The rage with which the coronavirus pandemic and consequently the norms of quarantine are engulfing the world in the current time, it would be not much of a surprise that this sophisticated sounding but perhaps not so very captivating a notion that is all the buzz now emerges to be the Word of the Year! Of course it might yet be too early to proclaim ‘quarantine’ already as the term that will be making all the noise in 2020, given how quite a few crude surprises this coveted happy new start to the new decade has thrown our way. But navigating through the very human realm of veritable hope that does not really allow us to look forward to further bads, we are dead sure this quarantine thing is gonna rule our worlds- and those of the wordy kinds as well, this year.
Interestingly however, this ‘trend’ that the whole world is forced to follow in the present context isn’t any derived phenomenon. With illnesses and maladies characteristing life at least as early since the dawn of existence, it was always the ‘in- thing’ to go into self isolation or otherwise be bundled out into one, every time some unknown affliction or pitiless pandemic reared its ugly head. What however has been at the core of this static requirement of saving hapless lives from sick demons is containing the outbreak of the epidemics or at least keep them confined within a set of population. But quarantine has not been always about illnesses and ailments in popular world culture even when the set precinct remains the same- of isolation.
Origins of quarantine
Coming back to its origins and inciting our interest even further therefore is that the term quarantine have had its origins in the bygone times in the dialect of Italy- the worst affected by the coronavirus crisis as far as casualties are concerned. Way back in 1377, when plague was somewhat of a regular feature afflicting the world, ships docking at the seaport in Ragusa what is now the modern day city of Dubrovnik in Croatia had to stay offshore for 30 days before docking- a condition termed ‘trentina’ after the Italian word for 30, trenta. Eventually as the days extended by 10 more to 40, the term quarantine was devised, derived from quaranta, the Italian word for 40!
More comprehensively, quarantine is what the Venetian term ‘quaranta giorni’ comes to translate in literal collocation. Why this period of isolation was numbered at 40 days perhaps bears significant drawing from a biblical reference – that of Jesus spending 40 days and nights in the desert in an episode of Christianity, popular as the Temptation of Christ.
Over the years since the late 14th century therefore, quarantines have come to the rescue of the human race in different countries at different times. Not to say that such restrictions have been bereft of any misuse for derivation of gain- in a manifestation of nature very innate to humans. Yet more often than not, quarantines have served their purpose, which is exactly why governments all across the world are pining on this centuries old trade for modern day populations.
Notwithstanding its serious curb on movement and also on freedom by some abstract means, quarantine cultures have never been unencountered throughout the world. Here are a trio picks we found most interesting to keep you entertained during the present quarantine restrictions!
While Bhutan‘s quarantine tradition Yulsung is no more or in fact even no less defining that routine quarantines that are brought into action as and when need be, the fact that this tranquil place often dubbed the last Shangri- la on earth, having a name for this isolation practice s what immediately renders it distinctive. In its calm, quaint confines, the kingdom of Bhutan nurses a soul so precautious and alert that the first signs of a looming epidemic drives entire villages and provinces into lockdowns at the behest of the ruling monarch.
Be it the Shingyer village that witnessed a total lockdown in the summer of 1948 or Mothithang that had small pox patients quarantined in a hut during the 1965-66 outbreak, the mountain nation has had close encounters with quarantines. What perhaps helped more in realising the effectiveness of these quarantine measures was that every time the reigning monarch did all in his capacity to not just ensure that people remained isolated but also their needs and requirements were taken care of.
The quarantine entertained by natives at Latin America, la cuarentena is once again the imposition of restrictions no doubt but with a somewhat diverse background. A postpartum custom that encompasses again a period of forty days, this is the ‘privileged’ quarantine that new mothers in the Latin American countries have been traditionally expected to follow, though with certain relaxation of norms in the modern times.
More accurately a Hispanic tradition that finds expression among Mexican migrants, cuarentena is a period when all new mothers do is to rest and nourish their bodies and breastfeed the newly born while totally abstaining from sex and labour. As the other womenfolk of the house take on the chores and see to the complete adherence of restrictions and stuff, the quarantine meant for the new mother is expected to nurse her and her baby to a healthy existence. The restrictions however are an encompassment of both necessary and dichotomous rules- from approved food like carrots and chicken to unapproved spicy fare, to abstaining from hair washing, bathing and also possibly brushing, the cuarentena is all about norms and the urge to not flout them.
Perhaps derived from the Bible, this post delivery quarantine however demands that while the forty day period stays the norm, the number of days double in case of birth of a girl child. More provocatively, this version of the staying in requirement is more about the women not spreading contamination rather than protecting her from the same. There is belief and perhaps also evidence that adhering to such norms during the la cuarentena guarantees one a relatively healthy life in old age.
However, it isn’t just the West that resides in such tradition fro new mothers. Interestingly even the country of China, that houses the current ‘coronavirus cradle’ Wuhan, also has been seeing similar adages in society. The Chinese tradition ‘doing the month’ seems to emerge from its medicinal system that promotes a balance between yin and yang in the body. Which means foods considered as yang like chicken, ginger, eggs, and rice wine are to be indulged in while cold water, bamboo shoots and turnips that make up the category of yin needs to be strictly avoided. Needless to say, with medical claims as justification behind this form of quarantine, it sure does not defy much the conventional origin of the term and its continuing relevance.
NASA quarantine trailer
Since quarantine is not without scientific basis- it is at least as essential as purported by medicine, there should not be many raised eyebrows when we recollect our third and most recent encounter in inception. And this particular mention has everything to do with science, keeping aside even all nuances of tradition and demands of ancient societal beliefs.
Even as Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were the ones who scripted history by being the first ever men to land on the moon courtesy the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they weren’t the ones to be met with what can be exactly called a warm hug immediately after they descended on earth. The trio were instead trapped inside a NASA trailer for a period of three weeks and were essentially quarantined for what if they made history once again by being the first humans to bring contagious germs and diseases from the moon onto earth?
That, even when scientists were convinced that germs were likely not present, but NASA took no chances as far as potential infections were concerned. That however was one quarantine moment in history that was replete with parties of celebration of attaining the unattainable. Ours however is a more bleak case fifty years hence but nevertheless one that would sure chronicle itself in the history pages if we all manage to make it out of this mess alive and alert!