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Norine Dresser

"For over thirty years, cross-cultural customs and beliefs have been the focus of my research, writing and
university teaching."


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OnLine Multicultural Manners Column

Crying and Laughing

Menacingly, the Sumo wrestlers remove the babies from their mothers’ arms and lift them high overhead. When they make scary faces at the infants, the babies cry, yet their parents are delighted, especially the one whose baby cries the loudest.

What does it mean?

The Japanese believe that during this ritual, called Naki Sumo, the crying contest strengthens the babies and wards off evil spirits. The concept is tied to a legend about a ghost who made babies cry but in return could be repelled by the loudest-crying baby.

Contrastingly, among the Navajo, the baby’s laughter, especially, the first laugh, is cause for a feast. The person who makes the baby laugh for the first time hosts the meal and holds the baby in his/her lap while guests line up holding food-filled plates to greet them. The baby grasps rock salt tightly in one hand and as each guest steps up to the baby, the host helps the baby release some of the salt from its fist onto the guest’s plate. This teaches the baby to be a giving person. After the guests receive the salt, they shake the baby’s hand, hug the baby or give it a kiss. By receiving the salt, guests have received blessings. The salt represents tears, the result of either laughing or crying. The Navajo treasure both.

© Norine Dressser, 7/15/00