Bizarre cultural practices and local traditions

Bizarre cultural practices and local traditions

You know how everyone has those little bits of useless trivia that they like to pull out at any given opportunity? Well, this is probably going to be a list of those types of facts – random bits of bizarre information about the rest of the world that we would find strange; an amalgamation of odd cultural practices and festivals.

A lot of these things only seem bizarre to us because we’re from another culture and setting. Everything is relative, and all that. But still, it’s interesting to look at other cultures and note the contrast with our own – considering what is acceptable here and what is or isn’t there.

My father has always loved telling these kinds of stories. He’s always sharing random bits of information and telling it in this funny or ridiculous way – and he’s really good at it. I think he’s where I get my desire to be a writer from and why I collect random bits of trivia – I want to be as good a storyteller as he is. He’s definitely where I got my inspiration for this list of bizarre things. On that note, I am going to kick off this thing off with something weird I learned from him ...

1. Mucus Sucking
My parents’ friends lived in the Solomon Islands and they assure us that it is common practice to help a child with a running nose by the adult putting their mouth over the child’s nose and sucking all the mucus out for them. I mean, I guess it is practical. In theory it unblocks the nasal passages. Actually in the western world we do have devices you can use to suck the mucus out, but – you know – it never goes into your mouth. What really gets me the most about this method, though, is that you do it to any child you come across. Like, not just your own kid. If you see a kid with a runny nose it’s perfectly acceptable to go up to them and suck all the mucus out for them. Upon Googling this information I found that it happens all over the world in all sort of different cultures, including New Zealand.

2. El Colacho (also known as Baby Jumping)
This strange festival belongs to the Spanish and dates back to 1620. Basically the idea is that annually men dressed up as the devil jump over babies that were born in the last 12 months. While the origins of this festival are unclear, the practice seems to be connected with Catholicism – specifically, the practice is meant to cleanse the babies of original sin. Pope Benedict attempted to distance the Catholic Church from this idea however. Apparently the idea of “cleansing” one of original sin through flying devil-men is theologically problematic. Who knew?

3. Yanomami Death Rites
The yanomami tribe located in the Amazon have incredibly interesting death rites. To this tribe the soul is of incredibly high religious importance. They believe that the soul of a person requires protection after they have died. There is also the belief that a soul could enter another life form, which is why the tribe refrains from eating or killing certain types of birds which are viewed as possible hosts for the souls of the dead. However, the strangest part of their rituals is that once a person dies, they cremate the body and then the dead person’s relatives eat the ash – so that their soul may live on with the rest of the family. They cook up bananas and then combine it with the ash and bones of the deceased before the whole family gathers to consume the mush. In this process, the soul of the tribe member is absorbed by the others and is free to move on to salvation. Without this process, they believe that the soul would be trapped in the world between life and death.

4. Goose Pulling
Goose pulling is a blood sport that was practiced in the Netherlands, Belgium, England and North America. It involved tying a live goose to a cable or pole by its feet, and various men would try to pull its head off – which, of course, would eventually happen. What an absolutely terrible and pointlessly harmful tradition. Don’t stress about this too much, though – it’s only practiced in the Netherlands and Belgium now – and the goose has to be dead first. In Belgium, the winner of the competition is made king of goose pulling for the next year. And at the end of his reign he has to throw a big feast for his subjects! Kings can also battle each other to become emperors, and there’s a children’s tournament as well.

5. Frozen Dead Guy Days
This festival is as weird as the name suggests. It’s a festival held in the town Nederland, Colorado, which celebrates the 1994 discovery of Bredo Morstel – a cryonic state corpse. A woman named Aud was keeping her father’s corpse cryogenically frozen in a shack out the back of her house. After a year she was evicted from her home due to her house having no electricity or plumbing. She informed people of her frozen father in concern that the body would thaw out. So the town reacted by continuing to have him frozen and making a festival of it. Obviously. How else are you supposed to react? The festival goes over the first weekend of March and consists of, among many other things, coffin races, a slow motion parade and even frozen dead guy lookalike contests!

6. Moose Dopping Festival
The people of Talkeetna, Alaska have a weird moose-poop festival. The festival itself was created more or less to attract tourists in 1972 – and was inspired by how other states have animal themed festivals. They got moose droppings, cooked ‘em in the oven and sprayed ‘em with varnish in order to use ‘em for nugget tossing. Yes. This honestly was the best thing they could come up with. Another activity involves dropping numbered nuggets from a balloon into a parking lot as a type of raffle contest. Whichever lands closest to the centre of the lot wins. What’s the prize? I don’t know, more poop? Probably more poop.

7. Entroida
This is the kind of festival that I would very much like to avoid attending. Held in Laza, Spain, this festival occurs on the three Fridays before Lent and the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday. One of the activities involves drunken people running through the streets with torches (sounds familiar, am I right? Yeah, I’m looking at you, drunken scarfies) while people not participating in the running throw dirt at them from their windows. On the official days of Entroida, Peliqueiros (scary ass masked men) line the streets and whip passers-by. When they get hungry or thirsty from this they will just go into the homes of citizens and eat or drink whatever they want. For the grand finale, the people of Laza all meet up for a big fight in the town square where they throw rags filled with dirt, mud, vinegar, ash and fire ants at each other.

Doesn’t it sound like so much fun?

8. Cheese Rolling
Even england has its own weird little inane traditions! There is a cheese rolling festival held annually at Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester in England. Traditionally, the festival was for the people of the local village Brockworth, but now people from all over the world partake. It involves nine-pound, round Double Gloucester cheese being rolled down the hill on which the festival is held. Then people throw themselves down the hill after it trying to catch it – which is practically impossible seeing as the cheese has a one second head start and reaches speeds up to 112km/h. So it’s really whoever gets to the bottom first who wins. As would seem obvious, people often injure themselves as they frantically roll after the cheese. This is why there are several ambulances waiting at the bottom of the hill and a volunteer group on hand to help out any injured people. Often, people actually need hospital treatment. Totally worth winning the cheese, though, right?

9. Bullet Ants Coming of Age Ritual
Rites of passage rituals come in all shapes and sizes. Specifically, for the Satere-Mawe tribe in Brazil, becoming an adult involves putting your hands into gloves filled with bullet ants for 11 full hours. Just to explain fully: bullet ants (also known as Paraponera) get a one on the Schmidt Sting Pain index – which is the highest rating you can get. They’re named after the fact that being stung by one is comparable to being shot with bullets. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of having to stick my hand into the ultimate pain glove in order to become an adult terrifies me. I’m all right with the good old New Zealand tradition of drinking copious amounts of alcohol until I’m sick instead.

10. Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme
As Neves - a part of Galicia, Spain - is home to a strange festival/annual pilgrimage. On 29 July every year, people who have had a near death experience make a pilgrimage to the Santa Marta de Ribarteme church – the patron saint of resurrection. The people who have gone through the near death experience are made obvious by the fact that they are in coffins, carried by their families and loved ones up to the church. However, if you don’t have anyone to carry you – you just drag your own coffin along with you. After mass, the pilgrims make their way to the cemetery before making their way through town. During all of this solemn appreciation of life, there are fireworks being set off, people selling food and music being played by gypsies. I feel like this would be an amazing, if not a little unsettling, event to witness.

11. Self-Mummification
The Sokishinbutsu were Buddhist monks who would starve themselves to death, and in such a way that their bodies would mummify. This was something that happened in Japan well into the late 1800’s. The process would take 2000 days to prepare the body. For the first 1000 days they would eat nothing other than nuts and seeds in order to remove all the fat from their bodies. The step following this is to eliminate as much moisture as possible, so for the following 1000 days they would eat only a small amount of bark and drink a highly poisonous tea – which would cause diarrhoea and vomiting. After this, the monk would be sealed inside a small concrete room where they could wait to die. Yay! The reason this was practiced is because it was believed that if you were able to fully separate yourself from the physical world, when you died you would be able to become one with the world, rather than being reincarnated into it. Another 1000 days after the person was sealed away, people would come to check on the body to see if they had mummified. A lot of the time they hadn’t, surprisingly enough. However, when it did, the monk was considered to have reached nirvana.

12. Night of the Radishes
This vegetable festival, first celebrated in 1897, is celebrated on 23 December annually. It is held in the main plaza of Oaxaca in Mexico. Despite the festival only last a couple of hours, it still attracts thousands of people to this area each year. Mexican craftsmen carve giant root vegetables into figures (usually people-shaped) as part of a larger competition. Even though the core part of the festival only lasts a few hours, the festivities continue over Christmas Eve and part of Christmas day. There are float parades, fireworks and street dances. All because of cute little people carved out of giant radishes. How adorable!

13. Tunarama
Oh, Australia. Of course your bizarre festival was going to be called Tunarama. This is a festival that started in 1962 and celebrates the Tuna industry. It is funded entirely by donations and sponsorship and is the largest free festival in South Australia. The festival is most famous for the Tuna Toss, where people literally just toss tuna fish. People watching men toss tuna up onto trucks from boats inspired this activity. To be fair, this would take a lot of strength and skill – I don’t think I could toss any fish, let alone a Tuna. This is very much a family friendly fun event with things like watermelon eating contests and three legged races.

Speaking of family friendly, or not ...

14. Kanamara Matsuri
This festival really isn’t something you would want to take your kids to. Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) is a Japanese event that celebrates the, you guessed it, and is centred round the epony- mous metal penis shrine. Prostitutes pray to it for protection from STDs, it is said to bring pros- perity to business, an easy labour, marriage and harmony within a married relationship. There is a legend associated with the festival: it involves a woman with a vagina dentata (a demon with sharp teeth lived in her vagina) who castrated two young men on their wedding nights. In the end, the young woman went to a black smith and requested a steel phallus that was used to break the demon’s teeth (?!) At this festival you will find penis art, penis statues, penis candles, penis shaped food – penis everything. These days it’s more a fertility festival and is more or less a tourist event, but the money raised is put towards HIV research – which is totally awesome!

Now, go forth and impart all of this useless and slightly concerning information on unsuspecting friends and family at various social gatherings.
This article first appeared in Issue 19, 2014.
Posted 9:16pm Sunday 10th August 2014 by Laura Starling.