As we celebrate Labour Day on May 1, we shine the spotlight on unique and sometimes quirky professions around the world – some dangerous, and requiring grit, strength and endurance, others fuelled by passion, with skills honed over decades.
1. Master kite maker, Malaysia
In the Malaysian state of Kelantan, a master kite maker – one of a dying breed of craftsmen – makes a wau. This traditional Malaysian kite showcases intricate designs, features a frame fashioned from bamboo and can measure up to two metres from tip to tail. Producing a wau requires skill and patience, as one kite can take anywhere between a few days to several months to create depending on complexity.
2. Sulphur Miner, Indonesia.
Braving clouds of noxious fumes, sulphur miners navigate the depths of East Java’s Mount Ijen – among the world’s last remaining active sulphur mines – to extract what is known as ‘devil’s gold’. Unaided by protective masks, these miners descend some 3,000 feet into the crater to chip away blocks of hardened sulphur. On an average day, a sulphur miner’s haul can weigh up to 95kg.
3. Chinese opera performer, China
Incorporating music, dance, acrobatics, and, at times, martial arts, traditional Chinese opera takes years of study. Aspiring performers begin perfecting their skills under the tutelage of a master at a young age, with lessons in voice training and gruelling physical routines necessary for on stage acrobatics. Donning heavy costumes of up to 10kg, and headgear, performers also require stamina to withstand shows that can last hours.
4. Ama diver, Japan
Ama meaning ‘woman of the sea’ in Japanese refers to Japan’s 2,000-strong community of female free divers. Largely concentrated in the Ise-Shima area of Mie prefecture, these skilled divers follow a tradition that dates back centuries. Sans scuba gear, ama divers plunge into the sea with mermaid- like grace, spending almost two hours on each dive as they search for treasures like pearl oysters, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and abalone.
5. Drover, Australia
Drovers played a significant role in the settlement of rural Australia in the 1800s, moving thousands of cattle across stock routes each year, and opening up new country. Travelling great distances to deliver stock or guide them to greener pastures during times of drought, drovers had to be hardy, as journeys across the vast Australian outback could take up to two years!
6. Swiss Guard, Vatican City
Despite their colourful uniforms, the role of the Swiss Guard is
a grave one; they are charged with the protection of the Pope and act as the armed forces of Vatican City. This little army – comprising just 130 members – was formed by Pope Julius II in 1506, when Switzerland was a poor country and its young men often sought work abroad as mercenaries.
7. Tea leaf picker, Sri Lanka
Tea leaf pickers in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, carefully pluck tea leaves – usually, just the top two leaves and the bud – to be processed. Tea was first introduced to
Sri Lanka in the 19th century. Today, Sri Lanka is one of the largest producers and exporters of tea in the world.
8. Doorman, India
In Rajasthan, India, doormen are known for sporting lush, stylishly waxed moustaches. Often attributed to the Rajputs, the former military ruling class, these moustaches are seen as a symbol of machismo. Today, moustached doormen can be seen at luxury hotels, privately- owned palaces and museums, and go to great lengths to maintain their whiskers – even massaging them with mustard oil every day!
9. Fisherman, Myanmar
The Intha fishermen of Myanmar’s Inle Lake have a unique leg- rowing technique that involves standing with one foot on the stern of the boat and the other leg wrapped around the oar, propelling the boat forward. This method keeps their hands free to manipulate the saung (conical net) and offers a better vantage point to navigate around clusters of hyacinth weeds on the lake.
Out of Service
Here are five unusual and quirky occupations that have gone out of fashion.
Up to the 1970s in England, knocker uppers would tap on people’s windows using long poles to wake them up for work. Knocker uppers were more common in mill towns, where people worked shifts.
During the Age of Sail (mid-16th to mid-19th centuries), young men tasked with loading gunpowder into a ship’s cannons were dubbed powdermonkeys.
Medical students in the 18th and 19th centuries often relied on resurrectionists – people who dug up corpses and sold them to medical schools – to provide them with bodies to practise their surgical skills.
In the days before newspapers, the town crier would keep residents updated with the latest happenings by shouting the news from street corners.
Bowling Alley Pinsetter
Before the invention of automatic pinsetters in 1936, bowling alleys employed pin boys whose job it was to manually reset the pins after each bowler’s turn
Labour Day, International Workers’ Day or Workers’ Day is an annual holiday observed worldwide on May 1, with the exception of a few countries including Canada and the United States. Although Americans celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September, the labour movement that led to a specially designated day to honour workers began in the US on May Day, 1886. On May 1 of that year, workers gathered for rallies all over the country to demand an eight-hour work day. While most of the demonstrations were peaceful, a strike in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned tragic after a dynamite was detonated. In 1889, the International Socialist Conference declared that May 1 would be an international holiday for workers in commemoration of what became known as The Haymarket Affair. Regardless of date, Labour Day pays tribute to the contributions made by workers, not only to the organisations they serve, but also to the strength, prosperity and well-being of their respective countries.