By Explorer Marisse Gabrielle Reyes –
Travelling can definitely get you out of your comfort zone, but these unusual customs might just put you out of orbit. From eating chicken eggs soaked in the urine of virgin boys in China to running down a dangerously steep hill after a wheel of cheese in England, to watching ‘devils’ leap over babies in northern Spain, we track down the strangest, most absurd customs around the world.
Singles Being Covered in Cinnamon | Denmark
In Denmark, if you reach your 25th birthday and you’re still single, tradition has it that you’ll be pelted with ground cinnamon by your closest friends. It doesn’t stop there: your colleagues will cover your desk with the fragrant spice as well. Things don’t look up for you if you’re 30 and single, as you’ll be doused in sneeze-inducing black pepper.
Honouring Penises | Japan
If you ever find yourself in Kawasaki on the first Sunday of April and witness large penis sculptures being carried through excited crowds in the direction of the Kanayama Shrine, it’s a safe bet you’ve stumbled on the Kanamara Matsuri Festival. The festival, which started in 1977, evolved from local legend, but has now become more of a tourist attraction and HIV research fundraiser.
Worshiping Prince Philip | Vanuatu
The Kastom people of Tanna Island in Vanuatu are part of a cult called the Prince Philip Movement, a group that worships the Duke of Edinburgh. The cult had already been formed by the time the Prince made his first visit to the island in 1974. Strangely enough, none of the cult members met Prince Philip and, at the time of his visit, the prince was unaware of his divine status on the island.
The ‘Handshake’ of the Face | New Zealand
It’s customary for the Maori people of New Zealand to greet you by touching their forehead and tip of their nose to yours. Called hongi, this greeting is usually reserved for formal ceremonies. Hongi means ‘breath of life’ and it signifies the exchange of breath – an act that has deep spiritual meaning for the Maori people.
Wearing Gloves Made of Bullet Ants | South America
A rite of passage for boys of the Satere-Mawe tribe in the depths of South America’s Amazon rainforest is to insert their hands in gloves filled with bullet ants – a large species with a venomous sting that lasts for more than 24 hours. The goal of this ritual is for the boys to withstand the pain for 10 straight minutes. But it’s not over after that – each boy will have to repeat this ritual up to 20 times.
Eating Eggs Cooked in the Urine of Virgin Boys | China
Every spring, people in parts of China indulge themselves in a seasonal delicacy called ‘virgin boy eggs’. This treat, which is sold on many street corners, consists of chicken eggs which are soaked and then boiled in the urine of virgin boys. The ‘special ingredient’ – the urine – is collected from school restrooms. This foul-smelling snack is meant to lower body heat in time for summer as well as to encourage circulation.
Catching a Rolling Wheel of Cheese | England
The annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake in England is quite easily one of the silliest competitions around. In this traditional game, a wheel-shaped Double Gloucester cheese is the main prize. The cheese is released down a hill and participants chase after the cheese, trying to catch it.
Couples Being Doused in Gunk | Scotland
In rural parts of Scotland, it’s not uncommon for a soon-to-wed couple to be ‘captured’, covered in a variety of sticky, messy substances, such as treacle, soot and flour, and paraded around town in an open-air vehicle. This tradition was originally meant to ward off evil spirits, but has now become a somewhat fun, and often alcohol-fuelled prank.
An Opulent Buffet for Monkeys | Thailand
The Monkey Buffet Festival in Lop Buri is nothing short of an extravagant smorgasbord for monkeys. The festival, which was created to boost tourism to this province just north of Bangkok, feeds thousands of monkeys with beautiful towers and arrangements of fruits, vegetables and flowers – a true spectacle.
Force-feeding Single Women | Mauritania
The controversial act of force-feeding women and girls before they get married is alive and well in Mauritania. The act is rooted in the culture’s preference for heavier women, as it’s seen as a physical manifestation of the family’s wealth. There are even professional force-feeders who oversee the feeding of these women and girls, many of whom are unfortunately being fed against their will.
‘Devils’ Jumping Over Infants | Spain
In northern Spain, some locals continue to partake in an age-old tradition called El Colacho, which is part of Corpus Christi, a Catholic feast day. The tradition, which dates back to 1620, involves men (the ‘devils’) dressed in red and yellow jumpsuits jumping over babies lying on mattresses along the street. This risky act symbolises a clearing away of original sin. Pope Benedict, however, did not condone the practice.
Photo credits: Getty Images