The Ainu

30 Dec 2002 00:37

The Ainu are the aboriginal inhabitants of Japan; they look noticably un-Japanese --- superficially, rather more like people from western Asia, and the men have a truly remakrable amount of facial hair. (I use ``superficial'' here deliberately; genetically, they seem closest to other aboriginal populations in the northern Pacific, Siberia and Alaska.) Like all aboriginal peoples, they've been treated abysmally by the encroaching newcomers, though in their case it's been going on for centuries, if not millennia. They had an oral epic poetry, interesting traditions of textiles, tattooes and shamanism, and a truly peculiar bear-cult. Cubs would be brought young into a village, raised like a favored child (even breast-fed) and then politely, ceremoniously, killed and eaten.

There are now somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 Ainu; their language will be extinct within my lifetime.