Beauty is a fickle thing. Worse than that, it is (as often as not) one of the most painful goals in the realms of the wealthy and elite. In China, the binding of feet was once seen to create beautiful, dainty extremities. To those in western culture, this is often viewed as a torturous activity. The Yoruba tribes of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo in Africa practice scarification: the cutting or burning of skin to create representations of familial ties. Once again, much of modern western culture would view this as a terrible childhood practice. Yet people with this perception do not realize that similar practices were performed not only in recent times, but in their own backyard. In North America one of the most prominent examples of painful beautification was the tradition of head-binding among the people of the Chinookan tribe in the Pacific Northwest.
Binding Children’s Heads to Show Nurturing and Status
In the Chinookan tribe, head binding (also known as artificial cranial deformation) occurred when an elite child, male or female, was first born, and it was the responsibility of the parents to ensure this practice was followed.
To accomplish this, the child's head was bound between wooden boards (called ‘cradle head boarding’) from the time the child turned three months old until he/she reached the one year mark. Anterior and posterior fontanels (soft spots) made it easier to shape the infant’s skull. (It should be noted, however, that this time frame is not precise, but based on archaeological analysis. The exact age this practice began and ended may have been slightly earlier or later in a child's life.)
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