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10 of the Most Shocking Cultural Traditions in the World

Culture is the way of life of a group of people. Despite civilization and the advancement of the modern world, some cultures have not changed significantly from their old beliefs, traditions, and customs. From creepy to bizarre to outrightly disturbing, some practices from around the world are understandably hard to comprehend still exist, especially by those coming from a different side of culture. Brace yourself for these ten of the most shocking cultural traditions in the world, some of which may leave you feeling transfixed or give you nightmares.

1. Living with Corpses in Indonesia

Living with Corpses in Indonesia

In Indonesia, the Toraja community living in the mountains of South Sulawesi has a different perspective on life after death. Having the presence of the deceased loved one is not uncommon in every house in the community because it’s part of their custom. When people die, the Toraja people believe that they are not really dead and that there is still a human connection that exists between them. The corpses are being treated like the living, being regularly fed, bathe, talked to and groomed on a daily basis.

The burial of dead family members can take weeks or sometimes months to happen because of the high cost of a funeral which also helps explain why corpses remain in homes for a long time. During the funeral, all of the family members and relatives from distant areas gather for a big feast, prayers, and ceremony. The Toraja community believe that dead ones would have a smoother journey to the afterlife when buffaloes and pigs are being sacrificed. If no sacrifices are made, it is believed that souls cannot reach up to heaven.[1]

2. Bride’s Aunt Verifying Groom’s Sexual Potency by Having Sex With Him in Uganda

Bride’s Aunt test Run Sex With the Groom by Banyankole tribe of Uganda

In this part of Africa, it is considered vital for the men to have the capacity to please his wife sexually and the Banyankole tribe of Uganda have an unlikely way of doing this by having the aunts involved in between the couples.

Before the wedding ceremony of a couple can take place, it is the customary role of the bride’s aunt to sleep with the groom verify his potency and virility before she has to test her niece’s virginity. As if that is not enough. Sometimes, the duty of the aunt may include examining the potency of the bridegroom by watching the sexual intercourse between him and her niece. The marriage is only allowed to be consummated when the aunt confirms that the groom is potent for his bride during a wedding tradition. It has to be one of the weirdest cultural traditions anywhere.[2]

3. Infants Throwing in India

At the Muslim shrine in the Maharashtra State of India, there is a common practice involving newborn babies being tossed off the roof of a 50-foot temple where it is believed that it will bring them good luck, give them long-life, make them stronger and ensure prosperity for their families. From 30 feet below, some villagers are waiting and standing by with a large sheet to catch the infants before being returned to the anxiously waiting parents.

This ritual practice became widely known after it was filmed exposed to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to investigate. The commission does not approve of this superstitious ritual practice since it brings harm to the children and is against India’s children’s rights and therefore ordered this traditional ritual to be banned. In Solapur, the local police authorities claimed that they had not received any reports of this dangerous baby throwing tradition since 2010.[3]

4. Fire-Walking Ceremony in Malaysia

Fire-Walking Ceremony in Malaysia

In Malaysia, during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival – a Taoist celebration, one of the purification rituals carried out in Ampang involves walking barefoot on burning embers in Sum Sun Sin See temple. In this ritual, it is believed that fire has the power to overcome impurities, repel any evil influences and brings good luck to one’s soul. The firewalking also symbolizes the acceptance of Yang and the bridge crossing ceremony of the eight-day which is Yin. Only men are allowed to participate in this ceremony.

Hundreds of men walk barefooted across the fire carrying some temple deities and other ritual objects such as dried tea leaves and bundles of garments that will benefit from the power of Yang. When all of the men have crossed the firepit, the coals are doused with water and pieces of coals are passed out to the worshippers because it is believed that coals have been blessed by the emperor and has the power to bring good luck when carried back home.[4]

5. Eating the Dead’s Ashes in Brazil

Eating the Dead’s Ashes in Brazil

The cultural tradition of the Yanomami tribe from Brazil and Venezuela forbids them to keep any parts of their deceased’s body. The native tribe believes that the soul can only make its transition and attain eternal peace when the body is being burned and eaten by the family and relatives. The Yanomami burial rituals are done by burning the dead bodies. The bones are crushed and mixed with the ashes, pulverized and mixed with bananas for banana soup which will be consumed amongst all of the tribe members.

The tradition is also practiced so that the family can consume the memories and wisdom of the deceased. The belief is if this ceremony is not carried out, the soul of the dead will become lost and remain trapped between life and death. The spirit cannot transition to the spiritual world without completely vanishing from the material world. Based on the Yanomamis’ religious beliefs, only the ceremony of eating the ashes and bones of a dead tribe member can help their soul journey to paradise.[5]

6. Self-Mummifying Monks in Japan

Self-Mummifying Monks in Japan

In the 11th and 19th century, the act of sokushinbutsu or self-mummification was being practiced by the Japanese monks of Yagamata in Japan. Based on the belief of many religions, an undying corpse has an exceptional ability to connect with a force which goes beyond the physical realm. The Japanese Shingon monks practiced the ritual of self-mummification in pursuit of offering salvation to humanity and believed that this sacrificial act would grant them entry to Tusita Heaven, where they are blessed to live for 1.6 million years and will be able to protect humans on Earth.

The process of self-mummification can take at least three years where it required the monks to eliminate all fats from their body and adopt an extreme diet of “tree-eating” known as mokujikigyo. The monks live on this diet that lasts for 1,000 days of just tree roots, berries, nuts, resins, and pine needles. To have their body naturally preserved as a mummy without decaying, the monks stop drinking any liquid to dehydrate the body and shrink all organs. As their death approached, the monks continued with their state of meditation while resting in a small, tight, cramped pine box.[6]

7. Bullet Ant Gloves in Brazil

Bullet Ant Gloves in Brazil

A bullet ant has the most painful insect sting in the world. It’s the worst pain known to man that is comparable to a bullet hitting the flesh, hence the name bullet ant. A sting of a bullet ant can give paralysis, disorientation, and hallucinations and it takes up to 24 hours for the excruciating pain to recede.

In Amazon rainforest of Brazil, the Satere-Mawe tribe have an excruciatingly painful ritual that all young boys must endure to transition into men. When a young man reaches the stage of young adulthood, he must go out into the jungle with other boys just about his age and meet the medicine man known as Mawe. The Mawe gathers hundred of bullet ants and then sedate the ants with herbs. While the bullet ants are unconscious, they are placed into woven gloves with stingers on the inside, and the boys must wear the gloves for full ten minutes while they dance to keep them distracted from the pain.

. The boys must withstand the sting of hundreds of bullet ants to be accepted as men by the tribe as this manhood ritual is meant to prepare them to become a warrior and a hunter, ready to face the dangers of the jungle for his tribe. Before the young men of the Satere-Mawe tribe can gain the status as men, they must experience this excruciating pain for 19 times without a fail.[7]

8. Widow’s Suicide (Sati) in India

Widow's Suicide (Sati) in India

Sati (also called suttee) is an obsolete ancient tradition among Hindu communities in India practiced in the early centuries BCE to the mid-1990s. In this shocking tradition, when a woman loses her husband, she has the choice of committing suicide by burning herself on the funeral pyre next to her deceased husband. It symbolizes the voluntary act of a wife’s devotion to her husband and a way to follow him to the afterlife. It eventually became a compulsion for women to be burned at the side with their deceased husbands. Widows are forced to do this practice because they are considered a burden and have no role to play in society.

The ritual of Sati has different ways of executing widows. Women can sit on their husband’s funeral pyre or lie down next to them. Some women are required to jump or walk into a burning pyre after it has been lit. Others can sit on the pyre and then light the fire themselves. There are also some other methods to make the execution less torturous for the women. They can drink poison, use drugs or get snake-bitten so that they can start dying slowly or become unconscious before entering the pyre.[8]

9. Newlyweds Bathroom Ban in Indonesia

Newlyweds Bathroom Ban in Indonesia

On the island of Borneo, the largest Indonesian island, the Tidong community believes that newlywed couples can enjoy a long and happy fertile marriage if the bride and groom follow the ancient tradition of not using the bathroom for three days and three nights after their wedding ceremony. If this custom is not observed, it is believed that it will bring terrible bad luck to the couple, resulting in a broken marriage, infidelity and the death of their children at a young age.

During the ritual, the bride and groom are carefully observed by their families and several other people and are given only minimal amounts of food and drinks to avoid breaking this tradition. They also believe that forbidding to use the bathroom for three days can strengthen the bond between the couple. After the three days are over, the couples are bathed and permitted to resume to their normal life and begin a perfect marriage.[9]

10. Finger Amputation in Indonesia

Finger Amputation in Indonesia

In the fertile lands of the Baliem Valley in West Papua, Indonesia, the Dani tribe has a cultural practice of expressing their grief during funeral ceremonies. While mourning the deceased, they represent their physical form of emotional pain through amputating one of the upper halves of their finger. It is also to express the great love they felt towards their loved ones. The finger cutting is specific to only the women of the Dani tribe. Also, just a few older men are involved in this practice.

To make the amputation painless, they tie a string tightly around the upper part of their finger for 30 minutes to make it go numb. They then have one of their close family members – mother, father or a sibling cut it. After amputation, the mutilated fingertips are cauterized to prevent severe bleeding. Another reason for the amputation of the finger is to make it easier for them to forget the pain of their deceased relative. The finger-cutting ritual has been banned in recent years. However, it is not uncommon to see older women of the Dani tribe with all snipped fingers.[10]

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