The world is full of bizarre, exciting and wonderful cultures that are all unique in their own way. For a westerner living in a western country, the 10 traditions listed below may sound extremely odd, but for those who grew up in these societies, they seem no more peculiar than western children receiving money from a magical fairy after losing a tooth, or being showered with gifts on the day of their birth. These are ten of the most unusual traditions and customs from around the world and many of them are still being practiced today!
Perhaps you met your significant other at a bar or at the bowling alley, there was a courting period, a month or two of dating, and then finally, after a couple of years, one of you bent down on one knee and politely asked for the other's hand in marriage. In Kyrgyzstan, things are a little different. Bride kidnapping is still commonplace in this mountainous Central Asian republic and many young men dream of one day stealing their wife to be, just as their father and grandfather did before them.
Women are typically taken from the streets, forcefully put into a getaway car and driven to the family home of the hopeful groom-to-be. The family then detains the prospective bride and tries everything in their power to convince her to marry their male suitor relative. These days, many kidnappings are of a playful nature, but some reports suggest that in rare cases, the kidnappings can result in abuse, murder and even suicide.
Similar to a good oldfashioned game of polo, Buzkashi is a popular equestrian sport played in many parts of Central Asia and Afghanistan, but instead of using a ball, this game has a morbid twist. It is played with a goat carcass. Riders pick up the carcass, dodge past other horse riders who are attempting to whip them, and eventually make it to the other side of the field where they circle a flag and dunk the dead goat into the scoring circle known as "the circle of justice".
There are 10 players on each team and the game generally lasts about 90 minutes with a much- needed halftime break in the middle. The Taliban in Afghanistan actually banned this game because they thought it was "immoral". Today, Buzkashi is played all over the region and there is a referee at every game to make sure that things don't get too "crazy".
These days, actual crucifixions have been all but banned around the world, but they can still be witnessed in the small village of Barangay San Pedro Cutud in the Philippines. During annual Lent, worshippers re enact Christ's Passion by actively crucifying themselves in order to repent for their sins, show commitment to their lord or to thank him for answering prayers. Real nails are pierced through hands and feet and participants are whipped and scored during the crucifixions.
One repenting soul named Ruben Anaje has been nailed to the cross and hoisted for all to see an astonishing 27 times in his 55 years. His final crucifixion was said to be on Good Friday in 2013. He is still alive, but he has retired from the ceremonies.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating and evocative ceremonies in the world, the opening ten days of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar) are not for the faint of heart. The Shiite hero and now martyr, Imam Husayn ibn Ali, was brutally assassinated in Karbala, Iraq on October 10th, 690 AD.
To this day, he is mourned by the Shiite people of Shia Islam. Millions of his followers take to the streets in shockingly somber parades of selfflagellation, melancholy chanting and emotional outbursts.
Mourners sob, yell, chant and often whip, cut and score themselves to show their remorse for Husayn and the regret for their physical absence during his murder. The shrine and tomb of Husayn is in Iraq, but Shiite muslims around the world, particularly in Iran & Iraq, mourn their lost hero for 10 days each year. During this time, no music is to be played, no celebrations are to take place and no outward signs of happiness are to be shown in public. The mourning of Muharram does have a light side though. The 10 day ceremonies culminate in the final day of feasting and community support known as Ashura, when people all over the region share meals with each other to break the long fast.
When your loved one dies, you may feel physically ill or even incapacitated by grief, but your pain differs slightly from the kind of agony that a Dani woman feels when a family member perishes.
In the Western New Guinea province of Indonesia, the Dani tribe has a very unique way of mourning for their lost relatives. In their culture, it is customary to cut off the top half of a woman's finger during the funeral ceremony.
The amputation symbolizes the pain of grieving, but also helps to ward off any unwanted spirits of the late relatives, which may haunt the village if these women were to keep their fingertips. After amputation, the bleeding digit is cauterised to stop blood flow and to help form a new fingertip.
Bullet Ant Gloves
Becoming a man is an important part of many cultures around the world. In the west, perhaps "getting laid" is the biggest accomplishment that a young male can achieve in his quest towards manhood, but in other cultures, adolescent boys don't get let off so easily. Deep in the Amazon jungle, the aspiring men of the SatereMawe tribe have to endure the most excruciating right of passage imaginable bullet ant gloves.
The bullet ant is a small insect that packs the most painful sting known to man. So painful is the creature's selfdefence mechanism, that it has been compared to a bullet piercing the flesh. Upon nearing the age of manhood, young boys take to the jungle to collect these tiny torturers, and then hand them over to the village elders, who sedate the ants before weaving them into mesh gloves with their stingers pointing inward.
During the ceremonies, the boys must wear the gloves for 10 minutes while dancing around in a trancelike state, trying to ignore the pain. If this wasn't "manly" enough, the aspiring men have to endure this horrifying agony 20 times before being considered adults.
Naga Sadhus of India are known for their peculiar religious practices, but perhaps none are more shocking than the art of penis bending and penis aerobics displayed by the Hatha Yogis. One man, named Paglagiri Naga, a native of Allahabad region, pulled 100 kg stone slabs from his genitals in 2009. The Naga Sadhus refuse to wear clothing, even in the most bitter cold. They draw their inspiration from their lord Shiva, who allows them to do remarkable and astonishing things.
More penile feats can be witnessed during Kumbh Mela every summer, one of the few events that draw the Naga Sadhus from their otherwise secluded lives. These men are warriors and often carry weapons such as tridents, conch shells and swords. Although misunderstood by western media, their secret and mysterious society remains one of the world's best examples of religious devotion and renunciation.
Stop eating meat and skewer yourself instead! In Southeast Asia, there is a very peculiar tradition in place that helps to honour animals in the region.
The gruesome event is held over a 9-day period in October and it celebrates the Chinese belief that abstinence from meat and other stimulants during the 9th month of the Chinese lunar calendar will help promote good health and peace of mind.
Ceremonies during the festival are meant to provoke the gods and if nothing else, they certainly invoke fear and astonishment amongst the thousands of people who fly to Thailand to see the festival each year.
Participants take it upon themselves to act as mediums for the gods and they do this by piercing themselves with deer antlers, knives, umbrellas and a plethora of other household items. Each year, the participants in the festival become more daring and in 2011, 74 people were injured (more so than a sword through the cheek) and one unfortunate death was reported.
Western doctors used to spank babies in order to ensure that they were breathing, but in some parts of the world, newborn torment is taken to a new level. In the Karnataka state of India, robed priests hold infants by their hands and feet, shake them, and then drop them from a balcony into a makeshift blanket / babycatcher some 30 feet below. The terrified newborns are then subjected to an involuntary crowd surf over hundreds of onlookers before being taken away to their mother.
The ritual is practiced by both Hindus and Muslims and is said to bring happiness and prosperity to the babies. This shocking ceremony has been going on in India for at least 500 years. Needless to say the ritual has caused considerable uproar amongst children rights groups, who simply can't see the connection between child tossing and good fortune.
"All hail wang!" might as well be the slogan for this Japanese festival. But the people from around the Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, Japan aren't worshipping a man named Wang, they're actually worshipping penises.
During the festival, thousands of model penises are worn, thrown, eaten, bought, sold, traded and followed through the streets in the form of enormous inflatable erections. The processions may be strange, but this annual festival has a much deeper meaning.
The Kanamara shrine has long been a place where prostitutes pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. A sort of "holy condom" so to speak.
Legend has it that there was once a young woman who had a peniseating demon in her vagina, which put a real damper on her love life. Finally, after the demon had eaten the penises of two of her past husbands, she met a blacksmith who fashioned an iron penis for her. The metal phallus succeeded and broke the demon's teeth, thus lifting the woman's curse. The famous iron member is now enshrined at Kanamara and it is enjoying more and more global fame every year as the festival grows in popularity.
Isn't The World Awesome?
With so many fascinating cultures around the world, it's hard to believe that we are all on the same planet. All of these customs remind us of how unique our societies can be, but the purpose of most of these bizarre traditions also reminds us that we all have the same core values. We all hope for a healthy future and we wish for peace and wellbeing.
Do you know of any amazing traditions, games or rituals from around the globe?
Please share with us in the comments below!
Nick & Dariece of Goats on the Road are a nomadic couple encouraging a lifestyle of Freedom, Travel and Adventure. They're always in search of unique ways to sustain their travels and are looking for cultural experiences, beautiful beaches and off-the-beaten-path adventures.