It was a bizarre mourning practice that existed for many years
Finger cutting also referred to as “Ikipalin”, was common amongst the Dani tribe in a remote area of Papua, Western New Guinea. The demands of the custom required that once a family member passed away, the closest relative(s)were to cut off their fingers, as a manner of expressing their grief.
Truly, whenever a loved one died, members of the Dani tribe would remove a portion of their fingers. Sometimes, multiple fingers were also severed as a show of grief while mourning.
For the Dani people, fingers were a symbol of unity and strength. Just as fingers work together irrespective of their lengths, the indigenes compared its functions to that of a close family unit.
The process starts with the upper half of the fingers being tied for some minutes so that they are completely numb. It is believed that once the finger becomes numb and blood circulation to that area is stopped, less pain is felt during amputation.
As soon as the phalanx is broken and cut, the wound is cleaned so as to prevent infection. What is left of it is a stony fingertip.
The amputated finger is later burnt to ashes and saved in a special pot. Other times, it can be stored in the amputee’s home or somewhere special.
The cutting of fingers was usually done by another immediate family member. Sometimes, it could be the parents or even a sibling.
Apart from the severed finger(s), the participants would also smear their faces with ashes and clay while expressing their deep mystery and sorrow.
Different objects are used to cut the fingers such as machetes, knives or even axes. In the past, sharpened stone blades were also used to apply blunt force while breaking the phalanx.
Some people even went as far as removing fingers without actually cutting them. They would first weaken their knuckles by chewing them and later tie a rope around it to stop blood circulation. However it happened, the end goal was to deaden the muscle through oxygen deprivation.
It is believed that finger cutting was a way to appease and ward off the spirits of the ancestral ghosts that still lingered around the village. Thus in order to keep the spirits away, the fingers were cut as a form of sacrifice.
Although it remains unclear why the custom mainly applied to the women population of the Dani tribe, some older men were also involved in it too.
Once a loved one died, the top joint of the woman’s fingers would be amputated. Sadly, some female babies were also unfortunate victims of this tradition when their mothers cut off their fingers in a similar ritual. The excuse given was that it was a guarantee of longevity for the babies.
Although this bizarre practice has been declared illegal and banned in New Guinea, evidence of the once-existing custom can be seen on older women within the community due to their mutilated fingertips.
Through it all, it is quite disturbing to think that because someone lost a family member to death, they had to lose their knuckles too.
The Shocking History Of Baby Cages
Baby airing was an odd parenting trend that happened during the pre-war era
In the 1930s, the baby cage was quite common in Britain. It was one of the strangest inventions of the 20th century because it required mothers to hang a cage from their windows and put their babies in it. Otherwise known as “the window crib”, it was considered to be a helpful device for kids.
Baby cages were designed in a way that made it easy for babies to crawl in and receive fresh air. Many mothers relied on it as a convenient way to keep their children outdoor. The women simply hung their babies outside windows so that they could be free to do other household chores.
Due to its level of popularity in London, the baby cage was largely recognized by some city councils. A child care organization known as “The Chelsea Baby Club” also encouraged it and showed support by sharing more baby cages to mothers residing within the city.
The general idea behind the invention of baby cages was to help parents residing in city-based apartments who couldn’t have easy access to backyards and parks. Indeed, as more people occupied the cities and apartments got smaller, the use of baby cages became more popular.
Also, another major factor attributed to the adoption of this sort of baby care was that it seemed appealing and gave the babies some time to have outdoor relaxation in the best way they could.
It was believed that the cages kept children out of harm’s way while it gave the families more space. For some parents, the cage doubled as a place where babies could sleep once removable curtains were attached to it.
Several other advantages were also attached to the use of baby cages. For instance, in 1884, Luther Emmett Holt wrote a book that helped new mothers with their babies. It was titled “The care and feeding of the children”. This book became a popular guide for parents with little children.
A part of Holt’s book covered “airing”, a process that emphasized the importance of letting little children get fresh air regularly. In his book, Holt further mentioned that:
“Fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood, and this is just as necessary for health and growth as proper food.”
This submission by Holt led many London moms to believe that exposing their children to cold temperature through airing helped with blood purification and built their immunity. It also convinced them that airing improved a child’s appetite, aided digestion and generally promoted good health.
Emma Read, a woman who invented the “portable baby cage” in 1922 explained that her dream was to provide an escape for babies in overcrowded environments by putting them in cages. This was because many families relied on baby cages because they lived at the top of high buildings and had no garden.
As crazy as it sounds, some parents never really saw the use of baby cages as a bad thing. Their actions were simply in response to the advice that sleeping out and getting cold air made children healthy and strong.
The baby cage resembled a tiny cage where pets could be kept, rather than what a child should be put in. It was made of wire netting and supported on the side with a cloth net to prevent the children from crawling into the room. Chicken wire and metal were usually attached to the external part of the window frame.
Soft fabrics or baskets were usually placed within the baby cages before suspending them outside the window frames. The little space where these cages were located can be compared to where window-based air conditioners are now kept today.
Women and caretakers would simply put their babies in the wire baskets while they attended to other demands at home. Some mothers would even include toys to keep the babies busy while suspended above level ground.
When this act was the rave of the moment, the owners of some London apartments would intentionally lure families into their buildings by making provisions for baby cages.
In 1906, Eleanor Roosevelt purchased a chicken-wire baby cage and placed it in her New York home where she put her daughter, Anna. However, Anna’s loud cry alerted the neighbours who noticed this odd method of childcare. They threatened to report to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty Towards Children.
In her autobiography, Eleanor later admitted that this came as a shock to her because she thought that she was being a modern mom.
When world war II began, there was a gradual reduction in the use of baby cages. Although its popularity increased again after the war, its use completely stopped in the 1950s.
Surprisingly, there were no reported cases of injuries resulting from the use of baby cages.
However, as the laws evolved, there were increasing concerns around child care and safety. This made more parents became more aware and they stopped this practice.
Apart from safety concerns, lack of scientific validity also caused a huge decline in the use of baby cages.
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