STRANGE CUSTOMS & traditional practices around the world

Weird is deeply rooted in our traditions and we have proof. Ever since the first spark was ignited and the first wheel was created, humans always stayed in groups and had unique characteristics to distinguish themselves. Sometimes these “uniques” were bizarre and sometimes plain funny. Here is a curated list of a few bizarre customs from around the world. ‘For everyone is weird and that is pretty normal.’

Famadihana | Madagascar

Till death do us apart might be a popular saying all around the world, but not for the Malagasy people of Madagascar. During the dry winter months, the locals celebrate “Famadihana” which literally means ‘turning of the dead’.

famadihanaOnce every two to seven years, the family of the dead holds a huge celebration at their ancestral cemetery where the remains of the dead are dug out, wrapped in fine silk, sprayed with wine or perfume, and brought out for community festivities. In the Malagasy culture and customs, the turning of the bones is a vital element in maintaining links with revered ancestors, who still play a very real role in daily life.

The custom is based upon a belief that the spirits of the dead do not join the superior world of the ancestors until after the body has decomposed completely, and until that time, the spirit of the deceased still lingers and is able to communicate with the living. Until they are gone forever, the festivities of famadihana are a way to shower love and affection upon them.

Death is not a sad occasion for many in Malagash, but a time for celebrating. It is believed that the ancestors, like everyone, appreciate a really good party, especially one held in their honor.

Hanging coffins | China

Well one thing sure is the fact that the Chinese like ‘hanging around’ even after death. The southern Chinese region is rich with scenic beauties and landscapes but what make the region more interesting are the hanging coffins that dot the waterways of the Yangtze River. Experts attribute the precarious graveyards to the Bo people who began this tradition around 3000 years ago.In ancient times many people believed that divine spirits dwelt in nature, such as rocks, mountains, and water. Mountaintops and high elevations were also auspicious places and thought to be closer to heaven, according to Guo Jing of Yunnan Provincial Museum. He speculates that for the Bo, the cliffs served as the stairway to heaven, while the coffins served as a bridge to the afterlife.

Another theory suggests they probably chose cliff precipices as graves for a practical reason that also has its basis in the belief of an afterlife. The bodies of dead loved ones needed to be preserved the best they could without disturbance and with the least amount of decay. This practice ensured the immortality of the spirit in the next life. Therefore, it was important to place the dead away from animals and people who could damage or rob the coffin.

The hanging coffins and cliff tombs were airy, dry, and shaded, and these conditions slowed down the rate of decomposition. In contrast, burials in the ground with the moisture and organisms would lead to much quicker decay.

Pointed Reeth| Mantawian Tribe

For Centuries now, women have been doing extreme things to be at par with the societal beauty standards, and this Indonesian tribe is another proof to it. The tribe, who live a semi-nomadic life on the Mentawai Islands in West Sumatra, believes that sharpened teeth makes them more attractive to the opposite sex.The beauty regimen involves the sawing of teeth until they achieve a sharp, narrow and pointed shape. Women in some Indonesian rural communities are considered extremely beautiful after they’ve undergone such a treatment.

They go through a number of rituals such as teeth chiseling in order to maintain a balance between the body and the soul. They believe that at the dawn of time, the Mantawaians had split into spirits and humans. But the humans are always under the threat of re-joining the spirit world if their own souls aren’t kept happy or aren’t pleased with their bodies. So permanent decorations like tattoos are made on the body to make the souls happy, and to avoid death for as long as possible as per customs.

SKULL BINDING | MAYANS

Having a big head might be such a big no-no now a days but the Mayans apparently loved it in their list of customs. Head binding also called ‘Artificial cranial deformation’ is a form of body alteration in which the skull of a human being is intentionally deformed. customs-streettrotterThe head binding process typically begins approximately a month after birth, as the skull is most pliable at this time, and continues for about six months. Distorting the normal growth of a child’s skull by applying force does it. Flat shapes, elongated ones (produced by binding between two pieces of wood), rounded ones (binding in cloth) and conical ones are among the most utilized shapes.

Shapes range between tall profiles with front-to-back flattening and extremely elongated forms. Soft bandages (commonly made of cloth) are almost universally applied to alter head shape, and in many cases pieces of wood are used as well to achieve flattening in the desired places. Because artificial cranial deformation requires a months-long process of head binding, its origin is enigmatic. What makes it even more puzzling is that this cultural practice clearly arose independently in numerous places around the world.

Long necks | Thailand

Another example of impossible beauty standards leading to bizarre customs can be observed in the Kayan tribe of Indonesia. The tribe has customs where some women wear rings to create the appearance of a long neck.customs-streettrotterThe women wear the rings from childhood, starting with four or five, and adding more annually as they acclimate to the increased weight. Coils weighing up to 25 pounds depress the chest and shoulders. This creates the illusion of disembodied head hovering over a shimmering pedestal of gold rings.

An ancient legend claims rings protected villagers from tiger attacks since the cats attack victims at the neck. Another theory said the rings helped ward off men from rival tribes by lessening the women’s beauty. Today, people believe the opposite – the longer their neck, the more beautiful the woman – and Kayans wear the golden coils as an accessory.

Meal practices | Kazakhs

Kazakhs have always held guests in high regard. Certain traditional Kazakh foods are usually served as customs only on special occasions such as parties, holidays, weddings, and funerals. The most notable of these is ‘beshbarmak’, most traditionally made of horse meat. It is essentially boiled meat on the bone served over noodles and covered in a meat broth called souppa.The host, usually a man, takes the various pieces of meat and gives them out in an order of respect usually based on seniority or distance traveled. Each different piece of the horse (or goat, sheep or cow, never chicken or pig) symbolizes a different attribute such as wisdom, youth, or strength. Beshbarmakis always served in large quantities and usually piping hot.

When beshbarmak is made of sheep, the head of the sheep also will be boiled, fully intact, and served to the most honored guest. That guest then takes a bit of meat for himself or herself and distributes other parts of the head to other people at the table.

Another national food that is present at all celebrations is bausak, a deep-fried bread with nothing in the middle and usually in the shape of a triangle or a circle. As per customs, the bread is eaten with the meal, not as dessert, and is usually strewn all over the traditional Kazakh table, which is called destrakan (the word refers more to a table full of traditional food than to an actual table). Bausak is strewn all over the table so that no part of the table is showing. Kazakhs like to have every inch of service area covered with food, sometimes with more food than will fit on the table, as a way of showing respect and prosperity.

A fermented horse’s milk called kumisin Kazakh is also occasionally drunk at ceremonial occasions. This traditional milk dates back to the nomadic days, and many people in Central Asia think that the intoxicating beverage is therapeutic.

Finger cutting | Indonesia

Death of someone close can be quite tragic and permanently change a person emotionally, but to the women of the Dani tribe of Indonesia, the death of a close person is accompanied by physical changes as well.customs-streettrotterA woman will cut off the top of her finger if she loses a family member or child. The practice was done to both gratify and drive away the spirits, while also providing a way to use physical pain as an expression of sorrow and suffering. The Dani tribe members have the religious customs and beliefs that if the deceased were a powerful person while living, their essence would remain in the village in lingering spiritual turmoil.

The practice is performed by first tying a string tightly around the upper half of the finger for about 30 minutes. This allows the finger to become numb for a “near” painless removal. The finger is removed by using an ax and the open sore is cauterized both to prevent bleeding and to form new-calloused fingers. The left over piece of finger is dried and then either burned to ashes or stored in a special place.

Tattooed lips | Japan

The indigenous people of northern Japan call themselves Ainu, meaning “people” or “humans” in their language. Recent DNA evidence suggests that the Ainu are the direct descendants of the ancient Jomon people who inhabited Japan as early as 12,000 years ago. For the Ainu, tattooing was exclusive to females, as was the profession of tattooist. Young maidens of six or seven have a little spot on the upper lip. As they grow older, this is gradually extended until a more or less broad band surrounds the mouth and extends into a tapering curve on both cheeks towards the ears.customs-streettrotterAfter the mouth tattooing, the lips feel like burning embers. The client usually becomes feverish and the pain and swelling would keep her from getting much sleep. Food becomes an afterthought and when the tattoo client becomes thirsty a piece of cotton grass is dipped in water and placed against the lips for the client to suck on.

The completed lip tattoos of women were significant customs in regards to Ainu perceptions of life experience. First, these tattoos were believed to repel evil spirits from entering the body (mouth) and causing sickness or misfortune. Secondly, the lip tattoos indicated that a woman had reached maturity and was ready for marriage. And finally, lip tattoos assured the woman life after death in the place of her deceased ancestors.


About the Author: Madhumitha Jain is an avid dreamer and a Philomath. She is someone who creates drama with the planned combinations of just the 26 alphabets she knows. She definitely believes in words speaking louder than actions and is an extreme textrovert. She claims to not be a feminist, but she undoubtedly is a proud humanist.