5 Strangest Traditions and Festivals around the World

Strangest traditions worldwide jertik sudan

One of the most amazing things about traveling is experiencing different cultures. What we consider strange or downright grotesque may be absolutely normal in a different part of the world. While the continuing globalization leads to a certain assimilation of cultures around the world, every country still has its own rituals. Some of them are stranger than others. In this article, I compiled a list of the five strangest traditions and festivals in the world.

1. Ma’Nene, the festival of the departed, Indonesia

Each year in August, the streets of Tana Toraia fill up with the walking dead. For this strange festival, people exhume their loved ones, clean their bodies and dress them up according to the latest fashion styles. Afterwards, the bodies are walked around the village during the Ma’Nene festival. Through the festival, families can strengthen their bond with the dead relative while remembering and celebrating their life. The tradition dates back just over a hundred years when a hunter found a dead body in the mountains. Out of respect, the hunter dressed the body in his own clothes and buried him properly. As he believed the have received good luck from his deeds, the Toraja people adopted the practice.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCKDsjLt_qU&w=560&h=315]

  • Where: Tana Toraia, Indonesia
  • When: In August each year

2. Jertik, milk-spitting wedding tradition, Sudan

Sudanese weddings tend to last longer than the average wedding in the US or in Europe. One of the seven Sudanese wedding ceremonies is called Jertik. The bride and the groom sit on a stage while the mothers and grandmothers cover their faces in spiritual spices for good luck. Afterwards, the newlyweds spit milk at each other’s’ faces. The meaning of it is somewhat disputed: some say that whoever spits the milk out the furthest will be the stronger, more dominant part of the couple. Others are convinced that it symbolizes the couple’s devotion and love for each other.

Strangest traditions and festivals worldwide jertik sudan
The mothers and grandmothers are covering the couple’s faces with spices before they start spitting milk at each other. Photo: UNAMID
  • Where: Sudan
  • When: At traditional Sudanese weddings (sometimes, the bride and groom forego the milk spitting part of the Jertik ceremony)

3. Yan Shui Beehive Festival, Taiwan

Do you remember last New Year’s Eve? There are always some idiots firing fireworks into the crowds and you have to be careful not to be injured. Imagine going to a festival where the entire purpose is to get hit by fireworks. The more you get hit, the more luck you will get. A festival like this exists in Tainan, Taiwan.

The strange tradition started back in the late 1800s when the town was ravaged by a cholera epidemic. The inhabitants of Tainan set up firecrackers along the roads of the town in order to summon Guan Di, the god of war. He should help bring the spread of the disease to a halt. And miraculously, the epidemic disappeared soon after and since then, the festival is held annually.

Nowadays, the Yan Shui Festival is the third largest folk celebration in the world. The streets of Tainan are lined with so called beehives, giant cylinders filled with rockets that shoot in all four directions when ignited. The attendees of the festival wait to get hit wearing helmets and cardboards for protection. While the festival does seem a bit wild, the attendance is very safe in general and a fun experience if you are in Taiwan during the festival time. Overall, Taiwan is the third safest country in Asia.

trangest traditions worldwide jertik sudan
Fire is coming from every direction at the Yan Shui beehive festival. Photo: Steve
  • Where: Tainan, Taiwan
  • When: Every year around February or March. The festival is open to the public. 

4. El Colacho baby jumping festival, Spain

The Spaniards are famous for a number of strange festivals and traditions. Among the most famous of them are the Tomatina, a huge tomato fight and the world-famous running of the bulls in Pamplona. But a lesser known, even more peculiar tradition happens every year during the Corpus Christi celebration in the town of Castrillo de Murcia, around 200 km from Bilbao in the Basque country. Mothers bring their new-born babies into town where they are laid on mattresses in the street. Men, dressed like devils, so called Colachos, are then jumping over the babies. Their souls will be cleansed and freed from the original sin. The festival has been held since the 1620s and, according to locals, no baby has ever been hurt.

Baby jumping festival spain part of the strangest traditions in the world
The baby jumping festival in Spain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Where: Castrillo de Murcia, Spain
  • When: Every year on the first Sunday after Corpus Christi (sometime in June)

5. Bullet ant glove initiation ritual, Brazil

Boys of the Sateré-Mawé tribe in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil have to go through a very painful initiation ritual in order to become men. They have to endure numerous stings of the most excruciating pain the jungle has to offer: the bullet ant. For the ritual, hundreds of sedated bullet ants are woven into gloves out of leaves. Once the ants regain consciousness, the boy must place his hands inside and endure ten minutes of incredible pain. Once the gloves are off, the hands remain paralyzed for several hours and the pain will continue for at least 24 hours. In total, every boy has to go through the ritual 20 times over several months in order to become a man.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwvIFO9srUw&w=560&h=315]

  • Where: Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
  • When: Year round

From jumping over babies to spitting milk into the face of a new bride, these are the five strangest traditions and festivals in the world. 

Do you want to learn more fun things about our wonderful world? Check out our fun and educative travel quizzes:

– Famous Landmarks Quiz
– Europe Map Quiz
– South American Capitals Quiz
– Country Shape Quiz – identify the countries by their outlines

What other strange traditions from your country or from your travel experience do you know? Let me know in the comment section.

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5 Strangest Traditions and Festivals around the World

24 thoughts on “5 Strangest Traditions and Festivals around the World

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article. I have always enjoyed learning about new cultures and their traditions. Experiencing a new culture is one of my favorite things about traveling.

  2. There are so many cultural differences between people and it is always interesting to find out more about them. I really enjoyed reading your post. I was particularly amazed by the baby jumping festival. Such a strange tradition, but I am sure that the people participating truly believe in its power. Congrats for such an interesting post!

  3. I’ve heard about the bullet ant ritual! It’s absolutely INSANE. I read a few years ago about a scientist who let many of the world’s stinging creatures sting him, and he created a scale to measure the level of pain. Bullet ants were at the top! I saw them in the Amazon jungle last year and they look so scary. The pain from wearing those gloves must be absolutely excruciating!

  4. This was a crazy interesting post to read!! I hadn’t heard of most of these traditions!! Amazing to hear about what others do and why! Makes for an interesting add to a travel itinerary when you know when and where some of these festivals take place! Cheers!

  5. Those are crazy! and I would love to see them. Every festival worth writing about and I like getting to this kind of anomalies with my camera.
    In Finland, we have a wife carrying competition. Maybe a good candidate for your list.

  6. These are so crazy! The baby jumping festival must be watched behind your hands I am sure, we have a cheese rolling festival where I am from in the UK.

  7. I like to explore different cultures and festivals from around the world. But these festivals and rituals are strange indeed. The bullet ant glove initiation is extreme and I’m amazed how these boys endure the pain. Exhuming the dead bodies of loved ones and dressing them up according to the latest fashion styles is another one that’s quite bizarre. The milk-spitting wedding tradition is funny though. Thanks for sharing this interesting list.

  8. These are some mad traditions! So interesting though, especially the history behind some of them. I’m not sure I am going to add any of them to my bucket list though!!

  9. Uh…OK…loved this post but still a little stunned by all these traditions…and still trying to figure out which one is most shocking to me. I think its a tie for Ma Nene and Baby Jumping…but honestly the milk-spitting is a close 3rd. Thank you sooo much for doing this research and sharing!

  10. Creepy for one, culture for another. Only experiencing this while travelling can make one understand how diverse our world is and broadens one’s mind. Lovely article. I enjoyed reading it. 🙂

  11. These traditions and festivals are very interesting and creepy! I don’t think I could stomach hanging out with dead relatives even if they are my own. The festival in Taiwan was interesting too its surprising that people would subject themselves to fireworks on purpose, it sounds so dangerous. Thank you for enlightening me about the world and its uniqueness!

  12. Wow! I never knew about any of these, they’re pretty crazy! I couldn’t imagine the pain one must endure with the bullet ants. Did you get to witness these festivals/rituals? It would be an amazing thing to be a part of!

  13. I’ve read about Ma’Nene before, and while it is sort of beautiful, it also gives me the shivers! The baby jumping festival is a new one for me – so random?! How do the mothers trust the men not to squish their children?!

  14. Fantastic post, enjoy reading up on tradition’s and festivals around the world, as it is such a great way to understand peoples culture more. Some of these were very interesting indeed and would love to experience some in the future.

  15. Super interesting to learn about these cultures and their festivals, i couldnt imagine the pain from the bull ant rite of passage.

  16. I remember seeing a documentary about the bullet ants. Sounds unbelievably painful, strange and dangerous. I would love to read about more weird festivals, that was fun.

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