Fishing with Otters in Bangladesh – A Dying Tradition

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Otter Fishing has been a long-standing tradition in Bangladesh. For centuries, fishermen have been using trained otters to lure fish into their nets – a unique technique passed on from father to son that has long died out in other parts of Asia. Bangladeshi fishermen have managed to keep it alive so far, but the future of otter fishing seems uncertain due to the dwindling  population of fish in the country’s rivers.

As a part of the tradition, fishermen lower their nets into the water close to the banks of the river. As they do this, their pet otters also dive tails up into the water with a splash. The animals do not catch the fish themselves, but chase them towards the fishing nets for the fishermen to haul in. Otter fishing is generally practiced during the night, with some fisherman throwing their nets until dawn trying to catch enough fish to support their families. Their hard work yields anywhere between 4 and 12 kilos of fish and shrimp every night.

A fishing family makes about $250 a month with the modest catch. “Our job depends on the otters,” said Shashudhar Biswas, a fisherman from Narail district in southern Bangladesh. “The otters manage to spot fish among the plants, then the fish swim away and we stay close with our nets. If we did it without them, we wouldn’t be able to catch as many fish,” his son Vipul added.

Otter-Fishing

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Caga Tio – Catalonia’s Wacky Present-Pooping Christmas Log

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Caga Tio is a Christmas tradition in the Catalonian region of Spain. Caga is pronounced caca, and it means ‘poop’. Tio means ‘tree trunk’ or ‘uncle’. So it is basically a tradition of the pooping tree trunk. What does the trunk poop? Why gifts, of course!

The Caga Tio is a small log of wood with a painted face and two front legs. It makes an appearance in homes every year on the 8th of December, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Children keep the log as a pet until Christmas, feeding it and keeping it warm. They believe the log will grow if they feed it properly.

There is no such thing as a growing log, of course. The parents actually replace the logs every few days with larger ones. It’s easy for families who live in the country; they just go outside, find a piece of wood and paint a face on it. Urban parents have a tougher time. They have to trek into the woods to find larger Caga Tios. But mostly they just buy new ones from shops. The Caga Tio is done growing by Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The full grown log is placed in the center of the living room and covered with a large red blanket. Children gather around, sing songs and hit the Caga Tio with sticks repeatedly, until it ‘poops’ out the presents. Earlier, the tradition was to place the log partially in fire, ordering it to defecate. There aren’t many modern households with fireplaces anymore, so now it’s just down to hitting the log.

Caga-tio

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Bambu Gila – The Crazy Bamboo Dance of Maluku

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Bambu Gila is a mystical ritual performed in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands, where a group of strong men struggle to control a piece of bamboo from moving around like crazy as if it were possessed by an unseen power.

The origins of Bambu Gila, or Crazy Bamboo, are unknown, but it is believed the ancient ritual was once used to induce a fearless fighting mentality before going to war. Today, the once warring tribes of Maluku live in piece and this unique tradition has been reduced to a popular tourist attraction. Preparations for Bambu Gila start with a special ceremony in which the local shamans ask permission from the spirits that still dwell in the nearby bamboo forests to cut down a log for the famous dance. Crazy bamboos are  brought from Mount Gamalama, the volcanic mountain in Ternate, Northern Maluku, where the spirits are believed to be the strongest, cut to a specific size, cleaned and rubbed with coconut oil. During the actual ritual, seven of the strongest villagers are selected to handle the bamboo which supposedly starts to move by itself and becomes increasingly heavier and more difficult to control, after a ginger-chewing shaman recites strange mantras and blows incense into it. Although it’s hard to believe there are supernatural forces at work, the performers put on quite a show that attracts thousands of visitors from all over Indonesia and beyond.

Bambu-Gila

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The Game of Gostra – Running Up a Greasy Wooden Pole in Malta

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Every year, on the afternoon of the last Sunday in August, brave young men from all over Malta compete in the traditional game of “gostra”, trying to run all the way to the top of a long greasy pole and snatch one of the three prizes.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, the game of gostra was practiced all through the festive summer months, in various locations around the islands of Malta and Gozo. A wooden pole measuring about 10 meters long was mounted on a coal barge and towed to harbor towns and seaside villages around the Maltese coast, where it was smeared with grease and animal fat. Brave local men would try to run up the pole and reach one of the symbolic flags at the top in order to claim a prize. Today, the traditional game is only held in the towns of Msida and Spinola Bay, in honor of St. Joseph and St. Julian. The pole stretches out into the water, and only half of it is covered in grease, but in order to have a higher chance of reaching the flags before slipping off the slippery wood, most competitors prefer to run up the pole, hoping they can maintain their balance long enough to snatch one of the coveted prizes. This sometimes causes them to fall awkwardly hitting the log on their way down into the sea, and injure themselves.

Gostra-game

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The Huli Warriors of Papua New Guinea and Their Elaborate Wigs

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The Huli Wigmen are a tribe that inhabit several villages in Papua New Guinea. They are known both as some of the most fierce warriors in the region and as masterful “hairstylists”who craft flamboyant wigs out of their own hair.

Not much is known about the origins of the Huli men’s tradition of crafting wigs from their own hair. When researchers discovered the tribe, they were already practicing the custom, and since they are believed to have lived in the area for at least 1,000 years, the tradition must have been developed sometime during this period. Males in their late teenage years and early 20′s leave their community behind and go to Bachelor school, where older man teach them all about manhood, including how to make beautiful wigs from their own hair. They are sequestered in the jungle for at least 18 months, after which they can return to their villages or stay a while longer to acquire more knowledge and improve their skills. The wig-making process starts with the trainees growing out their hair. When it’s big enough, the shaping of the wigs begins while the hair is still attached to their heads. Most of the shapes are saucer-like, so the men have to sleep with bricks and other objects under their heads to keep their heads off the ground and prevent the hair from getting flattened.

Huli-wigmen

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Hari Kuyo – Japan’s Unique Memorial Service for Broken Needles

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Hari Kuyo is a Japanese festival dedicated to old and broken needles. Celebrated every year on the 8th of February, this festival sees hundreds of women dressed in colorful kimonos, gathering at various Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples in and around Tokyo. This 400-year-old ritual involves sticking old and broken needles into soft chunks of tofu or jelly as a way of showing thanks for their hard work. I suppose this tradition springs from the Eastern system of displaying gratitude towards objects that are a source of livelihood. It also reflects on the animist belief that all beings and objects have a soul.

It’s not just about needles, several Japanese women consider Hari Kuyo as a time to value the small, everyday objects of daily life that are otherwise forgotten. Mottainai is the concept of not being wasteful about small things. Burying needles in tofu is said to symbolize rest for the needles, as they are wrapped with tenderness. It’s also about the many sorrows that women are believed to carry in their hearts, the burdens of which are passed on to the needles during many hours of sewing. So the needles do deserve a proper farewell and rest at the end of their service. According to Ryojo Shioiri, a Buddhist monk, “Sometimes there are painful things and secrets that women can’t tell men, and they put these secrets into the pins and ask the gods to get rid of them.”

Hari-Kuyo-custom

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Weeping for Strangers – The Professional Mourners of Taiwan

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In Taiwan, staging a dramatic funeral for relatives who have passed away is of the utmost importance. So, to create the proper atmosphere, wealthy families hire professional mourners who cry, sing and crawl on the ground to show their grief.

Taiwan’s “filial daughter” phenomenon emerged during the 1970s, when sons and daughters left their families to work in the city. Transport was limited, so if one of their parents died and they couldn’t make it back in time for the funeral, they would hire a filial daughter to take their place and lead the family in mourning. For some Taiwanese, showing grief in a dramatic fashion is the highest reverence for relatives who have passed away, because funerals are considered the most important times to honor one’s family. But not everyone has it in them to shed tears and show their pain in public, so to help create a grieving atmosphere, they hire professional mourning daughters. They chant, dance and wail, warming the hearts of the audience and helping them release their emotions. Crying on command isn’t easy, but professional mourners, like 30-year-old Liu Jun Lin, say it helps to really get involved in the event and consider the family that hired them their own. ”I just imagine that I am part of the family and I fuse myself into the occasion,” she says.

professional-mourners

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Pink Lip Tattoos – The Latest in Nigerian Men’s Fashion

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One of the most bizarre beauty procedure I’ve recently come across is tattooing the lips pink, which is apparently very popular in the African county of Nigeria. The main reason for this practice seems to be that women find men with pink lips more attractive.

The other day, someone emailed me a link to a video of a Nigerian guy getting his lower lip tattooed pink, in what looks like a very unhygienic tattoo parlor. To be honest, I thought it was just an isolated case, a guy who just wanted to be different, like the girl who tattooed Drake’s name on her forehead. But it got me intrigued, and after doing some research online, it seems this really is a trend among Nigerian men. According to Battabox.com, who documented the procedure in the short video, young men pay around 7,000 Nigerian Naira ($45) to have their black lips cleaned of excess skin and tattooed with a pink paint to make them lighter. Although the guy in the video didn’t show any signs of pain, having a sensitive spot like the lips tattooed can’t be very pleasant.

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Indonesian Tribe Believes Chiseled Teeth Make Women Beautiful

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If tattooed black gums are considered a thing of beauty in West Africa, it’s chiseled, pointy-sharp teeth that’s the ‘in thing’ for some Indonesian tribes. I do wonder though, why it’s always the women who have to subject themselves to bizarre beauty rituals.

Well, we may not be able to answer that question any time soon, but we can tell you about Indonesian tooth-filing, a beauty regimen that 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. Mantawaian is one such village, where the wife of the village chief, Pilongi, had to go through with it a couple of years ago. She had managed to avoid the ritual when she was a young teenager, but as the wife of a powerful man in the village, she had to oblige him by becoming more beautiful.

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A Gap in Style – Front Teeth Removal Is Trendy among South African Youth

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It’s rare for fashion trends to last as long as 60 years. But this one tradition has never gone out of style among generations of youth in Cape Town and other regions of South Africa – dental modification. It sounds odd, but the South African youngsters actually like to sport toothless smiles, after getting their front teeth removed. Dressed mostly in baggy sweaters and caps drawn low over shiny sunglasses, the gummy smile is unique to these young South Africans who like to strike gangster poses. According to 21-year-old Yazeed Adams, “It is fashion, everyone has it.” The trend is often referred to as the ‘Cape Flats Smile’. The name comes from a populous neighborhood where this bizarre body modification is done by a large number of teens. But Jacqui Friedling of the University of Cape Town’s human biology department, who studied the phenomenon in 2003, says that she found fashion and peer pressure to be the main reasons for removing teeth, followed closely by medical reasons and gangsterisms. “It is the ‘in’ thing to do,” she says. “It went through a wave, it was fashionable in my parents’ time.” True enough, the practice has been around for at least 60 years now. Traditionally, dental modification such as filling of teeth and ornamentation was found only in tribal people. In modern Cape Town, it is seen as a rite of passage for teenagers, most often from the poorer families. Some stories say that the tradition started from the fisherman, who couldn’t communicate with each other on boats. So they created the ‘gap whistle’ as an effective means of communication. The men today feel their ‘gaps’ attract women, and vice versa.

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The Fattening Farms of Mauritania – Force-Feeding Young Girls in the name of Beauty

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While the whole world is obsessed over getting thin, it seems there are far-flung places in the world today where fat is still considered a thing of beauty. Not in a good way, though. In the West African nation of Mauritania, it is so important for girls to be fat that they are sent away to fat camp – the opposite of the western version – during school holidays, to put on oodles of weight.

According to women’s rights campaigner Mint Ely, girls as young as five are subjected to the tradition known as Leblouh each year. Leblouh is an attempt to groom young girls for potential suitors, involving the consumption of gargantuan amounts of food; even vomit, if it refuses to stay down. Ely says that in Mauritania, a woman’s size indicates the space she occupies in her husband’s heart. So to make sure no other woman can ever have room, girls are sent away for Leblouh at special farms where older women will administer the necessary diet. It’s rather appalling to know that 5, 7 and 9-year-olds are expected to consume a daily diet of two kilos of pounded millet mixed with two cups of butter and 20 liters of camel’s milk. Their daily consumption comes up to a whopping 16,000 calories.

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Ghost Money – Currency of the Afterlife

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If there is indeed such a thing as afterlife, the Chinese and Vietnamese might just be the richest people there. And that’s because their living relatives make sure they are well provided for – by throwing money into flames. Well, not real money. Only fake notes. This fake money is commonly known as ghost money, “Joss paper” and as ‘pinyin’ (literally ‘shade’ or ‘dark’ money) in Chinese. The ghost money, along with other papier-mâché items (usually expensive stuff) are burned as a part of Chinese tradition – on holidays to venerate the deceased, and also at funerals, to make sure that the spirits have plenty of good things in the afterlife.

Traditionally, Joss paper is made from coarse bamboo paper or rice paper. The Joss is cut into squares or rectangles and has a thin piece of square foil glued in the center. Sometimes, it is even endorsed with a traditional Chinese red ink seal depending on the particular region. The paper is generally of a white color (symbolizing mourning) and the foil is either silver or gold (representing wealth), hence the name, ghost money. The three types of ghost money are copper (for newly deceased spirits and spirits of the unknown), gold (for the deceased and the higher gods), and silver (for ancestral spirits and local deities). Sometimes Joss paper is completely gold, engraved with towers or ingots. The burning of joss paper is not done casually, but with a certain reverence, placed respectfully in a loose bundle. Some other customs involve folding each sheet in a specific manner before burning. The burning is mostly done in an earthenware pot or a chimney built specifically for this purpose.

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Black Gums Are Considered a Sign of Beauty in West Africa

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I’ve read about people getting tattoos on the weirdest places of their bodies, but this one just beats them all. Never before have I heard of people getting their gums tattooed. Not in any particular design, but just a uniform black color. This is actually a popular practice among women in West African countries like Senegal, because over there apparently, black gums are a thing of beauty.

Tattooed black gums are especially popular in small towns and villages like Thies, in Senegal. Women here practice this ancient tradition to get a smile that is considered more attractive. Of course, the process is nothing short of painful. Marieme, from Thies, is one such young girl to have gone through the procedure. I watched a documentary on YouTube that covered her journey from having regular gums to the more desirable black variety. Before she went for it, she said, “I want black gums to obtain a more beautiful smile. It’s become an obsession. I do fear the procedure. But I’ll be OK.”

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Women Living As Men – The Sworn Virgins of Albania

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Earlier this year, we posted about Bacha Posh, the little cross-dressing girls of Afghanistan who spend their childhood dressing and living as boys. But there are places in this world where women swap genders for an entire lifetime. Albania is one such place, where sworn virgins exist in accordance with their familial code of ethics called Kanun, of Leke Dukagjini.

According to the non-religious Kanun tradition, families in some parts of Albania must be both patrilineal and patrilocal. This means the family wealth is always inherited by the men, and a woman moves into her husband’s home after marriage. Marriages are arranged at a very young age, if not at birth, and once deemed eligible to marry, the woman must become a part of her husband’s family. The role of a woman is severely circumscribed, reduced to taking care of the children and maintaining a home. A woman’s life is considered to be worth only half of that of a man. For the followers of the Kanun tradition, dress is an important marker to distinguish between genders. The men wear trousers, close-fitting caps and wrist watches, while women are dressed in skirts, headscarves, aprons and sometimes even veils. That actually doesn’t sound too odd, does it? But here’s the twist – a woman can choose to become a man in a Kanun society, by simply dressing like one. So an Albanian woman who dresses like a man, is a man. A change in dress is all that’s needed for a change in gender. Born out of a social necessity, women who become men in Albania are called Virgjinesha (the sworn virgins).

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In Thailand People Change Their Names to Improve Their Fortunes

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You might have heard of people changing their names because they didn’t like the ones their parents gave them. Or in an attempt to change their identity and escape their past. But in Thailand, name changes are common for a different reason altogether – to bring good luck.

A case-in-point is 46-year-old Baramee Thammabandan, formerly known as Teerapol Lilitjirawat. While neither name strikes us as charismatic, the change has made a world of difference to Mr. Baramee. About 10 years ago, he had suffered a major misfortune, when his garments business had failed. His eyesight became poor, he couldn’t manage his affairs and to make matters worse, his wife left him. And so he did what is natural to the people of Thailand – he changed his name. “I wanted to become a new person,”  the now clean shaven and slim Baramee says. Ironically, his new name does mean ‘charisma’.

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