Articles

In the Shadow of Man:
The History and Culture of Rats

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It was once estimated that in every city, there is a rat for every human. While this number is now thought incorrect (Sullivan 19), there is little doubt that rats are among us. Some love them, some fear them, some even revere them. In Deshnok, India, there is an entire temple dedicated to the worship of rats. The Karnimata temple is home to around 20,000 wild rats that roam freely, fed by the temple keepers and their guests. The rats are considered holy, and any that injure or kill a rat must pay the donation of a gold rat statue to the temple (Tomczyk).

Rat fanciers remain dedicated to their task of opening the public’s mind to rats. On April 4th, 2002, rat lovers across the globe celebrated the first ever World Rat Day. The official World Rat Day website explains the holiday as “a day to win back some respect to rats through positive promotion, or at the very least, it will be a special day to offer delicious treats and fun gifts to our pets, making some rats very happy and getting some cute photographs in the process!”

In my own experience with rats, I’ve found people are often more turned off by the idea of rats than the actual rats themselves. I’ve known people to come up to me in awe of my “cute hamster”, only to back away in revulsion as I told them it was a rat. I even had one woman insist that my rat was a guinea pig, because she couldn‘t bear the thought of petting a rat. Without knowing what they are seeing, people are curious and captivated, but the instance the word “rat” comes into play, their opinions immediately change. Most of the people I’ve known to fear rats weren’t basing these fears on any personal experience they had, but rather the falsities and misconceptions that have followed rats throughout time.

Regardless of one’s feelings about rats, it must be realized that they are here because of us. They have followed us across the earth, seeking our food and shelter and warmth. They only want what we want: to be fed and warm and safe from the elements, to raise a family. Living so close to one another, it is inevitable that our paths should cross from time to time, for better or worse. To turn a blind eye to the rat is to turn our backs on history. Be they pest or pet, rats are a part of us.

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All text, images, and content copyright Lori Weeder © 2006 unless otherwise noted.