Physical Deformities in the Name of Tradition – The Cullatori of Nola

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La Festa dei Gigli, or The Festival of Lilies, is held every year in the Italian town of Nola. In celebration of St. Paulinus, who in 410 AD saved his people from the invading Visigoths, local man carry heavy wooden obelisks on their shoulders through the streets of Nola, which in time causes them to develop giant calluses.

Artistic photos of men sporting different-size growths on the back of their necks and shoulders have been making the rounds online for a few days now. It turns out they are the works of Italian photographer Antonio Busiello, who recently won first prize at The Royal Photographic Society’s International Print Exhibition. The men in his photos are known as “cullatori” or cradle rockers, and they are responsible with carrying large wooden obelisks on their shoulders during the annual Festa dei Gigli, in Nola, southern Italy. These decorative structures are 25-meters high and weigh around 2,500 kilograms. The cullatori carry them through the narrow streets of Nola for a day and a night without stopping, which leaves them with huge calluses on their backs and shoulders. But the most fascinating thing about these keepers of an ancient tradition is that instead of hiding their physical deformities, they display them with pride as symbols of their sacrifice and devotion to Saint Paulinus, who once gave up himself and all his possessions to save the citizens of Nola during the Visigoth invasion.

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The Amazing Stone Jumpers of Nias Island

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Hombo Batu or Stone Jumping is an ancient ritual of Nias Island, North Sumatra, with young men leaping over stone walls over two-meters tall. The tradition was born out of inter-tribal conflicts and was once potentially deadly as the walls were covered with spikes and sharpened bamboo sticks.

Centuries ago, Nias Island was divided into several regions ruled by landlords or warlords. It was not a hereditary position, nor was it gained by force, but rather through entertainment of the masses. Whoever threw more parties known as “owasa” gained the favor of local communities and became their leader. But organizing these festive events didn’t come cheap, and the island’s landlords would constantly fight each other and use the spoils of war as funding. To start a war, they needed able brave men who had to prove their worth at drafting challenges. Becoming a soldier was a big honor for the young men of Nias and earned them a higher social status in the community, but physical attributes and weapon mastery were not enough to convince their leaders. They also had to jump over a 2.3-meter-tall stone wall without touching it. To make things even harder for candidates, the top of the obstacle was covered with spikes and sharp bamboo sticks, and the jumps often resulted in serious injuries and even deaths. According to some sources, Hombo Batu was also a way of training soldiers to jump over walls during a siege and light the enemy’s camp ablaze with torches.

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Japan’s Hand Canon Fireworks Look Insanely Dangerous

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Out of all the impressive fireworks celebrations held annually all around Japan, Tezutsu Hanabi is by far the most eye-catching. Experienced masters hold large bamboo tubes filled with black powder in their arms as flames gush out towards the sky. Did I mention they explode at the end?

Tezutsu hand cannons are believed to have originated as a form of long-distance communication smoke devices called Noroshi. With the introduction of smokeless gun powder, these Civil War era tools started being used as fireworks and later as a form of prayer at Yoshida Shrine, in Toyohashi. The Tezutsu Hanabi fireworks display has been carried out for the last 300 years, as part of the Gion Festival, attracting tourists from all over Japan and beyond with columns of flames up to 20 meters-high piercing the night sky. Seeing dozens of men walking around nonchalantly with 80-cm-long, 10-cm-wide bamboo cylinders filled with over three kilograms of ignited black powder is indeed quite the spectacle.

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Red Bull 400 – The Toughest 400-Meter Race in the World

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Even if you’re not a professional athlete, completing a 400-meter race doesn’t sound like that big of a challenge, right? But what if that relatively short distance had to be covered up the steepest ski jumping hill in Europe? That certainly complicates things a bit, doesn’t it?

The Red Bull 400 uphill race is the brainchild of former world-class sprinter Andreas Berger. After seeing the ski jumping hill in Kulm, Austria, he got the idea to use the venue for the world’s most extreme 400-meter track and field event. Berger and his wife were the first to run up to the very top, and decided it was difficult enough but still doable. The first ever edition of the Red Bull 400 took place in 2011, and every year since then hundreds of athletes, both male and female have signed up to push their muscles to the limit in “the hardest 400 meters in the world”. Kulm is one of the steepest slopes on Earth, with an average gradient of about 45% and an angle of ascent of 37 degrees in its toughest sections. The difference in altitude from the bottom to the top is 180 meters, but it’s not just the vertical climb runners have to worry about. The grass-covered lower part of the track is very slippery, and spike or crampon footwear is not allowed, while the second stage takes place on smooth concrete, forcing participants to change their approach.

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Revelers Throw Dead Rats at Each Other as Part of Bizarre Spanish Festival

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Having a dead rat thrown straight in the face might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but for the people of El Puig, the yearly Battle of the Rats is an eagerly awaited event. During the bizarre celebration, people pick up frozen rat corpses and throw them at each other in the name of fun.

Every year, on the last Sunday of January, the town of El Puig, north of Valencia, hosts the Batalla de Ratas, or Battle of the Rats, one of the weirdest fiestas in Spain. Locals and tourists from all over the world gather in the main square to bash cucañas, a kind of local piñada. Sounds like a fun time, only there’s a catch – the goodies in half of these colorful cucañas include dead rats. Instead of running away in disgust at the sight of rodent corpses falling to the ground, festival goers rush to pick them up and throw them at the crowd. If you’ve been hit by a dead rat, it’s customary to grab it and throw it back at your attacker. It’s a good thing we’re not in the Middle Ages anymore, and the bubonic plague is nearly extinct, but still, I can’t help but think there’s something really unhygienic about throwing rats at people. In their defense, the people of El Puig only use frozen and previously-prepared corpses of humanely-killed rats.

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Only in the Philippines: Riding on Wooden Scooters at 50 Kilometers Per Hour

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The municipality of Banaue, in the Philippines, is widely known for its spectacular rice terraces, but few people know it’s also the setting of a traditional race that has daredevils riding wooden scooters downhill at speeds of up to 50 kph, without any kind of protection.

The wooden scooter has long been the preferred means of transportation for Ifugao (Philippine for “people of the hill) in Banaue, and is still used today, as a cheaper alternative to gas-powered motorcycles and scooters. They were created centuries ago to help people travel downhill faster. The men-folk had to walk up the surrounding hills almost every day to gather firewood and tend to their rice crops, and carrying the load back down was an exhausting task that took them hours to complete. People started making light scooters almost entirely out of wood, and pushed them uphill whenever they had something to transport back to their village. At the top, they would simply strap the load on both sides of the vehicle and let gravity take them back down in a matter of minutes. In time, making wooden scooters became an art form, and masters of the craft began decorating them with all kinds of designs, from local animals and birds to human heads. Today, the Ifugao still celebrate this useful invention by participating in a seven-kilometer wooden scooter race down a steep road along the famous Banaue Rice Terraces.

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England’s Shin-Kicking Championship Is a Painful Affair

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Sometimes described as an English martial art, shin kicking is a centuries-old combat sport in which two participants kick each other in the shins until one of them falls down. Needless to say there is a lot of pain involved.

The origins of shin kicking are lost in the mists of time, but some experts say it started as a variation of wrestling, at least five or six hundred years ago. The brutal sport has been a part of the famous Cotsworld Olympik Games since the 17th centuries and it’s still practiced today. The rules of shin kicking are very straightforward: the two combatants grab each other’s collars and start kicking until one of them falls down. Although pushing or pulling is permitted, contestants have to kick their opponent in the shins at least once before they hit the ground for their win to count. Matches are won by the person who wins two out of three rounds. As you probably know, shin kicks really hurt, so participants are allowed to stuff their pants with straw in order to cushion the painful blows. Still, the organizers of the annual Shin Kicking Championship say the pain is so bad that the vast majority of participants never return. This year, Zak Warren, the previous champion actually defended his title, but it’s a very rare occurrence.

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Look But Don’t Bite – China’s Mouthwatering Stone Food Banquets

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Petrified pasta, juicy braised pork, rocky dried fruits and many other delicious-looking dishes are all part of China’s rare stone food banquets. The spread is nice to look at, but trying to sneak a bite will cost you a few teeth.

People in the mountainous regions of China know how to appreciate beautiful rocks, and some spend their whole lives gathering different kinds of rocks, scouring specialized stone shops and trekking through rugged mountain passes and desserts in search of unique additions to their collections. Strangely shaped or colored rocks are considered a feast for the eyes, and stones that resemble food are considered even more wonderful. It takes a lot of time and luck to find naturally shaped pieces of carnelian or jade that look good enough to eat, but dedicated stone collectors have proven it’s possible, on a number of occasions. Organizing stone food banquets is a long-standing Chinese tradition, and even in modern times it manages to draw media attention and keep stone collecting popular.

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Executive Boxing Takes Corporate Rivalry to a New Level

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The gloves were on at the second ever Executive Fight Night, in Tokyo, last week, as 14 corporate executives from seven different countries went into the boxing ring for some good, clean fun and settling rivalries between companies.

“To usher in a new era of fitness amongst stressed-out Tokyo executives and stage a safe, professional and unprecedented, Vegas-style Boxing event that would become a regular hit on the annual Tokyo social calendar.” This is the mission of Ginja Ninjas, the offbeat company behind Executive Fight Night. It was founded by three corporate employees who after a stressful week at work got together and decided that enough was enough, executives needed a way to let off some steam, and what better release valve than boxing? Bringing a unique form of entertainment to the masses wasn’t enough for the “ninjas”, who decided to donate all the proceeds from the event to various charities. It also made it harder for corporate bosses to say no to a boxing invitation, but according to organizer Dave Thomas, the rivalry between Tokyo companies is enough to get people into the ring.

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Extreme Barbie Jeep Racing Is No Child’s Play

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Every years since 2010, the guys at Busted Knuckle Films have engaged in one of the most fun-yet-dangerous off-road sports in the world – the Extreme Barbie Jeep Race. Don’t let the name fool you though, it’s serious business.

The concept behind this unique extreme sport is pretty simple. All you need is one of those power-wheels vehicles for kids and the courage to ride it down a steep hill slope, trying not too fall off or hit any trees. Participants compete for bragging rights and a few hundred dollars, but the race is more about the adrenaline rush and the fun involved in riding kids’ toys in an off-road environment than anything else. It’s pretty cheap too, as these cars can be picked up from the side of the road for free after they’re thrown away by parents who don’t understand their full potential. But like any other extreme sport, the Barbie Jeep Race can be dangerous, with the cars picking up serious speed on the rough terrain. To protect themselves against any serious injuries from falling off the plastic cars, being run over by others or hitting a tree on the side of the improvised race track, competitors wear metal helmets.

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Making See-Through Wood at Japan’s Unique Planing Competition

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Every year, wood planing experts from all over Japan meet up for a very unique competition in which everyone tries to shave off the thinnest piece of wood possible. I don’t know how skilled you are with a hand plane, but these guys can actually peel off see-through slices of wood that are measured in microns.

If you’re not familiar with the hand plane, it’s a tool used to smooth out the surface of lumber and timber. But at the wood planing finals held during the annual Kezuroukai exhibition in Japan, participants use it not to show off their wood smoothing skills, but to shave off the thinnest strip of wood possible. They are each assigned a bench to use for about two hours, during which time they exercise their planing technique, adjusting and sharping their tools for when it matters most. When the contest starts, each competitor has three tries to shave off the thinnest piece of wood in front of a judge who uses a special tool to measure the thickness. But producing strips of wood thin enough to see through doesn’t require only proper tools and practice, but also great wood, so planers are allowed to bring bundles of whatever wood they think yields the best result. Last year, the wood planing competition was held in the port city of Uwajima, on the island of Shikoku, and the thinnest shaving was only 9 microns thick. A micros is one-thousandth of a millimeter…Just to give you an idea of how impressively thin that is, the average human hair is 100 microns across, a cloud water droplet is 10 microns in diameter, and a human blood cell measures 8-9 microns. Even more incredible is the fact that the record for the thinnest shaving currently stands at 3 microns.

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Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse in England’s Scarily Realistic Street Game

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If you’re a horror flick fan, you probably remember 28 Days Later, one of the best, most realistic zombie movies ever made. It told the story of a small group of survivors fighting for their lives in zombie-infested England. Now, a game company is giving people the chance to experience their fear in an adrenaline-packed street game called 2.8 Hours Later.

Ever since it launched in 2010, 2.8 Hours Later has been played by over 20,000 people from all around the globe. It’s advertised as the world’s largest touring street game, held in various cities across Great Britain. Based on the hit movie 28 Days Later, and its less-successful sequel, 28 Weeks Later, the game puts participants in the shoes of survivors during a zombie virus outbreak looking for shelter while trying to avoid getting infected. That’s really just the most simplistic way to describe 2.8 Hours Later, because the game is actually a lot more complex. For example, Asylum, the newly released version of the urban running game features a rich story of the events which led to the catastrophic pandemic. UK cities are locked-down by the Government to protect their inhabitants from the zombie-infected badlands surrounding them, but the measure fails, and when authorities decide to abandon survivors, the city becomes a hell-hole overrun by the infected, vigilantes and bounty-hunters. Players are thrown in this chaotic world of disease, quarantine and murder, and confronted with deeply emotional choices to save themselves and their loved-ones.

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Battle of the Queens – Switzerland’s Ultimate Cow Fighting Championship

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Every year, the peaceful Swiss village of Aproz becomes a battleground for Herens cows, a breed of cattle known for its genetic predisposition for combativeness. During the Battle of the Queens (Combats de Reines) the animals get a chance to fight each other for supremacy.

Before you pick up the phone to call your favorite animal rights association, you should know the Battle of the Queens is nothing like the bloody bull fights organized in Spain. Here, farmers take great care of their prized “queens”, making sure they don’t suffer any serious injuries. Plus, there really isn’t much fighting going on, either. The territorial cows mostly lock horns and push each other with their foreheads, until one of them turns around and walks away, accepting defeat. Some of the fighters have lost horns or gained battle scars in the event, but no serious injuries were recorded in recent events. Herens cows, named after Val d’Herens in Valais, have an aggressive instinct that makes them fight among themselves for leadership of the herd. These so-called queens then take part in regional and national rounds of traditional Swiss cow-fighting, with participation in the final Battle of the Queens as their ultimate goal. The event draws in hundreds of cattle farmers from across Switzerland, eager to test their champions in horned combat, as well as a crowd of spectators. Those who can’t attend, watch the fighting on television or listen to it on Rhone FM, a radio station in Valais with a weekly cow fight program.

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North Korea’s Amazingly Choreographed Human Mosaics

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Take tens of thousands of children, place them in the largest stadium in the world, arm them with giant colored flip-books containing hundreds of colored panels, train them to move in perfect unison and you get the awe-inspiring human mosaics of the Arirang Mass Games, in North Korea.

The Arirang Festival Mass Games held in Pyongyang, are the largest and most impressive exercise of state propaganda in the world. The event runs from August to October, and offers an incredible spectacle of perfectly choreographed gymnastics, dancing, singing, and of course, praising the achievements of the communist nations’s eternal leader Kim Il-Sung.  The games aren’t held every year. They are suspended in case of national emergencies, like when flooding ravages the country and the Government decides the hundreds of thousands of performers are better put to use repairing the destroyed infrastructure. But when the trained human pixels get the chance to perform on Rungrado May Day Stadium, in front of a crowd of 150,000 people, they make the performers of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony look like a group of children staging a simple school play. Every 20 seconds for a period of two hours they switch the panels of their flip-books to create stunning mosaics honoring Korea’s cultural heritage and its political regime.

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FootGolf – Fun New Sport Combines Football and Golf

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FootGolf is an addictively fun sport that combines golf and football (soccer). It’s usually played on golf courses and players have to putt a football in 21-inch holes using as few kicks as possible.

The origins of footgolf are unclear, but its conversion into an official sport can be attributed to the Netherlands, where the ruleset was standardized in 2009. Its popularity has expanded around the world ever since, and every day more and more football and golf fans choose to replace the club stroke with a good healthy kick. In this new precision sport, players are required to kick a football into a cup in as few shots as possible. Most of the rules correspond to those of golf, and there is even a dress code. The first shot has to be played from the tee, and obstacles like bunkers, trees, water and hills have to be avoided for an easier game. In some countries, the game also features man-made obstacles that the players are not allowed to touch or move in order to get the ball in the hole. Players have to combine powerful kicks with strategic plays in order to complete the 9 or 18 hole course as fast as they can.

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