9 Amazing Things About the Ainu People

The oldest inhabitants of Japan

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1. In northern Japan, on the island of Hokkaido and a part of the Russian Sakhalin Island, lives a mysterious ethnic group, called Ainu, whose origins represents a mystery. They are very distinct from the Japanese people and, before the Tungus invasion coming from mainland Asia (Korea and northern China), the whole archipelago was inhabited by Ainu.

Ainu are shorter than the Japanese people, with lighter skin, robust body and short limbs. Unlike typical Mongoloids, their hair is wavy and the body hair is abundant; men wear large beards and mustaches, considered a sign of beauty, to the point that married women tattoo their lower face to mimic a beard. Ainu have not such pronounced almond-shaped eyes and lack the Mongoloid fold of the eye; the nose is large and straight. All these point to their origin in Polynesia or southeastern Asia.

2. One of the strangest Ainu habit is the cult of the bear. Bears are considered powerful spirits which can act on the benefit of the people. When Ainu manage to capture a bear cub, a woman is charged to take care of it as if a child: the little bear lives and grows amongst the people of the village, getting accustomed to them. When it is 2-3 years old, the bear is sacrificed. The men drink its blood to get its power, and then they cut the head off and then fly the skin of the bear. Later, during family ceremonies, the bear skin occupies a prominent place, and food and drink is offered to it like to an honored guest. The bear was considered by the Ainu the mythological hero that taught them to fish, hunt, weave and so on.

3. Ainu lived in rectangular huts with walls and roof made of bundles of reed and rush. Ainu live in a clime where snowed winter can last 6-7 months annually, and the summer is extremely rainy; the heat source is the fire burning in a cavity dug into the ground. As these huts lack chimneys, the smoke filled the room and was released just through a small hole made on the roof. Over the fire, there was a kind of grill on which meat and fish were put for drying on time. Next to the door, the water bucket and the

home tools were located.

The family slept over platforms made of wood covered with rush mats, and as they did not have bed linen, they slept dressed. As the house had just two windows, and one of them was sacred and never opened, the scents of the dry meat and fish and that of the human bodies mixed with the smoke and made those huts not very attractive.

4. The Ainu religion was animist: all the beings and many natural objects (rivers, volcanoes, fire, lightning, trees, etc) were endowed with a spirit. When a living being dies, only the material part is gone; the spirit is freed and this spirit can be good or evil, harming living beings, including people. To avoid the actions of the evil spirits, Ainu used to work on wood coarse representations of the spirits, with a human form, called inaos. Today, inaos are simple sticks made by cuts of a knife. The inaos are thrust into the ground, inside the huts, close to the sea, on the cross of the roads, next to sacred trees and they are like prayers of the Ainu aimed to the superior spirits, asking for their protection.

5. Women were largely independent until marrying. After that, they were under men's will. But women went to war and could manifest their opinions during the councils of the village. Ainu women adorned their hands, forehead, arms and mouth outline with blue tattoos (as said, for mimicking mustaches).

Women worked the fields, gathered wood, cooked, span, wove, made clothes, cared and educated the kids. Children were treated severely and even if crying, nobody gave then the least attention. Inside the houses, they were put into a wooden cradle hung on a beam. Outside, they were transported in a type of bag which the mother or a major sister hung at the back, using a fabric strip passing over the head.

The Ainu women weave mats, bags, nets and a type of fabric using elm bark. The bark is soaked and left until softening and large, thin threads can be removed. The women wind them in balls, later woven in coarse looms. This yellowish fabric is dyed with bright colors and from it women make large tunics with wide sleeves, adorned with beautiful embroidery motifs. The tunics are secured at the waist with leather girdles and brass appliqu

Category: Ainu

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