Weird and Wonderful Customs Around the World
It stands to reason that on a planet as large, diverse, and old as ours, cultures from every corner have developed distinct customs and practices. People create belief systems, unique and exciting ways of looking at the world, and device their own approaches to life. When we travel, we do so in part because we want to be a fly on the wall in someone else’s culture; to see it for what it truly is, to understand it and to learn from it.
Here’s a list of fascinating customs and practices from around the world.
1. Monkey Buffet Festival, Thailand
Monkeys have it made. Not only are they cute and smart, but in Lopburi, Thailand, they’re also celebrated. Because they’re believed to bring good luck, the local macaques of Lopburi are honoured with an elaborate festival, complete with an opening ceremony and 2 tonnes of food laid out specifically for the animals. If you’re wondering what this looks like, freshly cut fruits and vegetables, like durian, cabbage, watermelon, oranges, and pineapples, are stacked as towers between the structures of the Phra Prang Sam Yot temple, where the event takes place.
However, the monkeys can get aggressive and mean and can harass tourists, including stealing wallets, sunglasses, and other things from you. If you’d still like to visit, the festival usually takes place in November, though the exact dates vary.
2. Haka, New Zealand
This mesmerising dance is a Maori practice, now accepted as a part of New Zealand’s heritage. Performed in a large group, the dance uses lively, energetic moves, stamping, and chanting. Haka is performed by both men and women, and “Kapa Haka” or “line dance” is in fact taught in schools. The New Zealand national rugby team, the All Blacks, also performs a haka before every game.
The legend of the Haka is an especially poetic one. Tama-nui-te-ra, the sun god, had a son with Hine-raumati, his wife. The boy was called Tane-rore. In the summertime, the air appears to flutter in the heat. The Maori believe this to be a sign that Tane-rore is dancing for Hine-raumati, and it is this that has inspired the Haka. One step in particular, the rapid movement of the hands, is a symbol of Tane-rore’s dance.
Although the Haka is believed to be a war dance, it’s actually performed on many special occasions, including weddings and birthdays.
If you want to see a Haka, performances happen at the Auckland Museum. You should also visit Maori cultural centres for the most authentic experience. These include Te Puia and Tamaki Maori Village.
3. Himba Hair, Namibia
The Himba are a tribe in Namibia whose women are well-known for their distinctive braids. The women cover their skin in paste made from animal fat, ash, and a locally available stone, ochre, that adds a deep red pigmentation to the mixture. It’s called otjize, and it acts like sunscreen. They also coat their hair with it, creating those iconic red locs.
Women’s hair is an important signifier of her status and age. Young girls wear two braids that come down on their face. The braids of a girl in puberty fall over her eyes, to help her avoid a man’s attention. A woman with braids worn back is ready for marriage, and a married woman wears a headdress made out of sheep or goat skin.
The Himba people’s culture today faces threats from modernisation, as younger people are distancing themselves from the tribe’s traditional culture and moving to the cities.
4.Food Preservation, Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, one ancient and unique way of preserving food was to bury it in dry sand. This technique was used for food like jak seeds, lime, and several varieties of potatoes. Another method of food preservation was to put game meat in honey. This was primarily practiced by the Veddah community, an indiginious forest-dwelling tribe in Sri Lanka.
5. Pandan Leaves War, Bali
A unique, if violent, event that takes place in the village of Tenganan in Bali. To honour the god of war, Indra, men of the village must fight in this coming of age ritual that pits them against each other in ceremonial battle. Participants’ ages vary dramatically: children as young as 8 and men as old as 80 fight.
They use clubs made of serrated pandan leaves, and defend themselves with rattan shields. The blood spilled in the process is seen as a sacrifice to the gods, and wounds are tended to with traditional medicine made from tumeric and vinegar.
The event, locally called Perang Pandan and mekare-kare, takes place every year and draws curious tourists from around the world. Usually, the event is held around June or July.
The world is so big and so weird. Every time you think you’ve seen it all, some new shocker will come along and warp your simple two-dimensional views on how life works. And that’s fine. That’s good. That’s how you grow, that’s how you learn. That sense of wonder, and sometimes bewilderment is one of the rewards of stepping out of your comfort zone and daring to see the world.