Thomas Cummins, USA
On the Andes coast it was believed that at death the "soul" left the body for five days and then returned. At one stage in the travels, the "soul' had to pass over a large ravine at the bottom of which were all sorts of wild and dangerous beasts. To get across, the dead used their long braid as a bridge. The braided hair was analogous to the braided rope bridges that were used in the Andes. One of the major punishments that was inflicted on the Andeans by the Spaniards was not only to whip the individual but they also cut off their hair. It was not just meant to humiliate them but to deprive them of access in death to their own beliefs.
When Kyle and I were in Bolivia in 1981, we were walking in the market in La Paz. The market is run by Indian women who are very aggressive and forthright. As we walked through several women started whistling and shouting, "hey handsome." I was wearing a hat as anyone else does - the high Andean sun burns so quickly. Again I heard them shouting saying, "hey handsome, what a good looking hat you've got on." Finally I decided to turn the tables, so to speak. I stopped and said, "Do you really like my hat?" at which point I took it off. All I could hear were shouts and screams in disbelief in all that had been promised. "He's bald," they cried. Then there was silence. There would be no braiding that day.
I knew that I would be bald even as a teenager. I started my metamorphosis at about seventeen. I always liked the idea, but I never knew the power it would give until I walked through that market in La Paz. Medusa had nothing over me that day. I have told the story many times and I have never had to embellish it.