Monday, May 07, 2018

The barefoot truth

Before the rebellion of 1745 the Celtic population (of Scotland) went barefoot all year round. This is true of both sexes and all ages. Indeed rich and poor prided themselves on bare feet and it was out of a sense of national pride. Sassenachs were considered less hardy and required to have shoes. After the rebellion Parliament passed a number of laws including the Disarming Act of 1747 to ensure the rapid disappearance of Highland Culture. Scottish settlers to the colonies were not affected by this and managed to retain traditional Highland dress.

The practice of going barefoot lasted in the American Colonies until the end of the 18th century. The same was true in the Antipodes. Modern highland dress was introduced later in history when the uniforms of the Scottish regiments deliberately incorporated aspects of traditional highland dress in order to redirect nationalism to serve the interests of the English crown. These uniforms were designed to include not only shoes but also a standardised form of socks.

Most family tartans, especially those of more recent origin, are illustrated in this regiment style, rather than in any pre-Hanoverian style. Queen Victoria was much taken with all things Scottish and it was during her reign much bastardisation or Balmorality of the Scottish tradition took place.

The Irish went barefoot too. Within a generation, the English gentry who had been settled in Ireland by Henry VIII had gone native to the extent that in Elizabethan portraits they are typically shown elegantly attired and yet nonetheless barefooted.

A similar development, albeit in a different social context, manifested itself in Victorian England, when Irish immigrants were blamed for spreading their custom of going barefoot among natives of the Liverpool area.

Many indigenous people go barefoot including the mountain people of the Andes, descendants of the Incas.

Earlier pictures of Sir Edmund Hillary's Himalayan Sherpas, depict them barefoot even when above the snow line. In later expeditions the Sherpas were all shod.

Both St Francis and St Clare taught their followers to modestly cover their bodies with the simplest of habits but to leave their feet completely bare. Going barefoot was for them primarily an expression of the idea of religious poverty.

In Australia, bare footing to school as a child is well within living memory. This was not the result of poverty, lack of discipline or any neglect. Indeed in may schools there was a strict uniform code but bare feet had simply been the accepted, expected, and in some cases even the required norm.

Recently bare feet have become increasingly unwelcome in public places. In most instances there is no "statutory basis" for these regulations regarding footwear and that such requirements are purely a matter of private policy. It may be the phantom laws are rather easy to enact by private citizens willing to legislate their private prejudices through rumour mongering and wishful thinking. With the exception of climatic extremes, where circulatory systems are at a disadvantage to warm the toes so far from the torso, people can go barefoot as comfortably as cats and dogs. This is not to say there are some individuals with specific medical problems which necessitate them take extraordinary measures to protect their feet from things that would otherwise pose no significant hazards.

Shoe companies eager to capture the extreme sport market endeavor to develop and purvey faddish foot like shoes and four-wheel drive footwear yet barefoot Hikers (and some Rogainers) have happily run barefoot through rough terrain and deep forest for many years. In favour of the latter there is mounting evidence shoes do more damage to the eco-system in remote areas than barefoot. A cynical view shared by many barefoot enthusiasts is whilst our ancestors went barefoot as happily as the bears in the woods, we now must wear shoes, especially in the woods, if for no other reason than to let the bears know who their betters are. (Franzine: 1993)

Franzine R K 1993 The barefoot hiker Berkeley: Ten Speed Press

Reviewed 7/05/2018

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