In doing research for a painting of Christ, I went hunting online in the usual gore-zone places for examples of what whips and other implements can do to a human body, for some degree of realism in the painting. And in my online travels, I came across a caning video from Malaysia, filmed for the express purpose of dissuading others from lawlessness.
Back when Michael Fey was causing a stir in the United States with the furore over his being caned in Singapore, the usual "Wal Mart Greeter" gran'pappy Jesus Republican types were saying that maybe a good spankerin' is all these whippersnappers needed, and maybe we should do that here.
A rattan cane wielded by an expert can do some damage. In fact any object of that type can do more damage than most realise. A bullwhip, properly used, can remove someone's hand.
In the video, the accused was led to a wooden frame, to which his hands were tied above his head, and he was strapped to it so he could not move. Instinct most certainly takes over no matter how compliant a prisoner intends to be. He was wearing a backless leather apron to allow access to the buttocks, but also some modesty. When strapped to the frame, a further protective heavy leather apron is placed around the frame and prisoner so that only the buttocks are exposed, and any stray strikes will not hit the back with its vulnerable kidneys, or the legs.
With the prisoner in position and on cue from the commanding officer, the number of the strike is called out, and the caner strikes the prisoner with a solid thwacking blow. It doesn't look like much, but within a few seconds a livid welt raises, even visible on such dark skin. There is a pause while the full effect of the blow registers, both in terms of visible damage, and in terms of pain for the prisoner in question. Buttocks tense, legs shake uncontrollably.
The prisoner in this video was receiving the absolute maximum permissible under Malaysian law - twenty strokes of the cane. They emphasise the rarity of this sentence, and its severity. It takes a full six minutes.
The first few, the prisoner reacts with some stoicism, some involuntary spasming of the buttocks being testament to the obvious pain and damage the cane is causing. Most prisoners receive one or two strokes, maybe four. This results in a few "tram line" welts and extensive bruising.
After the sixth or so blow, the man is clearly in the grip of pain. The cane is striking already cut and bruised flesh. The skin is starting to really split, and the strike to the same area causes such convulsions that the apron, lashed as it is to the frame, shifts and rotates a quarter of the way. The police take a few moments to adjust it, but the restraints are being given a workout as legs start to give way.
After the twelfth or thirteenth blow, the area is CLEARLY damaged. What possibly appears to be skin split down to the fat shows that the cane has cut almost to muscle and bone, and blood is starting to appear where skin used to be, bright red on shaking tan skin. While trying to be as stoic as possible, the man cannot help but gasp and tremble, his legs shuddering, the faint reassuring murmurs of "Allahu Akbar" escaping his lips in a hoarse, strangled whisper.
There are seven strokes to go.
Twenty strokes of a rattan cane is an unusual and very severe punishment. The police attending this particular caning are holding it in some degree of reverence. It's getting hard to watch by this point. Even the fact that we're looking at the punishment for something like child rape doesn't change the fact that the cane is striking the same area again and again, as opposed to moving up and down the buttocks. It is relentlessly cutting the same area. Again. And again. And again.
And with every blow, the hideous pause as skin raises in welts, becomes livid, splits and bleeds. They wait, methodically, for the body to react to the impact, for the full stinging and bruising to register with the brain, and just enough time for the sensation to fade enough that another blow is coming can register. By the 18th, the man is visibly tensing as the commander gives the order for the next blow. The hindbrain can do nothing but try and swivel, try and move, try and escape. This one causes blood to start flowing freely from the assembled cuts and welts, a red river cascading down the red and white collection of slashes at the middle of the buttocks.
"Allahu Akbar" he gasps, searching for something to cling to as the pain sets in, and the dreadful wait for the order for yet another strike. With each impact you think at some point nerves start to desensitize or at least endorphins kick in. However, the demeanor of the accused goes from a quiet resignation to a tense stoicism to a broken, cringing frame in the grip of agony and fear.
The police are holding his head upright, grasping him by the hair, keeping him as immobile as they can. There's something hideously intimate about that. Though the hands and feet and legs and arms are secured with restraints, the fact that someone has his hands pulling the man's head up by the hair is strangely personal in this highly regimented ritual.
The twentieth blow is struck, and the man is freely bleeding. It will take about a year for his wounds to fully recover. Every time he sits, every time he voids his bowels, the skin, delicately knitted together as it is, will split, will bleed, risks infection.
The police tell the man to breathe, as he is by now not breathing correctly and losing his grip on reality. He's barely conscious, trembling. His buttocks and legs are in convulsions, and there is no levity anywhere. No jokes to be made, no quiet snide comment to ease the tension. After a few minutes, the man is able to limp to a medical area, where he will lie face down and have his wounds treated, the bloodflow stopped.
And then he will begin to serve a long custodial sentence. The camera has long left the extreme closeup on his buttocks, the microphone no longer picks up his prayers or the hideous sound of the rattan thwacking its way through skin and fat. The police collect the next prisoner, and the video ends.
If we ever do get barbaric enough to use this kind of sentencing in our country, I hope that it is reserved for the truly monstrous in this country - the rapist, the child molestor, the man who kills a baby in front of his parents. It's also a testament to just how desensitised we were as a people that we'd ever take ourselves and our children to a public square to watch people be brutalized for spectacle, or under the whim of an overseer.