Sunday, 8 January 2012

Crossing the Equator Ceremony in the 19th Century

'Sliming' poor polliwogs when crossing the equator
163 years ago, almost to the day, Edouard Manet was a 16-year-old French naval recruit on a voyage to Rio de Janiero. He wrote long letters home to his parents and in one of them, described the ceremony that occurred when his sailing ship crossed the equator.
   These days, the new crew called 'pollywogs' are slimed with coloured gloop by staff dressed as doctors and nurses. In Manet's day, they were covered in pitch which was, I imagine, smellier and much harder to get off!
   Here's an account of crossing the equator in 1849: 
   '... at last the procession appears... a priest, a choirboy; Father Line and his wife, all got up, you can't imagine how; the god Neptune, a barber, two policemen and finally the devil and his son. The procession climbed up to the poop deck; Father Line paid his respects to the captain and the first baptism got underway... this is what they do to baptise you: first you're taken to an altar for confession; the priest makes you take all sorts of vows followed by communion; then you're put into the hands of the barber who applies paint all over your face and neck, then scrapes your skin as hard as he can with a wooden razor 2 feet long ... one of the men asks you to wash in a big basin of water .. he grabbed me by the legs and threw me into a nosedive I'm not likely to forget. Then you fall into the arms of the devil ... who daubs you from top to bottom with his tail soaked in pitch.
   I think these days the crossing the equator ceremony is a lot less dangerous to your health!
  Quotation taken from 'Manet by Himself', edited by J.Wilson-Bareau, Time Warner Books, 2004.

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