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Composition and variation
They are generally long, slender, rod-shaped, tools good for scratching one's back, with a knob on one end for holding and a rake-like device, sometimes in the form of a human hand, on the other end to perform the actual scratching. Many others are shaped like horse hooves, claws, or are retractable, to reach further down the back. Though a backscratcher could feasibly be fashioned from most materials, most modern backscratchers are made of plastic, though examples can be found made of wood, whalebone, tortoiseshell, horn, cane, bamboo, ivory, baleen and in some cases in history; narwhal tusks, due to the increased social hierarchy that generally accompanied relieving itches with a supposed unicorn horn.
Backscratchers vary in length between 12 and 24 ins. (30–60 cm.). In ancient history, the length was often symbolic of an oriental male crafter's prayer to the Chinese goddess Chuang-Mu for an enlarged genital size.
Backscratchers through history
The first backscratchers, although observed to derive from many other origins such as China as well, were used by the Inuit and were carved from whale teeth. However, in recent history it was unquestionably also employed as a kind of rake to keep in order the huge "heads" of powdered hair worn by ladies in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the past, backscratchers were often highly decorated, and hung from the waist as accessories, with the more elaborate examples being silver-mounted, or in rare instances with an ivory carved hand with rings on its fingers. The scratching hand was sometimes replaced by a rake or a bird's talon. Generally, the hand could represent either a left or right hand, but the Chinese variety usually bore a right hand.
Although not specifically used for only back scratching, young Chiricahua men in training [clarification needed] and women going through a puberty ritual traditionally had to use a ceremonial wooden scratcher made from a fruit bearing tree instead of scratching with their fingernails or hands. Young men who did not use the scratcher for scratching were reported to develop skin that was too soft.
Chinese farmers occasionally used backscratchers as a tool to check livestock for fleas and ticks as well.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Backscratcher". Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 135.
- Opler, Morris E.; & Hoijer, Harry. (1940). The raid and war-path language of the Chiricahua Apache. American Anthropologist, 42 (4), 617-634.
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