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  • Self Decapitation in South East Asia November 13, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    A short post today as the Beachcombing family celebrates its reunion. The following text comes from the mid fourteenth century and relates to the experiences of a visitor to the court of the Sultan of Mul Jawah (Java or more likely East Sumatra).

    In this Sultan’s assembly I saw a man with a knife like a billhook. He laid it on his neck and spoke at length although I did not understand. Then he took the knife in both hands and cut his own throat. His head fell to the ground because the knife was so sharp and his grip of it so strong. I was astonished at what he had done. The sultan said, ‘Does anyone do this among you?’ [!!] I said, ‘I have never seen this anywhere’. He laughed and said, ‘These are our slaves and they kill themselves for love of us.’ He ordered the body to be carried away and burnt. The sultan’s deputies, the state officials, the troops and the common people went out to the cremation. He granted ample to the pensions to his children, wife and brothers, and they were highly honoured because of what he had done. Someone who had been present at that assembly told me that what they man had said had been an affirmation of his love for the sultan, and a declaration that he was killing himself for love of him, as his father had killed himself for love of the sultan’s father, and as his grandfather had done for love of the sultan’s grandfather.’

    Of course, lots of cultures offers special prizes in life and, indeed, posthumously to slaves who die with or for their masters. Beachcombing has a particularly unpleasant memory of the description of a Viking funeral on the Volga and an ‘angel of death’ there.

    But what is unusual in this instance is the act of self decapitation. After all, is self decapitation really even possible? Beachcombing is bound to say that the author is usually reliable and that this text has probably to be read as a straightforward witness report. But Beachcombing also then has another question. This young man was presumably brought up with the expectation of removing his head in public. How did he practice?

    Any other examples of self decapitation – homemade guillotines don’t count: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com