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Russell Nash
09-04-2010, 08:19 PM
But a monstrous fate awaited those whom the Zhuan'zhuan kept as slaves for themselves. They destroyed their slaves' memory by a terrible torture - the putting of the shiri on to the head of the victim. This fate was reserved for young men captured in battle. First of all their heads were completely shaved and every single hair was taken out by the root. When this was completed, expert Zhuan'zhuan butchers killed a nearby nursing mother camel and skinned it. First they removed the heavy udder with its matted hair. They divided it into several pieces and, in its still warm state, stretched it over the shaven heads of the prisoners. At once it stuck in place like a sticking plaster, looking rather like a present-day swimming cap. The man who was subjected to the ensuing torture either died because he could not stand it, or he lost his memory of the past for ever. He had become a mankurt, or slave who could not remember his past life.

Each udder skin made five or six shiri. After the shiri had been put on, each condemned man was shackled and fitted with a wooden collar, so that he could not touch the ground with his head. In this state the men were taken far away from inhabited places so that their unavailing, soul-searing cries could not reach other people's ears. Then they were thrown down on to the open ground, with hands and feet bound under the searing sun, without water or food. The torture lasted several days. Increased patrols were mounted to cut off access to the victims, in case any fellow tribesmen tried to help them while they were still alive. But such attempts at rescue were not often made, because any movement in the open steppe could be seen at once. If afterwards it was heard that someone had been made into a mankurt by the Zhuan'zhuan, then not even his nearest and dearest tried to save him or pay a ransom, because all they ever recovered was a living carcass of the former man.

The men left out there on the ground for the appalling torture mostly perished under the Sarozek sun. Only one or two survived as mankurts out of five or six so treated. They had died, not from hunger, nor even from thirst, but from the pressure exerted on their heads by the drying-out of the raw camel skin. Mercilessly contracting under the burning rays of the sun, the shiri constricted and pressed on to the shaven head of the slave-to-be, just as if an iron ring was bang tightened. By the second day the shaven hairs of the victims were beginning to grow. The hard, unyielding Asiatic hair grew into the raw camel skin and being unable in most cases to break through, bent back and once more penetrated the skin of the man's head causing even greater agony. This final trial drove the victim to the brink of insanity and beyond.

The mankurt did not know who he had been, whence and from what tribe he had come, did not know his name, could not remember his childhood, father or mother - in short, he could not recognize himself as a human being.

He was unworried by the isolation and had no complaint about what he might have lacked. His master's command and order was the highest thing of all for the mankurt. He wanted nothing for himself, save food and such clothing as would prevent him from freezing to death out in the steppe.

It would have been much easier simply to cut off the prisoner's head, or cause him some other harm to terrify him into subjection; instead, the Zhuan'zhuan chose to annihilate his memory, destroy his reason, to draw out by the roots that which otherwise stays with a man to his last breath, remaining uniquely his, and which dies with him and which cannot be reached by other people.


From "The Day Lasts more than a Hundred Years", Chingiz Aitmatov

Russell Nash
10-01-2012, 12:14 AM
"... the only way he could calm himself was to take pleasure in the suffering of others: with a gloved hand he would whip or cave in the skull of one or several eunuchs who had witnessed his failure, his sadistic inspiration conceiving hideous tortures for the sole pleasure of hearing his victims weep and beg and shriek in pain."

From "Once on a Moonless Night", Dai Sijie, page 11.