bury our loved ones six feet deep in the ground, we burn them and send them floating down the river. We hide them away, keeping the dead at a distance. And even though the world of the living needs people to transport a body to a morgue, dissect a corpse or guide a spirit into the afterlife, touching the dead remains taboo. But every society needs people to handle our remains. In Thailand, old human bones are dug up each year to make room for the newly deceased. Then, after cleaning and sorting, the bones are moved to a small crypt or prepared for cremation, freeing up another full-sized grave for rent. In many societies, this would be unthinkable, a taboo that reflects our physical and emotional horror of death. But what of the people who actually touch the dead? And of the ceremonies we hold to mark the passing of a loved one? What one culture sees as normal and common, for another might be taboo.