The Story Of America Thru Social Media


(Originally posted 7/18/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

If any of the dear readers of the gringa are active on social media platforms, then you are familiar with term “top influencers”. But have you ever stopped to think about what this says about American society? Well, to see who is at the top of their game in the industries of entertainment, travel, gaming, fitness, beauty, and home life, just take a look at the data comprised by Forbes so far.

Other industries like fashion, comedy, parenting, food, sports, technology and business will be reported on in the fall. But for now, this is what social media reflects about American culture:

Entertainment: Canadian vlogger, Lilly Singh, commands a YouTube audience of 11 million, has conducted a 27-city worldwide tour and has a book on the New York Times bestseller list. What does she stand for? Although comedy is her main game, she also performs hip-hop, bhangra dance, does impressions and has done a bit of acting.

The top 10 influencers in social media entertainment collectively have:

– nearly 89 million Instagram followers,

– more than 33 million Twitter followers,

– nearly 50 million likes on Facebook.

Travel: Brian Kelly is earning millions annually. Along with his 20-person team, they help travelers game the system and take advantage of all those elusive points and perks for travel associated with credit cards. In a sense, he is as much an educator as he is a travel czar.

As a whole, the top 10 influencers for the travel industry in social media have:

–          – nearly 11 million Instagram followers

–          – 1.5 million Twitter followers

–          – 2.5 million Facebook likes

–          – 2.6 million YouTube subscribers

Gaming: Just about every American alive today can say that they have been a gamer at some point in their life. The gringa still games. My oldest son is quite impressed with my “bad-ass” high elf avatar on Skyrim. But I digress.

The top influencer for the gaming industry is not the gringa. That acclaim goes to Mark Fischback. His horror genre games have been viewed more than 7 billion times. If you’ve played a zombie game lately, stand and be counted.

Along with his other top 10 gaming influencers, here’s how many social media fanatics are influenced by the entertaining digital escapes they create:

–          – 35 million Instagram followers

–          – 28 million Twitter followers

–          – 11 million Facebook likes

–          – 152 million YouTube Subscriptions

Fitness: Lungers and Lycra lovers have all probably heard of Kayla Itsines who tops the list of social media fitness influencers. Last year her fitness app earned her a tidy $17 mill. She sells out stadiums when she tours and touts 6.6 million followers on Instagram (the gringa is clueless as to who she is – I walk. I don’t sweat. I don’t grind. I don’t do pain and discomfort voluntarily).

She and her other top influencers have a strong following on all the most popular social media sites:

–          – 39.5 million Instagram followers

–          – 2.6 million  Twitter followers

–          – 52 million Facebook likes

–          – 5 million YouTube subscriptions

Beauty: If you like to dabble in contouring and eyebrow shaping, then you have probably enjoyed some video tutorials by Zoe Sugg. She gives cosmetic divas the dish on how to get the best deals on all things make-up. But she’s not just a pretty face. Her novels have broken sales records.

All the top 10 beauty influencers are working to make the world a much lovelier place:

–          – 50 million Instagram followers

–          – 11.6 million Twitter followers

–          – 16.6 million Facebook likes

–          – 46.5 million YouTube subscribers

Home: You might think that house flippers would take center stage. Actually, topping the list for home life influencers is DIY interior designer, Grace Bonney. And independent artisans owe her a world of thanks for making their crafts and trades in greater demand. With a million readers subscribing to her monthly design magazine, even folks who avoid social media like the plague can discover how to spiffy up their digs.

Interior designers that are in hot demand on social media have:

–          – 3.2 million Instagram followers

–          – 890 thousand Twitter followers

–          – 1.4 million Facebook likes

–          – 1 million YouTube subscribers

But what does this tell us about American society that is tuned in and logged on? Well, the American population numbers about 321.5 million as of 2015 US Census data. When we see the total reach of these top influencers as reported by Forbes, in puts things in greater perspective. Granted, many of these followers hail from other countries, but it is still easy to see what it means for America who comprises the largest portion of the numbers:

Entertainment Total Reach: 247 million are influenced by comedy, dance and theater in any format.

Travel Total Reach: 17.4 million are influenced by snagging every travel perk they are owed by their credit card company and then using them.

Gaming Total Reach: 228 million are engaged in blood and mayhem through cyber proxies.

Fitness Total Reach: 106 million are still searching for the Fountain of Youth by way of a fitness guru.

Beauty Total Reach: 135 million are searching for ways to look like a supermodel without breaking the bank.

Home Total Reach: 7.4 million still believe that a beautiful home is where the heart is.

By and large, Americans want to be entertained. Perhaps the jet-setting lifestyle of their favorite celebrities in turn drive them to the top influencers of travel, fitness and beauty. And the gringa supposes that for those who can’t afford to mimic the lifestyles of the rich and famous they worship, the next best thing is to escape into the high drama of a make-believe character of a video game. And then, finally, when reality sets in, they simply decide to make the best with what they’ve got. They settle down to a bit of nesting. And that’s the story of America through the effects of the top influencers of social media.

Source: Forbes

Image Credit: Blue Fountain Media

Video Credit: AsapSCIENCE

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The Mayans Wrote Books, Too


Mention the Mayan civilization and you probably think of strange celestial calendars carved in stone, Meso-American pyramids and human sacrifice. You probably wouldn’t think about an ancient library book. Well, the gringa says, “Think again.” And what scholars have translated from the pages of this 17th century Mayan book might have a plan of strategy for those Americans engaged in the Trump resistance of today. Who knew?!

During the time the manuscript was written, European colonialism and Christian religious oppression was in full swing over the indigenous people of pre-Columbia America. Although the entire manuscript is comprised of entries by different authors, it does open a very revealing window to how the influence of Pope Urban IV affected the Mayans.

The manuscript itself is a map of linguistic evolution. Four different languages are represented. It would be only natural to find Latin and Spanish. But two native tongues of the Mayan Empire, K’iche’ and Kaqchikel, are also part of this written record.

The K’iche’ language was already thousands of years old by the time European invaders arrived. But the K’iche’ dialect was what was commonly spoken between the Spanish speaking Europeans and the Mayans. Even today K’iche’ is still used in parts of Guatemala and Mexico by more than one million people, although the influence of Spanish and Latin can be detected in the most current versions. Thousands of immigrants to the United States also speak this ancient language.

The existence of this language into the modern age is a testament to a people who vehemently resisted the Catholic Church’s attempts to convert them and the efforts of Europeans to assimilate them. K’iche’ eventually lost status as an official language in Guatamala. Priests tried to convert Mayans through catechisms and confessionals performed in Latin and Spanish. But the Mayans wanted none of it.

By refusing to assimilate to European customs and the Catholic religion, Mayans were able to preserve their culture. They defended their beliefs by adapting certain elements of their public spaces.  This compromise, a public recognition of the political and cultural sovereignty of the Europeans and the Catholic Church, created a buffer, allowing the resistance to live wholly Mayan in private, unmolested.

The religion practiced by the K’iche’ speaking Mayans evolved over time. It eventually became a hybrid with indigenous and Christian elements easily recognizable in their tenets, documents and art.

One example is the most fundamental concept of sin in Christianity. No such concept existed within Mayan beliefs. Dominican missionaries introduced the concept through a play on words. The K’iche’ word “mak” literally translates “will”, as in personal desire or impulse. The missionaries used the idea of personal impulse to illustrate sin because man is not to follow his own impulse but, rather, the will of god.

Even today, when visiting a Catholic church in Guatamala one will find a very different religious environment than a traditional Catholic setting. The effectiveness of the Mayan religion was a heritage that has reached far, even into our own current era.

To satisfy the Church that they were being compliant, the K’iche’ speaking Maya simply picked and chose the elements of Catholicism that seemed interesting or agreeable. Visiting Catholic officials would see an amalgamation of rites and rituals, many they easily recognized, and would go away satisfied. It was a resistance perpetrated through  appearing to appease the oppressor.

Many people, especially Catholics, prefer to visualize the Catholic Church for its many charitable works it performs today. It is easier on the Catholic conscience to overlook the history of cruelty and brutality. But the reality of violent measures to mandate conversions are the reason the Church was met with such virulent resistance. Who wants to love and serve a god who is represented by something like that?

And it wasn’t just a cruel example of god that turned off the Mayans. The Europeans enslaved them. They, a proud, free and dignified people, a wealthy empire that had built massive monuments were forced into labor, slaves for their invaders. To refuse to serve their taskmasters and worship their overlord’s god often meant imprisonment, torture and, eventually, death.

Although the need for a slave class prevented the physical genocide of the Mayans, a cultural genocide was attempted as a means to force their religious conversion. Prized artifacts and relics were destroyed. Sacred shrines desecrated and razed to the ground. Any written text burned. So, it isn’t that ancient Meso-Americans intelligent enough to build pyramids were illiterate. It’s that their conquerors were effective book-burners. But one amazing book escaped their fires.

If you want to see it in person, it can be perused at the National Museum of History. Or, a digital version can be enjoyed online.

Sources:

Smithsonian

History.com

Britannica

Peoples Of The World

World Atlas

Image Credit: Smithsonian

Video Credit: SmithsonianNMAI

Dargavs, Russia – The City of the Dead


With all the paranoia seeping into American society over Russia, thanks to the Trump administration, the gringa would like to take a moment to share some good and interesting stuff about Russia. You see, it’s so easy to generalize and say, “Russia bad” and forget all about the human element. Just because Trump and Putin and their respective governing bodies may be ruthless, greedy megalomaniacs, the Russian people are generally just like people everywhere. Some good. Some bad. And the nation of Russia is filled with rich history just like every other place on earth.

The gringa feels a bit guilty of all the complaining and criticizing I’ve been doing lately. It’s about time to focus on some good stuff. And the Russian good stuff I plan to focus on is all dead. In fact, an entire city of the dead.

Believe it or not, a city of dead Russians gets 4 out of 5 stars from travel experts as a must-see place to visit for guests to Russia. So, if you are planning your own tour, put the city of Dargavs on your bucket list. Also, pack your best Sherlock Holmes gear because this little gem is filled with mystery. Maybe you can crack the case and take your place in history as well.

When you arrive you will not be greeted with an eerie sight of Russian zombies and fog-filled ancient cobbled streets. You will discover a hillside burial ground set against the rugged backdrop of the Greater Caucasus mountain range.

Dargavs is found in North Ossetia. Stone structures, most with steep tiled roofs, house the resting places of ancient citizens called the great Alans who were a sub-set of the Sarmatian tribes. Although they are well-known as a nomadic, pastoral people speaking an ancient Eastern Iranian dialect, who lived around the first millennium of our current era.

The surviving ancestors of the great Alans buried belongings with their loved ones when they were entombed. Among the relics concealed in the crypts of this mysterious necropolis are:

  • Open, boat-like vessels to hold the corpse rather than a traditional coffin (curious since there are no rivers nearby)
  • Oars
  • Coins
  • Clothing

Despite some UFOlogists convinced the great Alans were really extra-terrestrials, the gringa thinks they were just regular humans. It seems they had beliefs and lifestyle practices that link them to every other group of humans trying to eke out an existence with primitive means in a harsh climate. Consider the stuff that researchers and archaeologists can all agree on that is very “humanizing”:

  • The crypts house the remains of entire families throughout multiple chambers and sometimes multiple levels.
  • Criminals were entombed in “exile”, their tombs constructed outside the collection of crypts for the Alan clan in general.

5.9.2b

  • Each tomb features a well at the entrance to the crypt that contains coins. So, the great Alans were sophisticated and human enough to understand economics, earnings and wealth.
  • They practiced some sort of religion or superstitions that had a belief in the afterlife hence the construction of a symbolic watchtower to guard the tombs and is, perhaps, the explanation for entombment with boats despite not being a river-faring people.

5.9.2c

There are many theories to explain some of the mysterious features that are, indeed curious, as well as to try to understand what the story was for the great Alans.

Religion: It is presumed that the boats and wells with coins are possibly related to the great Alans’ religious beliefs. The ancient Ossetians are believes to be pagans. However, a pagan is not an atheist. They do have religious beliefs, or superstitions, if you will.

Many religions feature boats and rivers as the means of travel to the world of the afterlife.  The river Styx of Greek mythology is, perhaps, the most well-known.  However, Acheron was also a river the dead navigated to the underworld on a ferry with Charon at the helm who served the king of Hades. It was known as the river of pain and at times, in legends and myth, is interchangeable with the River Styx.

An interesting note is that ferryman Charon also required a fee of a single coin. Non-payment meant a soul was left to wander aimlessly the banks of the River Acheron, presumably in great pain and anguish. However, if you are entombed with your own boat, why would you expect to need the services of another boatman? Perhaps the rivers Styx/Acheron were not the ultimate destination for the great Alans.

Ancient rivers of the underworld are also:

  • Lethe, also known as the river of forgetfulness and oblivion of sleep (no fee required).
  • Phlegethon was written about by Plato who believed it led to the deepest parts of Tartarus. Dante also penned a bit about this river in his legendary “Inferno”, it existing in the Seventh Circle of Hell, a boiling river where souls were tormented in cages by Centaurs tasked with dipping them in to the river’s scalding depths. Probably not the intended afterlife river for a people who hoped to arrive with their own boats.
  • Cocytus, the River of Wailing, joins with Acheron, ultimately leading to a frozen lake. It is the destination of traitors and all who commit sins against humanity. This may have been the destination of the criminals entombed in the outer circle, the Cocytus being a river that encircles the underworld.
  • Oceanus, another afterlife river that encircles the entire underworld, this freshwater stream was where the edge of the world met the cosmos. Although some think this would have been a gloomy, lonely afterlife existence, the gringa thinks this may have actually been the most coveted locale of the dead because they would be the ones nearest the realm of the gods. This may have been where the great Alans hoped their souls would be headed after death and they would need their own boats to navigate the waters of Oceanus. So, then, what was the coin for?

History of the Wishing Well: Wishing wells are common all over the world. Toss in a coin for good luck. We all do it. Anthropologists date the practice as far back as ancient Egypt and the Mesoamerican cultures. It was common practice to placate the gods with gifts. Want your natural water resources to remain sweet and pure? Toss in a valuable coin as a gift and hope for the best. This lends credence to the local legend that loved ones of dead great Alans would toss a coin in the well for good luck with regard to the afterlife situation of a family member who had passed.

Of interesting note is the local legend that the entire clan was wiped out by a plague. This is to explain the small, rectangular open entries into the tombs rather than be sealed crypts. It is said that once a person’s entire family died, having no one left to bury them, once becoming sick, the remaining survivor would climb into the tomb and await death. The gringa wonders if they tossed a coin into the well for themselves since they knew no one else was left alive to wish them well on the other side?

If you plan to visit, expect quite a trek to get there and plan to be your own guide. The place is remote and rarely visited. Even the locals avoid it on pain of death. It’s about a 3 hour drive from the nearest thing that can be called civilization. And the road has a reputation for danger. But, from the looks of things, if you like adventure, history and mystery, this will be a very satisfying jaunt!

Sources:

Encylclopedia of Sacred Places, Volume 1 by Norbert Brookman

RT

Theoi

University of California Irvine Anthropology

Dante’s “Inferno

English Russia

Image Credits: Atlas Obscura

Video Credit: Sam Conney

Ancient Ychma Guide Dogs


You know that old saying, “dog is man’s best friend”? The gringa completely understands this. She has lived her life according to this rule. I grew up on a cattle ranch exposed to working dogs that were smart and worthy of respect. They opened gates, herded cattle into corrals and other pastures, and kept them moving down chutes when they balked. It was the gringa’s habit to roam the woods around our house and down into the Brazos River Valley. But I was rarely alone. Morris was a Keeshond that my older sister got as a puppy. He stayed at my parent’s home after she moved away. I would give him horrible haircuts with garden shears every summer, snipping off his long, thick coat to give him some relief. That was a foreshadow of what was to come.

When I entered college with aspirations of becoming an English teacher, I had to get a job. I began working for a veterinarian. Eventually, the veterinarian trained the gringa as a dog groomer. The gringa’s health held up for about two semesters then epilepsy came charging in demanding attention. This began a cycle of sporadic attempts to go back to college, working, health crisis, hiatus, and on and on and on. Eventually I realized that it was unlikely I would ever sustain a lengthy enough stretch of good health to graduate or even make a reliable employee. I gave up on a teaching degree, said a tearful thank you and good-bye to a very kind veterinarian, and began a career as a self-employed dog groomer, a career that lasted more than 25 years.

During that time the gringa had Sparky the hero dog who took a bullet to save his family, as well as many other dogs that have been rescued and re-homed. The gringa currently has a service dog who is also my constant companion. Abby is a seizure-alert dog who is small enough for me to carry in a front-pack wherever I go. Abby is as adorable as she is good at her job. She has a perpetual puppy look. A Maltese-Yorkie mix,  the gringa calls her a Malarkie.

Now, the dear reader is probably wondering where the gringa is going with this dog-biography. Well, the gringa is going to Peru and other ancient civilizations. She has recently found out that the caveman’s ancient ancestors sacrificed dogs. Eyeing him suspiciously as I curl a protective arm around my Abby, I try to imagine him thousands of years ago sacrificing a dog. The gringa can’t see it in her mind’s eye.

The caveman is such a kind, gentle soul. Just about every Peruvian I have met when we have traveled to his jungle origins are similar in nature. Quick to smile and laugh with a gentleness and generosity that would bring tears to your eyes. And dogs roam freely. Even in the capital city of Lima they are left unmolested to go about their business. So what was up with sacrificing them so many years ago?

In Lima, there are ruins underneath the city’s zoo where archaeologists are excavating remains of what they believe to be warriors who died violent deaths and dogs who were ritually sacrificed and buried with them. This is the work of the Ychma culture. This is not the first discovery of human Ychma remains within the city, but the finding of sacrificed dogs, by rope strangulation and slit throats (egad!), is what makes this site a bit more interesting.

The Ychma lived about 2,000 years ago in the area of Peru that is modern day Lima. Typical burials of the average Ychma would include pottery, textiles and often items related to the textile industry like thread and needles. The skill of crafting textiles was a gift from their god’s father, Virachocha, who beget many gods, particularly the Ychma god, Pachacamac.

The Ychma people were also buried facing the sea, in honor of their god’s wife, Urpi Wachay, who is an ocean deity. Her name’s translation means “one who gives birth to doves”. The gringa finds that beautiful. Anyway, I digress.

The Ychma god, Pachacamac, was one of the Sun God’s children. Pachacamac was a god of fire, interacting directly with humankind. His father, Sun god Viracocha, the god who created the world and taught the making of crafts such as textiles and pottery, was invisible, remote and uninvolved with his creation. After creating the world and showing humanity how to tend to itself, he left their governance up to his children. Eventually the world he created became corrupt and needed rejuvenation. That was the work of Pachacamac.

He had a tri-une, or three level, nature. There is the level that is unseen, unmanifested. There is also the aspect of his name’s translation that literally means the “one who moves the world”. Seeing how Lima is often rocked by earthquakes it is easy to understand why this characteristic was adopted. Then there is the name translation aspect that means “the language of man”, as in being an oracle, a god who communicated directly with mankind.

The nature of Pachacamac is thought to be like that of a spoiled and precocious child, embodied in the earthquakes as temper tantrums. Sacrifices were meant to appease him, just like giving candy to a baby. The Ychma built a shrine and temple complex that still inspires religious pilgrimage today. Pachacamac held such powerful sway over the Ychma that even when the Incas subjugated them in the 1400s, the empire absorbed Pachacamac into their own religious pantheon.

The Ychma also built the ancient cities Puruchuco and Cajamarquilla along with 16 stepped pyramids. The pyramids were religious sites to make offerings. There were agricultural items and foods often given in ceramic containers.  There were also pyramids dedicated to human sacrifice. Not only were humans sacrificed, but animals like frogs were sacrificed as an offering that would please the gods so that they would send rain. But the gringa still wants to know why they sacrificed the dogs.

The Ychma were not alone in this practice. The ancient Greeks did it. The ancient Romans did, too. Romano-British dog sacrifice remains have also been found. But why? Depending on the culture and religion, the reasons varied: fertility, guardians, divination, guide passage from life to death, provide companionship in the afterlife. Although archaeology experts have yet to publish the significance of the sacrificed Ychma dogs, the gringa has drawn her own conclusions.

I believe that since they were buried with warriors who show evidence of violent, deadly wounds, she believes the dogs were intended to provide protection, as well as companionship, in the afterlife. A noble death? Yes, so my soft heart takes some comfort that the dogs died as revered symbols rather than exterminated as pests. But still it irks me. But the gringa will no longer eye the caveman suspiciously when he walks by Abby with knife or rope in his hands.

Sources:

Yahoo News

www.ancient-origins.net

www.apmagazine.info

www.academia.edu

 

 

 

Cannibals & Their Lightning God


Two things the gringa loves most are science and history. When the two collide I believe I am in Paradise.  Add the spice of controversy and there is simply no going back for the gringa. Archaeologists in Greece have made this dream combination come true for the gringa.

Let us travel back 3,000 years to the bleak mountaintop of Mount Lykaion in southern Greece, which some ancient Greeks believed to be the birthplace of Zeus, rather than Crete. This is the revered resting place of an altar featuring a grisly design of sheep bone construction. This is where the religious leaders of Greece hoped to pacify their god of gods, Zeus himself. Offered up are the bloody sacrifices of what one would expect to be sheep or goats, considering what the altar is made of. Think again dear readers.

For those schooled in literature and philosophy, when Greece is mentioned, you hearken back to the days of Plato and Socrates. You believe these sophisticated thinkers of Greece gave birth to civilized society as we know it. As you cruise about town, passing homes with columned porches, you remind yourself that this bit of architecture was passed down from an exceptionally cultured society. Or not. Not when the skeletal remains of a teenage boy near Zeus’ altar indicates that young, human sacrifices were being bled out on top of a table made from sheep bones in efforts to gain favor with a god that might rain down lightning if he got pissed.

But Mount Lykaion is historically linked to Greek athletic festivals, isn’t it? Isn’t it one of the ancient sites with a stadium and hippodrome, all indicators of a culture that appreciated athletic competitions? The gringa wonders, was death the price for losing or, could it have been the price for winning, or, could it have been the “opening ceremony” after which a priest turns around and commands, “Let the games begin!” Who really knows at this time because this is a recent discovery.

And some scholars are not too happy about revelations of human sacrifice as part of ancient Greek religious ceremonies. I mean, after all, Greece way back then liked to call rival foreign nations nasty names like barbarians and cannibals. But, really, who do they think they are fooling? Remember, Socrates asked Adeimantos if he had heard the latest gossip about religious zealouts feasting on the remains of their human sacrifice. Socrates includes a gruesome description of a terrible recipe of mixing the entrails of different victims which, if ingested by some hapless cannibal, transforms them into a wolf. Considering that Adeimantos had already heard the story, it seems that the nasty religious practices going on atop Mount Lykaion were no big secret among the ancient Greeks. It’s just big news to us.

So what kind of science goes into the decision that the remains of this young man belong to a specific era and culture? Scientists have to analyze the composition of the altar itself. Considered an “ash altar”, the gringa’s depiction of it being constructed in the fashion of, say, a dining room table and made completely out of sheep bones is not an altogether clear picture of what scientists are dealing with. Imagine, if you will, that ancient priests led sheep and goats to a sacred place, slit their throat, then burned the remains. Each sacrifice slaughtered and burned atop the ones that went before. Eventually a mound of ash accumulates and becomes a ritual platform. At Mount Lykaion the mound was almost five feet high.

So, the scientists use their handy-dandy equipment to measure remains of bones to see which animal (or human) they belong to. If human, they measure the pelvis to see if it is male or female. Then they need to determine the age of the remains. The first thing that comes to mind is ye aulde carbon dating technique. But there are other methods that can be used on other objects and archaeological sites to determine age:

  • Stratigraphical: The science of geology comes into play with a method that relies on the accumulation of soil to calculate the passage of time. The premise is that the area where people live results in layers of earth becoming deposited. Gives a whole new meaning to the saying that a particular area sure has “built up”.
  • Astronomical Chronology: Astronomers have used their knowledge to study the fluctuations of solar radiation to calculate when ice ages have occurred. The common argument is that 5 have occurred.
  • Dendrochronology: This science was pioneered in 1904 by A.E. Douglass who created the technique of analyzing tree rings to determine not only the age of a tree but to find indicators of drought, disease and hearty growing seasons.

So, if history, science and drama are appealing to someone you know, remind them that there are still exciting discoveries to be made, particularly in Greece. For young people who long for the curiosities that are found in archaeological digs, remind them that not every ancient puzzle has been solved. Along with history, they should also have a strong foundation in STEM studies.  And lucky for me this archaeological site has its own website keeping fascinated individuals like myself up-to-date on their latest discoveries. Because the gringa really wants to know just went on up there.

Sources:

www.greekmythology.com

www.biblicalarchaeology.org

www.oocities.org

lykaionexcavation.org

Image Source: tse4.mm.bing.net

 

 

 

Suicide Forest


Every weekday the gringa looks forward to 4pm.  That’s when my oldest son calls me as he drives home from work. He is a bit of a political revolutionary, young, passionate, ready to change the world. Although he loves to talk politics, current events and debate solutions, the very first thing he asks me is, “How was your day?” I usually tell him boring, just the way I like it since I am a “no drama mama”.

Although he doesn’t read my blog, he always asks me what I’ve been writing about. In a recent conversation, when I told him about my underwater Japanese mystery city post, he said, “You should write about the Suicide Forest.” I had never heard of such a thing so, of course, it totally piqued the gringa’s interest. Although I usually like to keep my stuff focused on science, mysteries and the interestingly inane, a dark, macabre cultural piece has begun a creative itch that simply must be scratched.

In Japan there is Aokigahara which, roughly translated, means “Sea of Trees”. Sounds romantic, right? Well, it is more commonly known as the Suicide Forest and is situated near the northwest base of Mount Fuji, covering almost 14 square miles of raw woodland. Thick with foliage and set against the backdrop of a majestic volcano, it would seem to be the perfect spot for a picturesque photo safari for a tourist until you realize what the locals do here, the hike of no return.

Why is Aokigahara such a select place for suicide? Perhaps it is because the undergrowth is so dense a corpse can go undiscovered and undisturbed. Local officials estimate that roughly 100 persons kill themselves in this forest annually. However, because many go undetected, the suicide victim count could be much higher. Despite instituting prevention methods such as surveillance cameras  and posting encouraging signs throughout the paths that have messages reminding folks how precious their life is to loved ones, Japanese people determined to take their own lives still succeed in their mission.

The favorite method of self-inflicted death is hanging. However, ingesting poison runs a close second and then there’s option number three, a drug overdose.  But why here? Officials point to a popular romantic tragedy written by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto. His 1960 novel  depicts a failed love story. The heroine ultimately ends her life in the Sea of Trees. She chose the Sea of Trees, according to the story, because, referenced within the tale by the author, she reads the book The Complete Suicide Manual which describes the forest as the “perfect place to die”. This novel has been found with many of the victims.

Every year volunteers gather to roam the thick stands of old trees and deep undergrowth to search for human remains. Officials have ceased to publicize the results of these grisly corpse hunts. Curious people like the gringa can only refer to earlier published reports that clearly indicate an average of 75-100 bodies returned to families for burial annually.

In the West, suicide is stigmatized. This is greatly due to our religious conditioning. Even if a person is not a practicing Jew or Christian, Western culture still considers suicide as anything but honorable. Some consider it self-murder. In fact, that is how it is considered by much of Western law. It is against the law to kill a human being, including yourself. Many religious sects believe a suicide victim’s remains have been desecrated by the act. Such bodies are not allowed to be buried in hallowed church cemeteries. But suicide is considered very differently in Japan.

In the Japan of old, ubasute was considered an honorable solution to ignoble suffering. In other words, desperate times called for desperate measures. If years of famine or drought rolled around, a head of a household would have to consider the effect it was having on his family. How many mouths were there to feed? How much food was there to go around? In order to survive, the least productive family member with no future, basically the old folks, would be led up into the mountains and abandoned to their natural fate of a slow death by exposure. Whether or not ubasute was ever widely practiced is irrelevant. All that matters is that it is a strong feature of Japanese historical myths and legends which has helped to shape their cultural practices and beliefs. Suicide is noble if it preserves the honor, integrity and prosperity of the family.

Although ubasute may be the stuff of legends, noble Samurai suicides are well documented throughout Japan’s feudal history.  It was the honorable way to go out. Seppuku culture views it as a way of taking responsibility of a situation that has gone bad.

Because suicide is considered a virtuous solution and is not stigmatized the way it is in Western culture, Japan ranks the world’s leader in suicide. When the entire world became mired in an economic crisis in 2008, over 2,000 Japanese chose suicide over living a life of financial ruin.

Should you, like the gringa, find the disturbing allure of Aokigahara irresistible and mark it as a place to visit and satisfy your own curiosity, or perhaps meditate in an effort to bring peace to a place that must be saturated with anguish, there are a few things you may want to know before you arrive:

  • Hauntings – It is said that the Sea of Trees is filled with yurei, or, ghosts. And these are not your average ghosts. They are mourning and vengeful. They desire company, your company. Legends go that they attempt to lure you off the beaten path so that you become lost in the wilderness and die like the ubasute victims of old.
  • Camping – Overnight camping is allowed. Be aware that local forest patrols are trained to consider tents as a sign that someone is taking their time about contemplating suicide. Don’t be surprised if a ranger shows up and begins conversing with gentle words of affirmation and encouragement. If he suspects you are engaged in a mental suicide debate, he will probably urge you to pack up and leave.
  • Tape – As you explore the forest on nature hikes, you may see tape looped in the branches of trees and bushes. These are the signs left behind to mark the path of corpse searchers in their attempt to not become lost.
  • Demons – What is attributed to demonic interference by local legend is more likely the result of geology. The area is rich in iron which affects magnetics. GPS systems, ye olde compasses and cellphone are pretty much useless. If you can’t navigate by the stars, for heaven’s sake don’t get off the trail!
  • Be Prepared – Like a good boy scout who is prepared for anything, mentally brace yourself for the very real possibility that you could stumble across a decomposing body, skeletal remains or personal effects of a victim of the forest.
  • More Than Death – Despite the ghastliness of the Sea of Trees being called Suicide Forest, there is still much more to be appreciated. Don’t let a macabre history put you off as a tourist. There is, of course, the fantastic opportunity to be near Mount Fuji. Great photo opportunities also await on the lava plateau, ancient centuries-old trees and the bewitching ice-scape of the Narusawa Ice Cave.

The gringa would love to go there and contemplate respectfully. Although I am a bit of a prankster and once staged a tragic fall down a rocky cliff when the caveman and I hiked about the Smoky Mountains, I’m certain this knowledge of Aokigahara will keep me in a more subdued state of mind.

Source:  www.mentalfloss.com

image: www.jennyjinya.deviantart.com

 

 

Japan’s Underwater City of the Sea Gods


The gringa’s dear readers may find musings of the lost city of Atlantis as fascinating as the gringa. What if it has actually been discovered off the coast of Japan? Hey, stranger things have happened! Although it is more likely that it is a lost city from Japan’s ancient Jomon civilization, sunk into the ocean thousands of years ago after a cataclysmic earthquake, tsunami or climate upheaval after the last ice age, it is still fun to entertain fantastical theories as well as explore the real science behind this archaeological mystery.

Originally discovered by dive instructor Kihachiro Aratake in 1986, these amazing formations have come to be known as the Yonaguni Monument. This massive underwater complex, dated to have hailed around 8000BC, can be found off the coastline of the island Yonaguni which is part of Japan’s Ryukyu island chain. Extending over an area of almost 1000 feet x 500 feet, the complex consists of ten structures, some appearing to be in the shape of animals as well as to contain glyphs of human characters and animals. Roads and retaining walls can be seen connecting the structure in the pattern of a well designed city.

For decades scuba diving tourists, as well as scuba diving archaeologists, have explored ancient ruins of a castle, majestic archway, five temples, a step pyramid and a massive arena. As the gringa only gets to explore pictures of the ruins, it is still pretty obvious even to my untrained eye that these are man-made. Yet there are still scientists who prefer to believe these are natural formations that were enhanced by ancient people into functional structures. This really aggravates the gringa when scientists wave aside the obvious because they just don’t want to admit that ancient civilizations may have been far more advanced than modern “experts” have traditionally been taught to believe.

Just as the west has Aesop’s fables, Japanese culture has their own popular fables, myths and legends. The Mu civilization is a fabled Pacific people. The ancient tale explains that they disappeared under the waves of the sea. In 1996 Masaaki Kimura, professor of marine geology from Japan’s University of the Ryukyus, began his own research to see if this is the long lost home of the Mu. He, too, was of the belief that Yonaguni was most likely a man-manipulated complex of natural formations. However, he was completely converted after his first dive.

Kimura identified quarry marks on many of the megalithic stones. And, since nature does not normally lay out large stones in symmetrical patterns and create many stones with right angles, the gringa tends to agree with Kimura’s conclusion. He studied carvings that were distinctly human faces and animals. The style was clearly indicative of Asian art. He refers to Egypt’s famous sphinx as he described one underwater sculpture of what seems to be a king. A glyph resembling a horse and a painted relief resembling a cow are still discernible making it apparent that this was not a city of mermaids and mermen living under the sea but was actually a thriving, above-ground metropolis at one time.

This area of the Pacific is famous for earthquakes and tsunamis. In the spring of 1771 the largest tsunami ever recorded struck Yonaguni. With a height of well over 130 feet, a catastrophic oceanic wave such as this would have been powerful enough to blast this ancient city well below the surface of the Pacific. Also, 10,000 years ago the sea level would have been more than 100 feet lower than it is today. The geographical area that the Yonaguni complex sits on would, at the time of its existence, have been well above the sea and on dry ground, a coastal city. A land bridge would have also existed connecting the chain of islands with the mainland making it entirely possible for humans to settle there with their domesticated animals.

Although some experts date the ruins to be about 10,000 years old, Kimura’s estimate gives the complex a much younger age. He suspects it may be a 5,000 year old civilization. Either way, this still places the city’s existence during the time of the Jomon civilization. Evidence to be more specific about the age of the structures is hard to come by. Existing beneath the ocean means that things like pottery or wooden objects have long since decayed and disappeared forever. There is, however, the chance of analysis of the paint used on the cow to get a bit more specific at pinning down a particular century.

Jomon culture during the timeframe considered for these structures can be divided into two separate eras:

  • Incipient Jomon (10,500-8000BC)
  • Initial Jomon (8000-5000BC)

Incipient Jomon civilization has left behind archaeological remains that indicate that the Jomon people were primarily hunter gatherers who produced pottery identified by their pointed bottoms and corded markings.  The following period, Initial Jomon, was noted by rising sea levels and global temperatures. The land bridge between the islands and the mainland would have disappeared. Diet would have transitioned to primarily sea based fare and the development of agriculture and farm production animals since natural resources were limited on the island. Large refuse mounds consisting of large amounts of shells discovered on archeological digs on the islands  attests to this. Remains of stone religious figurines and tools such as knives and axes have also been discovered in island digs and dated to the same period as the underwater city.

Historians describe the culture of the Jomon era to be very complex and in the early stages of organized agricultural develpment. Similarities with Asia’s ancient northeastern cultures as well as the ancient indigenous peoples of the Americas can be detected in many of the artifacts discovered. The Jomon preferred to live in coastal or river communities in homes that were sunken into the earth. Ironic, then, that one of their greatest cities eventually sunk into the ocean.

Although the gringa is unable to scuba dive because of epilepsy, I am certain that at least a few dear readers could join the many tourist divers and send me pictures and a recount of your adventure. During winter months, shark enthusiasts sink beneath the waves to observe the hammerheads that frequent the area.  However, if sharks aren’t your thing, and you prefer the mystery of history, you can always take a detour to the ruins and share your thrills here on the gringa’s blog.

Since the late 90s the underwater city has become increasingly popular among tourists. Famous writers and photographers have braved the waves to record their own bit of history. The Discovery Channel and National Geographic have performed their own expeditions. So, if any dear reader does get the opportunity for a dive of their own, you must drop the gringa a line here and share your own exciting story.

Sources:

National Geographic

www.mic.com

www.news.com.au

Hidden Archaeology

www.yonaguni.ws

www.britannica.com

www.metmuseum.org

Wikipedia

Image source: Source: Hidden Archeology