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Strange but true: Bizarre rituals around the world

Updated on February 19, 2014

You have probably already heard of how the Masai tribe of Western Africa greet friends by spitting on them and that the Japanese use a giant wooden phallus to help their crops grow faster. The rituals listed here go a few steps further in terms of strangeness, and provide an interesting perspective on different beliefs and superstition from people all over the world.

1. Baby-jumping: El Colacho, Spain

The village of Castrillo de Murcia in the north of Spain celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi in a rather strange manner – the devil’s jump. All babies born in the village over the past one year are laid out on mattresses on the streets. Then, men dressed up as the devil jump over the infants. The reason: organizers of the jump insist that this ritual wards off illness and evil spirits, and even cleanses the babies of original sin. This festival has been widely criticized for the dangers it poses to the babies that Pope Benedict XVI had actually asked Spanish Catholics to keep away from the festival, especially the ‘original sin’ part.

Baby Jumping Festival - Spain
Baby Jumping Festival - Spain

2. Walk on Water, Florida

College is tough and sometimes you have got to do a bunch of strange stuff to get that much-coveted A grade. But a ritual undertaken at the Florida International University School of Architecture takes it a little too far. For the past 23 years, Professor Jaime Canavés has supervised students trying to cross a 175-foot lake by the University’s main library with the help of some self-designed ‘walking device’. Participants have ranged in age from 9 years to 67, competing for a $500 prize and a guaranteed A grade for the project.

3. Dance with the dead, Madagascar

It’s nice to celebrate the life of your loved ones after they have passed on, and in Madagascar, they believe it will also send the spirit to its rightful place faster. Famadihana, or “The Turning of the Bones,” is a traditional festival in Madagascar. Participants believe the faster the body decomposes, the faster the spirit will get to the afterlife. Therefore, they dig up their loved ones’ corpses, dance to live music around the tomb, and then rebury them. This takes place every two to seven years.

4. Sky Burials, Tibet

Why bury the dead when you can leave them to the open sky, and to vultures. In Tibet, Buddhists have a sacred ritual called Jhator, or sky burial, built on the belief of a cycle of rebirth, which means there is no need to preserve a body after death, since the soul moves to another realm. The bodies are therefore taken to open grounds at high altitudes and left as alms for scavengers such as vultures. In order to dispose of the body as swiftly as possible, a specialist cuts the body into pieces, and spreads it around to be devoured.

5. Bullet Ant Gloves, Satere Mawé tribe, Amazon

Why a glove would hurt anyone, you could ask. Well, this is a glove filled with giant ants, with stingers for heads that have been irritated so much that even a small movement will result in a bite. The Paraponera Clavata, also known as bullet ants are so named because one bite feels like you’re being shot. To be initiated into the tribe and to prove one’s manhood, these gloves have to be donned for 30 minutes… 25 times in a row. That’s over 12 hours of being subjected to the venom (both physical and metaphorical) of these ants.

Getting stung by bullet ant
Getting stung by bullet ant

6. Nude Jain monks, India

Digambar Jain monks live naked, yet they do not believe they are nude because they are wearing the environment. They own nothing except a peacock feather and a bowl for water. These monks do not eat when it’s dark and move on bare feet throughout their life regardless of road or weather. They also pluck out their hair with their hands twice a year at a particular time. This is called as Loch or Kesloch.

7. Baby-throwing for luck, India

Luck is a big deal in India, especially for newborns; however, a Muslim shrine in Maharashtra goes a little…overboard. For the past 500 years, worshipers have continued the tradition of throwing babies from a 50-foot tower for good luck. The babies are taken to the top of the building and thrown down, landing on bed sheet held 50 feet below and then passed to their mothers. Parents are proud of this ritual, believing it blesses their offspring with health, luck, courage.

8. Elderly out in the cold, Alaska, Siberia, Greenland

Eskimos don’t believe in old age homes or care facilities. Instead, when old age strikes, the elderly are taken to sea and set adrift on a floating iceberg. Left alone, the elderly must inevitably freeze or starve to death. Eskimos believed another world awaits their dead and they believe this is a way to send the elderly to the next stage with dignity, without becoming a burden on their families.

9. Crying before the wedding, China

Parents do usually cry at their children’s wedding, but the Tujia people of the Sichuan province in China take it very seriously. 30 days before the wedding, the bride spends one hour every day crying. Ten days later, her mother joins in, and then ten days after that, her grandmother starts. Rather than weeping and wailing with grief at the wedding, this is looked upon as an expression of joy and love.

10. Soup from a loo, France

If you thought a wedding in France would be all champagne and roses, you might want to think again. In earlier times, after the reception, the couple was sent to their bedroom while the bridal party cleaned up the mess of the wedding, dumping the leftover food, drink and trash into a chamber pot. The part would then barge into the couple's room with the pot and would not leave till the couple drank from it. Today, the soup is usually made up of chocolate and champagne, but is still served from a toilet. The reasoning: this apparently gave the couple fuel to have sex.


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