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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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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