Cultural Diversity

On Jan. 31, several hundred Japanese husbands recognized the second annual Beloved Wives Day to upgrade Japanese men’s notorious, deeply ingrained indifference to their spouses. Among the husbands’ vows: be home from work by the unusually early hour of 8 p.m.; actually look into the missus’s eyes and say “thank you”; and try to remember to call her by her name (instead of, as many apparently do in substitution, grunting at her). (Divorce in Japan remains relatively rare, but marital estrangement has been rapidly increasing in recent years.)

Several matrilineal cultures exist in the world, but on Orango Island, off the African coast of tiny Guinea-Bissau, women’s power to choose marriage partners is nearly absolute, according to a February Associated Press dispatch. By custom, the woman selects a man, then prepares a special dish of fish marinated in palm oil, after which any reluctance on his part is regarded as dishonoring his family. Before the couple can cohabit, though, a family home must be built from driftwood and mud bricks, and fortunately for the man, that, too, is her job. Islanders told the reporter that men are becoming more assertive, but that change has brought with it the unheard-of phenomenon of divorce.

Spain has long been criticized for its traditions of animal abuse, such as bullfighting and, until recently, one village’s festive custom of tossing a live goat from a church tower. German animal welfare activists complained in March about another Spanish “sport”: the flinging of live quail into the air (from a catapult) so that hunters can shoot them. (Germany also has its ugliness, according to a March Der Spiegel report, with certain villages’ customs of clubbing a hung-up goose and poking a cat with a broomstick through a hole in a crate.)


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