Story behind the scars on an artisan's left hand

October 31, 2017

Story behind the scars on an artisan's left hand (not shown in the picture below)

While taking our little speed boat from Chino back to Iquitos at the end of our Artisan Leadership workshop, I asked the artisan next to me about a scar on her left thumb. I expected to hear that she had cut it with a machete - a type of accident that is very common among people living in forest communities. I wasn't prepared for her answer though. "Maria" (not her real name) said that she favored using her left hand when she was growing up, and her mom did not want to accept this. Verbal reprimands alone were apparently not sufficient to dissuade her habit, so when she turned seven years old, her mom took to whacking her daughter's left hand with a knife to discourage its use. This happened several times and eventually "Maria" learned how to use her right hand.

While this story upset me a great deal, it was interesting to hear a few other people nearby say in a matter-of-fact way that parents frequently discouraged their left-handed children to shift their dominant hand. It seemed like their desire was not motivated by any fear that their child had been infected by the devil, but that their child would have a much easier life being right-handed since so many tools fashioned by society are designed for use by right-handed people. They were, therefore, merely taking practical steps to help their child later in life. Even "Maria" didn't admit to holding any ill feelings toward her mom who had taken such harsh measures to curb her left-handedness. She has become a very skilled (and somewhat ambidextrous) artisan who is happily married and mother to several very loved children.

I sincerely hope that parents today do not subject their children to such potentially traumatic forms of behavior modification. My friends did seem curious learning that the famous tennis player Raphael Nadal had been born right-handed but was taught (presumably without physical punishment as an incentive) to play left-handed by his uncle and later coach when he was four years old to gain an advantage playing mostly other right-handed players.

The picture below is actually my hand that I included just to have a photo associated with this post. I got one scar on my left-forefinger which I got many years ago trying to inexpertly open a can of paint that had a sharp tab on it.

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