Picnic with the Dead in an Idyllic Greek Village

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The Pontics are a group of ethnic Greeks who prospered on the shores of the Black Sea between the years of 1914 and 1923. Over 350,000 of their population perished at the hands of the Ottomans, Kemalists and neo-Turks during the Greek Genocide, and those who remained were forced to leave their homeland to seek refuge in Greece. But even today, this small community manages to keep its age old traditions alive. One of their most notable customs is the yearly ‘Picnic with the Dead’.

Every year on the Sunday after Easter, also known as St. Thomas Sunday, several Pontic Greek families in the village of Rizana make their way to the local cemetery to picnic on the graves of the deceased. Many of them bring along folding tables and chairs, table cloths, traditional meals, vodka, flowers, and candles to set in the midst of the marble gravestones. No one is allowed to cry as the day is seen not as one of mourning, but of celebration in honor of the departed. Family members are seen smiling and greeting each other, “Christos anesti” (Christ has risen), while children laugh and play amidst the graves.

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The Artistic Water Tanks of Punjab

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The state of Punjab, in northern India, is well known for its rich, vibrant culture, including great food, music, and dance. But what most people don’t know is that the Indian state is also home to some of the most extravagant water tanks in the world.

The concrete structures that the people of Punjab use to store water on the roofs of their houses are hardly ever ordinary-looking or boring. Instead, these ‘designer’ tanks come in a variety of unlikely shapes and sizes inspired by people’s interests and experiences. It’s not uncommon to see water tanks modeled after airplanes, army tanks, ships, birds, animals, and even humans!

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Taiwan’s Betel Nut Beauties – Scantily-Clad Girls Peddling Nuts on the Side of the Road

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If you ever happen to visit Taiwan, you might be greeted to the sight of scantily-clad women in neon-lit glass kiosks by roadsides, waiting for men to pull over. Well, they’re not what you think!

These women are ‘Betel nut girls’ who peddle small snacks of tasty, stimulative betel nuts wrapped in betel leaves. They dress provocatively to attract potential buyers, but nuts is pretty much the only thing they sell.

The main roads are filled with around 60,000 such phone booth-style kiosks; they’re so much a part of the nation’s identity that they’re actually featured on old tourist guides. The women who operate the stalls are usually from poorer families, but according to news reports, the job pays more than housekeeping, waiting tables and other conventional jobs.

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In Some Parts of the World Ant Heads Were Once Used as Stitches

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Remember the gut wrenching scene from Apocalypto, where Jaguar Paw’s wife uses ants’ pincers as sutures on her young son? Turns out it was inspired by a real medical treatment used in part of Asia, Africa and South America.

According to survival expert Cody Lundin, who starred on the Discovery reality show Dual Survival, army ants – soldiers that guard the rest of the colony – are known for their whopper mandibles. “I know that in ancient China, they were used as sutures by a lot of native peoples,” he explained on the show. “Take it on both sides of your wound and it’s going to clamp down on your flesh, and when you pinch off the body, it will hold that wound shut. Once they bite on, they don’t let go. You can physically pull their body away from their head, and they will stay embedded in the flesh.”

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Men Shower Themselves with Molten Iron During Fiery Chinese Celebration

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Every year, during the Lantern Festival, the Chinese village of Nuanquan hosts one of the most spectacular pyrotechnics show in the world. Called Da Shuhua (Chinese for “tree flower) the tradition involves experienced blacksmiths showering themselves with molten iron.

Da Shuhua is believed to have originated over 300 years ago, when local blacksmiths came up with a unique alternative to fireworks. The rich would always celebrate New Year with fire crackers, but poor blacksmiths could not afford them, so they had to rely on their to find a cheaper alternative. Inspired by iron striking, the blacksmiths started melting iron at temperatures of around 1,000 degrees Celsius and throwing it at a large stone wall to create an effect similar to fireworks. In contact with the cold stone, the splashed molten iron would generate beautiful iron flowers that rained down on the brave blacksmiths.

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Shocking Mexican Drinking Game Has People Electrocuting Themselves for Fun

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‘Toques’, an increasingly popular Mexican drinking game, is both literally and figuratively shocking! Played among friends who want to affirm their macho status, the bizarre game involves participants electrocuting themselves while drinking to see how much they can handle.

“The drunker people get, the more voltage they can generally handle,” said Javier Rodriguez, who conducts the game in Mexico City’s Condesa neighborhood. “I’ve seen party-goers pass out after 100 volts, although it usually has something to do with what they’ve been drinking.” He visits all the bars and restaurants in the area every day, starting at 3pm and playing into the wee hours of the morning, equipped with a ‘shock box’ containing the metal handles that players have to touch in order to complete the electrical circuit.

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Indian Village Plants 111 Trees Every Time a Girl Child is Born

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While a vast majority of Indians continue to prefer sons, a small village in the Indian state of Rajasthan has its own unique tradition of celebrating their daughters. Since 2006, the residents of Piplantri village, in southern Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district, have been planting a whopping 111 trees to celebrate the birth of a girl!

Given that an average of 60 girls are born each year, the villagers have managed to plant over 250,000 trees so far – including varieties like Neem, Indian Rosewood, and Mango. The community of 8,000 residents is also dedicated to making sure that the trees survive and attain fruition as the girls grow up.

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Buying Love at Bulgaria’s Roma Bridal Market

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The Romani people, who constitute one of Bulgaria’s largest ethnic minorities, have a unique marriage tradition – a ‘bride market’. Held four times a year on various religious holidays, the market is a chance for poor families in the community to arrange financially beneficial marriages for their children.

The families that gather in the city of Stara Zagora for the festival are part of a gypsy community of 18,000 Roma known as Kalaidzhi. They are traditionally coppersmiths, and among the most poverty-stricken people in the nation. The bride market is a chance for these families to get together, catch up on gossip, and arrange matches for their adolescent children. The event is a colorful one, with grannies dressed in traditional Kalaydzhii long skirts, and children running about and eating candyfloss.

The prospective brides are usually dressed provocatively in mini skirts, with gobs of mascara, flashy jewellery and towering heels. They dance alongside their male suitors on car hoods, which is quite rare in a community that generally does not allow youths to mingle with the opposite sex. In fact, the Kalaidzhi, who are devout Christians, take girls out of school at age 15 to keep them away from temptation.

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Indian Priests Smash Coconuts on Devotees’ Heads in Bizarre Good Luck Ritual

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Every year, thousands of devotees travel to a remote village in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu to put themselves through a gruesome ritual that they hope will bring them good health and success. Believe it or not, men, women and even children willingly permit priests to smash hard coconuts on their skulls!

Breaking coconuts on a sacred stone as an offering to the deity is a common practice in South Indian temples. But breaking them on one’s own head is quite rare, and viewed as an extreme display of devotion. Several devotees squat on the floor in a line, waiting patiently as the temple priests approach with a sack of coconuts. One priest holds the heads firmly, while the other one brings down the coconuts without hesitation. The whole process is completed in a matter of minutes.

Some devotees can be seen wincing in pain as the coconuts come crashing on to their heads. Some massage their heads, while others promptly collect the broken pieces as holy offerings. Surprisingly, there are a few who don’t flinch at all – these people are often in a deep meditative state of prayer. Nonetheless, medical staff are always present to tend to serious injuries.

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The Eerie Smoked Corpses of Papua New Guinea

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For centuries, the Anga tribe of Papua New Guinea’s Morobe Highlands have practiced a unique mummification technique – smoke curing. Once smoked, the mummies aren’t buried in tombs or graves; instead, they are placed on steep cliffs, so that they overlook the village below. The very sight of a string of charred, red bodies hanging off the mountains might seem quite grotesque, but for the Anga people, it’s the highest form of respect for the dead.

The process itself is carried out carefully and thoroughly by experienced embalmers. At first, the knees, elbows and feet of the corpse are slit, and the body fat is drained completely. Then, hollowed-out bamboo poles are jabbed into the dead person’s guts, and the drippings are collected. These drippings are smeared into the hair and skin of living relatives. Through this ritual, the strength of the deceased is believed to be transferred to the living. The leftover liquid is saved for later use as cooking oil.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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