You Think Tractors Can’t Dance? Check Out Tractor Square Dancing

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It’s strange, but true – tractor square dancing is a real thing. It involves daisy chains and do-si-dos too.  But instead of people dancing on their feet, four seated couples maneuver vintage tractors to complete the moves.

Laurie Mason-Schmidt, the caller for Farmall Promenade (the most popular tractor square dancing group), said: “We are all from Nemaha, Iowa. We have real jobs, believe it or not.” Since it isn’t an organized sport, there are no real statistics available on how many other such groups exist. Most people only come together to perform at one-time events.

The origins of tractor square dancing can be traced back to the fifties. An ad campaign in 1953 by tractor manufacturer International Harvester is believed to have started it all. The ad aimed to show off the fast hitching abilities of their Farmall Super-C tractor. It came with the latest technology (back then) that allowed farmers to switch implements as easily as changing dance partners.

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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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Chinese Undergo Plastic Surgery to Change Their Destiny

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In the Western world, most people undergo cosmetic procedures like rhinoplasty, eye lifts and chin implants in their quest for a youthful and attractive appearance, but in China they are considered sure ways of improving one’s fortune and changing fate.

According to Mian Xiang, the ancient Chinese Art of Face Reading, a person’s facial features compared to their date of birth say a lot about their future. For example, small and sparse eyebrows show a lack of vitality and strength, whereas a hidden mole within the eyebrows indicates a successful break and monetary gain. A “double forehead” or a full prominent forehead means that person is very intelligent and has the capacity to retain a lot of information, while the bulbous end of the nose is called a “wealth palace” and its size and shape reveal a man’s ability to store wealth, and a woman’s chances of finding a rich and supportive husband. Basically the shape, size, placement and color of each facial feature is believed to reflect an individual’s health, personality traits, luck and future career prospects. In order to improve their chances of hitting it big in business, finding true love or improving their luck, many Chinese have their features altered according to the instructions of face reading masters.

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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.

Tezutsu-Hanabi

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The Ancient Art of Tibetan Butter Sculpting Is Melting Away

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For the last 400 years, Tibetan monks have been using butter from yak milk to create large and intricate sculptures inspired by stories of Buddha, animals or plants and putting them on display during the annual Butter Lantern Festival. Unfortunately, the long and difficult process of making these exquisite works of art has led to a shortage of gifted lama artists.

The art of butter sculpting was born from the Tibetan tradition of giving Buddha everything they got from their domestic animals. Nomadic tribes with large herds of sheep and yaks regarded the first butter from each dri (female yak) as the most precious one and offered it to Buddhist monasteries, where monks shaped it into beautiful colored sculptures and offered it to the enlightened ones. The tradition was passed on from generation to generation, and even today, dozens of Tibetan monks work for months on a single giant butter sculpture that must be ready before the 15th of January, the climax of celebrations of the Tibetan New Year, as it mark the triumph of Lord Buddha over his six non-Buddhist teachers who challenged him in performing miracles. During the day, people pray in temples and monasteries, and as the night comes they head to Lhasa’s Barkhor Street to admire the hundreds of artistic butter sculptures, ranging from just a few centimeters in size to several stories high. This colorful display attracts millions of tourists both from Tibet and abroad.

Tibetan-butter-sculpture

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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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Eyeball Scraping – The Vanishing Trade Practiced by Sichuan Barbers

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Barbers in China’s Sichuan Province have practiced the art of eye-cleaning with a sharp blade for centuries. Like many other ancient traditions, this dangerous trade is slowly vanishing, but you can still find a few barbers willing to scrape your eyeballs with a knife for as little as RMB5 ($0.80).

According to an old Sichuan saying, cleaning the eyes makes the beauty of life more visible, and some people are prepared to go under the knife to make sure they don’t miss a thing. Nicknamed “knife-blade eye cleaning”, the practice of scraping a person’s eyeballs and eyelids with sharp utensils has been a part of Chinese culture ever since ancient times. The craft was supposedly popularized by brothers Zhou Chengfu and Zhou Chengyin, who followed their father’s footsteps and excelled in the technique of servicing the eyeballs, ears and necks of clients, but in recent years it has almost died out. Still, if you look hard enough, you can still find eye-cleaning stands even in modern cities like Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu. 53-year-old Liu Deyuan has been successfully running his small eye-cleaning business for 7 years, offering a head shave and an eye scrape for just RMB5. With many long-term clients lining up to get their eyes cleaned every month, the skilled barber says business is still pretty good.

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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.

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Bizarre Dog-Spinning Ritual Believed to Ward off Rabies

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When we were kids, we played this game where we would twist a pencil innumerable times into a loop of thread and then let it go, watching with fascination as it spun around at top speed. It was a fun game, but I never imagined that somewhere in the world, the same thing was being done to living creatures.

Brodilovo is a small, remote village in the South-Eastern part of Bulgaria. Here, villagers are so afraid of rabies that they have a centuries-old tradition to ward off the disease. The bizarre ritual involves the spinning of dogs, just like the pencil game, on a rope, hanging over a small stream. It is practiced once a year and is believed to help keep rabies at bay. The process that the dog is put through is quite enough to give animal rights activists nightmares. Dogs are twisted in a rope that is stretched out tautly over, and are then let go. The dogs spin out of control and then tumble into the water below. Since they reach very high speeds, they are often unable to swim when they hit the water. A net is held at the bottom for the animal to fall into, and then helped out of the water.

dog-spinning-Bulgaria

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The Sacred Antogo Fishing Ritual, or How to Catch All the Fish in a Lake in 15 Minutes

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Just beneath the village of Bamba, in the Northern part of Dogon country in Mali, lies a small, yet sacred lake, where fishing is permitted only once a year – during the unique ritual called Antogo.

In the past, Bamba is said to have been covered in lush green forests. The lake, which is considered to be sacred and populated with good spirits, used to offer tons of fish that contributed to local food requirements. But with changes in climate, desertification, and the passage of time, the region gradually became dry, infertile and inhospitable. The locals now face huge problems such as unavailability of water, but the lake still represents a precious resource to the local Dogons, but one which they exhaust every year during Antogo. The event is held on the 6th month of the dry season, generally in May, but the exact date is fixed each year by the council of wise men. Saturdays are market days in Bamba, and for the first three market days of the month wooden sticks are placed in the middle of the lake, acting as a signal, a warning that the ritual is getting closer. On the day that is finally designated as the day of Antogo, hundreds gather from all parts of Mali around Bamba’s lake. The 3 biggest groups are formed by the most respected and ancient families of various Dogon villages. The group from Bamba itself is usually the largest. These groups of people maintain a collective mystical silence, except for the wise who recite incantations and praise deities. When they are done speaking, the ritual itself – and all the magic associated with it – begins.

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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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