We were trapped by cultural norms. We wanted to stop, but it would have been unheard of. Salmon harvests weren't always successful and there would be many years in which our community would have to import at extortionary prices
. Yet tradition forced us to go on.The children would always ask us why
we did what we did, and we would have to explain to them that to behave otherwise would have been too shameful. Any family that did not go along with tradition would have been ostracized. We couldn't be seen as too deviant, we couldn't be seen as too radical.
We depended too much on the goodwill of our neighbors. If they became afraid of what we were doing, or not doing, with the salmon, we would become outcasts, whispered about behind our backs, pointed at when they thought we weren't watching
It was hard enough when we first arrived, only hitting ourselves with cooked salmon, as was acceptable in our native country
, but having to adjust to raw salmon took much longer than we expected. We had heard rumors that raw salmon was what they used in this country, but we did not expect them to take it so seriously. We did not expect so much guilt and shame to be attached to hitting ourselves with cooked salmon.
As for children who dared question why we hit ourselves with salmon at all? We had to shut them up before anybody else could hear
such shameful suggestions. Wash their mouths out with soap, we would say. Or better yet, hit them with some raw salmon. The bigger, the better.
Philosophically, I was always against it. And while I would debate the practice verbally, I still went along with tradition, hit myself with whatever fish that was offered, when they offered it. I just wanted to leave the option open. I suppose I didn't want to deal with the actual fallout
from the community in case I did stop hitting myself, or even the mild shame associated with using fish that was not officially approved.
At least I didn't participate in the contests over who could hit themselves most perfectly, or who had access to the best specimens with which to hit themselves. I told them that was all a waste of time. At least that line of debate was generally considered socially acceptable
. I didn't have to compete, nobody expected me to compete, and I was allowed to question the point of the competitions without too much backlash.
Suggesting cooked salmon would have been seen as shameful though. We knew other cultures did that, but we didn't do it there. That was not the way we did things. It was too strange for our society. And suggesting any kind of fish besides salmon was seen as beyond the pale. Sometimes people wouldn't even believe you if you suggested something like trout. They'd think you were just joking. And to suggest hitting ourselves with other things besides fish? That would make you a freak, someone who could not be trusted, someone who should never be invited
Granted there were communities that formed around hitting one another with alternative objects. The trout hitters were strange enough, but most of us laughed at the ones who used kale. They weren't too threatening by themselves, but we saw them and spoke of them as if they were fools
, as if they were insane. It was hard to imagine how anybody could settle on a vegetable as anything to hit oneself with.
If kids did that during their teenage years, most parents hoped that it was just a phase, that they would eventually grow out of it and rejoin the rest of respectable society. And if their kids never grew out of it, their parents would rarely speak of them again. To do so would have reminded them of too much shame, of not having been good enough parents to raise the right kids. It became something their family would be identified with
"That's the family that has kale hitters as children," their neighbors would whisper to one another. Fortunately my kids were normal. They were brought up correctly, to know right from wrong
One of my cousins had to move because of the ostracism from their neighbors. In their new home, far away from anybody that knew them
, they could finally hit themselves with raw salmon in peace.
"Children?" they would say. "No, sadly we were never able to have children." They didn't like having to lie to their friends and neighbors, but the alternative would have been too much to bear. They had already been forced to move once, they weren't about to risk having to do it again
Once in a while, they would hear about someone else going through what they had to go through
, but the flash of recognition didn't last. They were too immersed in raw salmon culture. That was good reason for them to disown their children, it was simply too disgusting. They would be ashamed to even be reminded that they too were connected to such strange behavior.
"Have to go to the store tonight," my cousin might say. "Going to get some premium quality salmon tonight." I'm sure that would help them feel better
about the situation. They usually looked more relieved after a solid beating with expensive, high class salmon. It helped take their mind off their worries. The stress of everyday life would melt away under the rhythm of the scales.
I couldn't help being envious of their lifestyle. It's not that I couldn't afford the same quality of fish, but I had promised myself to spend my money on other things. Electronics, furniture, other useless consumer goods. It was hard not to feel deprived
when I saw the quality of the fish they were using. Even if I saw the practice as idiotic, it was hard to resist the draw of seeing such great fish bashing someone in the head.
I admit the more years I spent in that country, the more I began to see the draw of raw salmon over cooked. I suppose it was just because I was being assimilated. There was no escape unless I wanted to join a cult