“Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead.” ~Lucille Ball
“While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats.” ~Mark Twain
“Red Power!” ~Eric Cartman, South Park
Red hair is really because such people are born soulless….
Now, I can say this (and other things about redheads), without fear of repercussion or reprisal. You see, I have some near and dear Gingers in my very own family: my beloved cousins Suzanne, Cindy, and her daughter, Alina. I can assure you, besides being three of the prettiest women I know and being some of the very best human beings on the planet, they all have souls. Not sure if they were there at birth though (wink).
Red hair occurs naturally in only 1–2% of the humanity, and occurs more frequently (2–6%) in people of northern or western European ancestry, and less frequently in other populations – like those of Asia. Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England have the most redheads. Scotland leads with 13% having red hair and ~40% possessing the recessive redhead gene. Ireland is next with ~10% redheads, and ~40% carrying the gene. The U.S. of A is harder to gauge, but let’s take the average of the estimates and say ~4%, which, in total numbers, gives the United States the largest redheaded population at about 12 million. Now that’s some Red Power!
In the Far East, flings with genetically-based red hair are rare, and can really only be found in the Levant, Turkey, the Caucuses, Northern Kazakhstan, and among Indo-Iranians. The use of henna on hair, along with more modern western hair dyes, are both common in Asia, even if red hair isn’t. However, such dyes result in various rather unnatural shades of red.
Throughout history, redheads – “ginger,” “auburn,” and “strawberry blonde” – have been feared and revered, loathed and adored, degraded and exalted. No other single human trait has provoked such a dichotomy of feverish emotions in so many others. Prejudice and suspicion has always confronted the redhead, along with an almost worldwide belief of fiery temperament, an artifact of the Scots and Celts being such fierce and notoriously violent warriors. And things appear not much different here in Okinawa….
The Kijimuna (キジムナー) are well-known wood and tree spirits, sprites or fairies of Okinawan mythology native only to the Ryukyu Islands. They are said to look around three or four years old and covered in red hair. They are believed to live in trees, most commonly large banyans called gajumaru, which gives such trees a rather special place in Okinawan’s hearts.
In fact, my first time on Okinawa, in 1999, an officer I was stationed with here was having serious plumbing problems in the home he was renting not far from where we elected to live out in town. When the plumber’s reports were finally translated, it was found that the large banyan tree in their tiny yard had expressed its roots all through the home’s underground plumbing. When we in the west would most likely haul up and out a tree causing such problems, here in Okinawa, such a course of action was simply out-of-the-question: the tree would stay; the innards of the house would be dug up instead. You know, least they disturb and anger the Kijimuna…. To keep the spirits in the trees, however, many such gajumaru near homes and schools will have nails driven into their trunks.
ijimuna are described as being child-sized, they are said to have unusually large heads topped with red hair, which sometimes covers their whole bodies. Often they are depicted as being red all over, hairy or not. Being excellent fishermen, they only eat the left eyes of their easy and abundant catch. Another name for the kijimuna is bungaya, which means roughly “Large-Headed.” The Kijimuna can be very mischievous, playing pranks on and tricking humans, but are generally innocent and friendly.
One of their most well-known tricks is to lie upon a person’s chest, making them unable to move or breathe, a condition known as kanashibari. And even though they have been known to make friends with humans, such relationships don’t last and often go sour. The kijimuna dislike people passing gas while riding on their backs (as odd as that sounds), and absolutely hate octopus, with which humans often have to drive kijimuna away after relationships have turned!
Such beliefs related to redheads do seem to permeate many cultures. The ancient Egyptians played both sides, exalting many redheaded pharaohs while burning gingered-maidens. The Greeks believed that redheads became vampires at death; isn’t that the plot of varied and highly successful teenybopper movies of late? The Romans paid a premium for red-haired slaves, a symbol of strength and vitality. During the Spanish Inquisition, known for its objective due process and impartial judges, red hair was literal evidence of hell’s fire, and usually was extinguished by being burned as a witch. In the Middle Ages – not a rich period of enlightenment, redheads were associated with the Devil; it was thought that a child born with red hair was conceived during a woman’s “time of the month…”. How silly; astrologers have all but proved that it’s primarily due to the undue influence of Mars-rising….
Biblically speaking, red figures supremely. The Hebrew “Adam” can mean “to be red” or “ruddy,” but in all fairness this probably refers to skin color rather than hair. Judas Priest – not the band, but the original poster boy of zealotry gone bad, sometimes has red hair. And, the original bad gurl Mary Magdalene is often portrayed the same way (but with no biblical reference to her hair color). Similarly, red hair has been thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration, both positives in my ‘lil black book…which if they came in red I’d own one. It is a common belief that redheads are highly sexed. Oh behave! Are redheads bad, or are they just drawn that way??
Of course anything seen as evil in the world couldn’t be comprehensively described without some reference to the Nazi’s, who, as the logical stewards of developing the master race felt that ginger-kids shouldn’t wed or reproduce.
Such beliefs, if unchecked, can give rise to “gingerphobia” (fear of redheads) or “gingerism” (prejudiced against redheads). Redheads are sometimes disparaged with the moniker “carrot-top,” and for one, it seems discretely applicable.
So, if clichés are to be believed, while brunettes may be smarter, and blondes may have more fun, neither are wrapped so tightly in mystery and intrigue that they become an enigma enveloped within an enigma. And, in an ironic twist of time and Mother Nature, most redheads go from red to blonde to white, with hardly ever a grey hair to show. So, while the rest of you color-challenged cohorts start covering your grey in your 30s or 40s, those redheads that have been the center of so much drama will remain gorgeous, but with time, as strawberry blondes. Karma is a wonderful thing.
The kijimuna however, do not age. And as long as there are flourishing banyan trees and tall-tale telling grandmothers in Okinawa – less any proximity to octopi – the bungaya will live on, fiery as ever, forever.
(Read more myths about red hair here)