Nudity Here, Nudity There

On a recent trip to South America I traveled deep in the jungle of the Amazon rainforest. Outside a remote village, my “taxi” traversed a rickety bridge over a river. I looked out of the car window to a view of a rocky riverbed. I saw about a dozen people swimming and jumping off of rocks into the water. After a few moments I realized they were all different ages, mixed sexes and all were naked. As an American growing up in a Puritan influenced society, my first reaction was surprise and feeling that this was inappropriate. Then, when my maturity and education overwhelmed the conditioning of my youth, I realized that in this culture, this was perfectly acceptable. Thus began a curiosity about nudity.

Throughout history, nudity has meant different things to different cultures. When primeval man began to wear the skin and fur of animals, he sought to protect himself from the elements.  Clothing has served this practical purpose and also to establish rank in society. Almost every society has their own ethnic style of fashion as well as their own ideas about nudity.

Experts can date clothing as far back as over 70,000 years ago. If this number is to be trusted, it is then possible to consider that for almost 130,000 humans, for all practical purposes, were naked creatures. I personally think they were wearing clothes even then, the problem is that decomposition has destroyed any evidence of the biological material that was used to cover their patooties.

No shirt, no shoes, no service would not have been a very successful business practice in ancient Egypt. For almost one thousand years the Egyptians maintained the same fashion trend. Men usually wore only a tunic around their waist. Women draped sheer fabric round their bodies. Children did not begin to wear clothes until they reached the age of twelve years. Nakedness was nothing to be concerned with in ancient Egypt.

Frescoes discovered on the island Santorini of Greece depicts young, Minoan men boxing in the buff. Historically, Greeks were well known for their lack of clothing. Many works of art preserved throughout this Mediterranean region proudly display the  nude, athletic bodies of men and boys, although it was rare to see the artwork of this time portraying women and girls naked.

Spartan culture was famous for its prowess as a warrior nation. Warrior training was typically done naked. The arena, where Sparta conducted public sport for entertainment, was also performed naked. When they would hold public festivals or parades, women would often be nude so as to encourage faithfulness in their men when they were away at war. I guess the women really wanted to impress upon the memories of their men just exactly what they had to come home to! What a way to inspire a rapid victory rather than drag out a war for years!

The Celts were known to engage in battle naked. Now, I suppose that could be pretty intimidating. If a fellow is courageous (or crazy) enough to attack in all his natural glory and is so confident in his abilities that he does not feel the need to protect and cover his bits, I myself might reconsider engaging in a fight with him. Other nations who experienced such a spectacle would describe it in their journals as a terrifying thing to see. Yes, I suppose a naked man charging at me with an enormous axe raised over his head would definitely cause me to tuck tail and run for my life.

However, as I observed these villagers sporting and having fun au naturel in the river, I was not struck dumb with fear. I was humbled and reminded of the simple, remote life that they live. There are no department stores to purchase bikinis. There is no electricity to link to a television to watch movies that would teach them shameful things about naked bodies that they were completely innocent of. I admired their openness and lack of inhibition that was pure in thought and in deed. I, however, was still imprisoned within my Puritan shackles and could not bring myself to join in the fun. That, to me, was my only regret of this memory.