5 of the Most Bizarre Traditions From Around the World

la tomatina

It’s easy to forget that our normal is someone else’s weird. Around the world are centuries-old traditions that seem detached from our reality. However, if you look hard enough, you’ll find that all tradition seeks to achieve the same goal: to create thriving communities based on shared beliefs and experiences. It’s just that some experiences are more extreme than others. Today, we’ll be spotlighting global traditions that are bizarre to us and completely normal to those who practice them.

The Sateré-Mawé Tribe’s “Bullet Ant Initiation”

a bullet ant used in the bizarre traditions of the Sateré-Mawé
The bullet ant / Source: Wikimedia

The Sateré-Mawé are an indigenous tribe located in the Brazilian Amazon. Despite having little contact with outsiders, their coming of age tradition is so extreme that it has become something of a notoriety across the globe.

When boys in the tribe turn 13, they must withstand an agonizing initiation before being seen as men by their fellow tribespeople. The ceremony requires them to insert both their hands into makeshift gloves containing hundreds of bullet ants. (Bullet ants are a species of insect whose sting is said to feel akin to bullets entering one’s flesh.)

Justin Schmidt—one of the leading authorities on entomology, the study of insects—authored the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which places bullet ants as the insects with the most painful sting in the world. He described the pain as feeling “like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail in your heel.” And that’s from a single sting!

The boys keep their hands within the gloves for 10 whole minutes, enduring literal torture without shedding tears. Believe it or not, it only gets worse. They must repeat this ritual 20 times throughout their lives in order to maintain their statuses as men.

Baby Tossing in Maharashtra and Karnataka, India

In the western states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, India exists a 700 year-old practice known as baby tossing… which is exactly what it sounds like. Practiced by both Hindus and Muslims, the ritual sees parents tossing their babies from the tops of temples as high as 50 feet.

The babies are caught at the bottom by a large cloth held by members of the community. Supposedly, the practice brings health and prosperity to the child’s life via the parents’ radical demonstration of faith in the almighty. Believe it or not, no deaths or injuries have been *reported* due to baby tossing.

Understandably condemned as outdated and barbaric by most of the outside world, nowadays the bizarre tradition mostly takes place in rural villages. And even there, it’s a rare occurrence.

The Dani Tribe’s Ritual Finger Amputation

a member of the dani tribe
Member of the Dani tribe / Source: Wikimedia

The Dani Tribe of western New Guinea, Indonesia believes that physical pain is the greatest manifestation of sorrow. This is evidenced by their practice of finger removal in response to the deaths of loved ones.

When a loved one passes, it is considered a sign of respect for members of the tribe to amputate the upper parts of their own fingers. As a result, many elders within the community have had the majority of their fingers cut off. 

The amputation is performed by first tying a string around the finger, thereby stopping blood flow. Then comes the painful part. The top end of the finger is snipped off. The stub that remains is burnt to create scar tissue/prevent infections.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it is unfortunately mostly women who are subjected to this excruciating ritual.

The Yąnomamö Tribe’s Drinking of the Dead

a member of the Yąnomamö Tribe
A member of the Yąnomamö Tribe / Source: Wikimedia

While on the topic of death rituals, we can’t not mention Venezuela’s Yąnomamö tribe’s practice of ingesting the remains of their loved ones. If you’re like us, reading that probably triggered within your mind a hellish, cannibalistic scene. However, the tribe is a bit more elegant with their consumption of the dead. A bit.

The Yąnomamö view burial as a heinous, immoral practice, so they cremate the bodies of tribe members. From our perspective, this seems pretty standard, right?

Once a corpse has been cremated, its ashes and bones are crushed into a fine powder. This powder is then mixed into a plantain soup. The soup is passed around and eaten by the tribe. What is the rationale behind this tradition? Well, the tribe believes that by consuming the remnants of loved ones, their spirits will remain within the living. 

La Tomatina in Buñol, Spain

With all the bizarre traditions covered in this article, we thought we’d close it out with one that’s just flat-out fun. On the last Wednesday of every August, inhabitants of the town of Buñol, Spain engage in a massive food fight using only tomatoes. Why do they do this? Well, simply put, it’s fun. There’s no deeper meaning to it than that.

Still, the tradition has its origin story: in 1945, a group of teenagers were attending a parade in Buñol. Being young and mischievous, they kicked a parade participant off of his float. In a fit of embarrassment and rage, the participant went to a nearby vegetable stall, grabbed some tomatoes, and started chucking them at the teenagers. Somehow, this exploded into the town’s first La Tomatina, with so many townspeople participating that it took police intervention to end the fight. 

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