tradition

Golden Lotus Shoes

For centuries the definition of beauty in women has been defined by different cultural norms. Wearing neck rings to elongate the neck, stretching earlobes, inserting plates into lips, piercing and tattoos are just some of the ways that women have altered their bodies to become what is culturally defined as beautiful.

In tenth century China, the practice of binding female feet was considered the height of beauty and lasted until the mid-twentieth century.

There are many stories as to how the practice started. One tells of an empress with a club foot, who insisted all women in court bind their feet so that hers became a model of beauty. Another is about an emperor wanting a concubine to bind her feet to resemble a crescent moon, thus enabling her to dance on a decorated golden lotus he had made. She was so graceful that upper class women imitated her, making the practice popular throughout China. A third is that the sheath shape of the bound foot resembled a lotus bud. The term “golden lotus” came to be given to bound feet. The swaying gait caused by the tiny steps taken by women with bound feet was considered erotic and labelled the “lotus gait”.

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 A Chinese woman’s feet that were deformed by binding when she was a young girl. Image sourced through Public Domain.

The binding was carried out on girls between the ages of four to seven, usually in winter as no anaesthetic was used and the foot would be numbed by the cold. First the foot was soaked in a mixture of herbs and animal blood to soften it. The foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch would be broken to accommodate the toes. The toenails would be cut back and the toes broken and forced under the foot before being tightly bound with a bandage soaked in the same animal blood and herbs. Over the course of the next three years or so, the foot would regularly be unbound, cleaned, beaten to soften it, the toenails recut and the bones often rebroken and rebound tighter each time to achieve the smaller size.

The perfect foot size or golden lotus was 10 cm, a silver lotus was 13 cm and an iron lotus was 16 cm. The smaller the foot, the more desirable and eligible for marriage a woman became.

To accommodate the feet, many types of “lotus shoes” were made. A woman would have a selection of shoes for different occasions. She might have a pair for daytime, for her wedding, higher ones for bad weather and even funeral shoes.

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 Golden lotus shoes from the Museum collection. Manchu flower bowl shoes are at upper left.

There are five pairs in the Museum collection, each highly decorated with exquisite embroidery in silk and metal threads. One pair has attached wooden heels. Separate heels were sold which could be attached to shoes when the wearer wanted to walk in wet or muddy streets. A larger pair resembling normal shoes is known as a Manchu “flower bowl”, made to accommodate a larger unbound foot. These shoes were like ordinary slippers and would be attached to a high sole, which made their wearers walk like women with bound feet. Traditionally, Manchu women did not have their feet bound.

In the nineteenth century an anti-foot binding society initiated campaigns against the practice of foot binding, fines being imposed upon those who continued it. While in some very remote areas the practice continued until the 1950s, by this time foot binding had virtually disappeared. Today only a few elderly women with bound feet survive.

 

Kathy Greensides is collection assistant at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Celebrating Boys in Japan

After the Nagaizumi-Whanganui Sister City Friendship Centre closed in 2015, the Whanganui Regional Museum received a donation of many of the objects it had housed. Cataloguing these objects required some research into Japanese culture and traditions.

1. Lacquered box

The lacquered box. Ref: 2015.32.51g

One of the most intriguing is a beautiful black lacquered box which has a fitted removable lid and six legs with five sides. Each leg has a brass cap engraved with leaves on four outer edges. All corners have etched brass corner protectors. The inside of the box is lined with patterned white paper. It contains a Gogatsu Ningyo, a samurai warrior doll complete with an elaborately decorated tachi (sword), a yumi (bow and arrow) and two folding lacquered screens, also with decorative corners. There was also a wooden plaque with Japanese characters and a length of green cotton felt with a flowered silk brocade border.

2. Samurai doll

The Gogatsu Ningyo, Samurai doll. Ref: 2015.32.51a

Putting the doll together was a little complicated as he came in many pieces. A head is covered by an ornamented helmet, shoulder plates, shin guards, upper leg plates and fur boots. He sits on a lacquered pedestal.

In Japan, Gogatsu Ningyo are used on 5 May every year at the Tango-no-Sekku festival, to wish for the healthy growth of boys. The armour, helmet, sword and bow and arrows were once worn by brave warriors and hence the desire for strength and good health. This tradition originated in a ritual using sweet calamus (a plant used both medicinally and to make fragrances), held at the Japanese Imperial Court more than 1,200 years ago to ward off evil spirits. It was believed that sweet calamus had strong power because it was among the first plants to sprout in early spring. Later in the feudal era, this ritual evolved into a ceremony to pray for good fortune for boys and success in wars, and then gradually spread among the common people as a festival for children.

Families with sons also celebrate this day by flying carp-shaped streamers called koinobori. In Japan, carp are known to be strong fish that can leap up waterfalls. The koinobori symbolise parents’ wishes for their sons to be as strong as carp. The Museum also received two windsocks as part of the donation. They are each three metres long and painted in shades of blue and pink. In Japan today, koinobori are commonly flown above the roofs of houses where children live, along with the biggest black koinobori, coloured black, for the father, the next biggest, in red or pink for the mother and an additional smaller carp of a different colour for each child in decreasing order by age.

 

Kathy Greensides is a Collection Assistant at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Christmas Cake

Christmas. A time for family, gifts, religious observation, and of course food. And what would be better to complete the feast than a Christmas cake?

The traditional Christmas cake, as we know it today, began life as a plum porridge. Porridge was traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve as a way to line the stomach after a day of fasting in preparation for the Christmas feast. Porridge isn’t the most exciting of foods, unadorned as it is, and certainly not a celebratory meal. Soon it was smartened up with the addition of spices, representing the exotic gifts from the Three Wise Men, honey and plums or dried fruit. This mixture was then wrapped in a cloth and boiled, and hence the Christmas pudding was born.

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Packet of fruit cake mix like this are very popular in the lead-up to Christmas (TH.3669)

This was the base recipe for an Easter dish as well, with a few additions. In the 16th century people would prepare a Christmas pudding mix, but also add wheat flour and eggs to a portion of the base to create a cake for consumption at Easter time. Over time, the oatmeal was removed from the recipe, as was the meat that was often included, and more butter, eggs, and wheat flour were added. This helped the mixture to hold together much better than the sloppy gruel and dense puddings previously experienced. Wealthy families that could afford an oven baked their mixture which produced a different consistency again, resulting in a firmer cake, which over time was dropped from the Easter menu but has remained a Christmas favourite.

The addition of marzipan and royal icing came later when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan followers, concerned with excess, banned feasting on 5 January, observed as the last day of the Christmas celebrations. Instead, people made a special Twelfth Night Christmas cake which was laden with almonds and covered in marzipan, and feasted on that instead.

Christmas cakes are traditionally made on “stir-up Sunday”, the last Sunday before Advent; this year it was Sunday 20 November. The cake is then kept upside down and “fed” with brandy or whiskey every week before being eaten at Christmas. The alcohol and sugar act as preservatives and give the spices a chance to develop and fully infuse the cake with festive flavours.

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Edmonds encouraged people to make Christmas cakes and provided a recipe, as per this advertisement from the Wanganui Chronicle on 5 December 1952 (2003.39.123)

Christmas cakes come in a wide a variety as presents; large, small, heavy, light, rich, meagre, soft, firm, wrapped or unwrapped. There are regional and local variations all over the world for this festive treat. The Scots make a Christmas Dundee cake which is light and crumbly, full of dried fruit, and of course, whiskey. A Japanese Christmas cake is a sponge with icing, decorated with chocolate and strawberries or other fruit. Philippine people use either a traditional English cake or a yellow pound cake with added nuts, which is then soaked in brandy and palm sugar syrup. Those in Yorkshire often don’t ice their Christmas cake, preferring to eat it with Wensleydale or cheddar cheese.

If you feel like getting back to basics, here is a 1701 recipe for a Christmas pottage:

Take of Beef-soup made of Legs of Beef, 12 Quarts; if you wish it to be particularly good, add a couple of Tongues to be boil’d therein. Put fine Bread, slic’d, soak’d, and crumbled; Raisins of the Sun, Currants and Pruants two Lbs. of each; Lemons, Nutmegs, Mace and Cleaves are to be boil’d with it in a muslin Bag; add a Quart of Red Wine and let this be follow’d, after half an Hour’s boyling, by a Pint of Sack.  Put it into a cool Place and it will keep through.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.