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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Indian Believers Roll in Food Scraps of Higher Caste to Cure Their Illnesses

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A century old ritual in India dictates that those considered low-caste Hindus must roll in the remains of food eaten by members of a higher caste. But it’s not the ritual itself that’s strange. The strange part is that while social activists are actually seeking to outlaw the practice, the ‘low-caste’ Hindus don’t want to stop rolling in the leftovers.

The ritual, called Madey Snana (Spit Bath) is specific to the state of Karnataka, during an annual event at the famous 4000-year-old Kukke Subramanya temple in the coastal district of Mangalore. It is also followed at the Sri Krishna temple in Udupi town. As a part of the century-old Snana, Dalits (members of a lower caste) roll over leftover food eaten by Brahmins (the upper caste) every year, in the belief that all their troubles will disappear and ailments will be cured. It is practiced every year on the festival of Champa Shasti or Subramanya Shasti. Last year alone, 25,000 people rolled over the ‘spit’ of the Brahmins. This happened even as the district administration watched helplessly after their attempts to ban the practice failed.

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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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Strange Wedding Customs – The Crying Ritual of the Tujia People

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Throughout history, various cultures have had strange requirements of their women. But none perhaps as strange as the custom of crying before marriage, as followed in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. According to the custom, it is mandatory for a bride to cry at her own wedding, whether she likes it or not.

The crying marriage ritual was at its peak during the early 17th century and remained so until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. It is said to have originated during the Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC), when historical records reveal that the princess of the Zhao State was to be married into the Yan State. At the moment of the princess’ departure, her mother is said to have cried at her feet, asking her to return home as soon as possible. This is said to be the first crying marriage ever. Although the custom is not as popular now as it used to be, there are still a large number of families that practice it with gusto. In fact, it is a necessary procedure for marriage among the Tujia people, in China’s Sichuan Province. The ritual itself is pretty simple – the bride has got to shed tears. If she doesn’t or is unable to, her neighbors will look down upon her as one of poor breeding. Worse still, she could even become the laughing stock of her village. In one extreme case, the bride was beaten by her mother for not crying at the wedding. Perhaps the girl was too happy to be free from her mother?

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Liars Face Off in World’s Biggest Liar Competition

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Every year, experienced liars from all over the globe gather in Santon Bridge, a tiny village in Northwestern England, to compete for the coveted title of world’s biggest liar. Before you make any suggestions about who should participate in this wacky contest, you should know politicians and lawyers are barred from entry, as they are considered to have an unfair advantage.

The World’s Biggest Liar competition is held every year, in November, in honor of of 19th-century Bridge Inn landlord Will Ritson, who was famous for his incredible stories. He always claimed his tales were true, although most of them sounded like this: the turnips in Wasdale (a valley in Cumbria) are so big that after locals quarry into them for their Sunday lunch, they can be used as sheds for their sheep. In honor of this legendary liar, the Santon Bridge pub has been organizing a competition to crown the world’s biggest liar. Competitors have just five minutes to tell the biggest and most convincing lie they can think of, without using any props or scripts, or telling jokes. Over the years, people have won the contest with stories about World War II German submarines invading England to capture digital television decoders, or magical journeys to Scotland in trash cans that went under the sea. It’s reported that one year, a bishop went on stage and won the contest with a single line: “I have never told a lie in my life!”

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Indian Men Get Trampled by Cattle in Traditional Ritual

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In villages around the Ujain region, in India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh, men lay down on the ground and have their cattle trample all over them, as part of a bizarre centuries-old ritual.

There are a many things people will do in order to have their prayers answered by their gods, but until today, I didn’t know getting trampled by cattle was one of them. In a weird example of blind faith, dozens of villagers from Bhidawad village and neighboring settlements decorate their cattle with colours and henna in different patterns, then lay down on the ground and get trampled by the confused animals. The ritual takes place on the occasion of Ekadashi, a day after Diwali, the popular Hindu festival of lights, which was celebrated around the world on November 13. The whole village gathers in the streets to witness the painful event that they believe will make Hindu gods answer their prayers. “This is a traditional festival observed during Ekadashi fast after which the entire village’s cows are made to run over men lying on the ground, ” local Rekha Dubey told reporters. “We worship the cows before the ritual and also fast for five days and sing hymns during the festival.”

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Indonesian Villages Use Piles of Sand Instead of Mattresses

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The residents of three small fishing villages in the Batang region of Indonesia prefer to sleep on piles of sand than on modern mattresses. This ancient tradition that’s still practiced today for its supposed health benefits.

Taking a nap on a sandy beach is pretty relaxing, but can you imagine going to sleep on a pile of sand every night? For the people of Batang-Batang, there’s really no comparing mattresses to their amazing sand beaches. As the only thing they have in abundance, sand plays a crucial role in the life of these coastal communities. It’s everywhere around their homes, cooling their feet on hot summer days, and keeping them warm during the night, and it even enters their houses as comfortable beds. Even the richest of residents prefer sleeping on sand than on mattresses, and even if some own conventional beds, they are mostly for decorative purposes. The villagers, most of them fishermen, believe the sand brought in from nearby beaches has medicinal properties that can help with a variety of conditions, from rheumatism to itches, although there’s no scientific proof of this. However, it’s a known fact that the sand in the area is highly adaptive to air temperature. When the air is hot, the sand offers a nice cooling retreat, and on cold nights, it keeps the villagers warm.

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Dung Spitting Competition Will Leave a Bad Taste in Your Mouth

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Kudu Dung Spitting is an African sport popular enough to have its own official competition, in which contestants have to put a kudu dung pellet in their mouth and spit it as far as possible.

Some people use dung to make coffee taste better, but in some parts of Africa it’s used to fuel a weird pastime called Bokdrol Spoek. Roughly translated as “spitting buck droppings  this quirky tradition has people putting dung pellets in their mouth and spitting them as far as they can. The origins of kudu dung spitting can be traced back to tribal hunters who had difficulties catching the fast antelope. Most times the only sign of the animal was a trail of dung, which meant it had been there but it was long gone. Apart from swearing at the elusive kudus, hunters would engage in a contest of pellet spitting, to pass the time. In countries like South Africa, the disgusting custom is so popular that there’s even a championship held every year to find out who can spit a piece of antelope poop the farthest.

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Button Crazy – London’s Pearly Kings and Queens

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The Pearly Kings and Queens of London, commonly referred to as “pearlies”, are an organised charitable tradition of working class culture in London, England. They raise funds to provide a better way of living for those less fortunate, but they’re best known for their flashy outfits decorated with thousands of pearl buttons.

Pearlies can be traced back to the year 1875, when the organisation was founded by Henry Croft, a 13-year-old street sweeper and rat catcher who dedicated his life to raising money to help children raised in orphanages. Henry himself was an orphan, and after he left the orphanage, at age 13 he became fascinated by London’s costermongers, a guild of colorful street traders who always helped one of their own when he was in trouble. They would organize a “whip round”, collecting money to help fellow costermongers get back on their feet. Traditionally, costers elected Kings’ to lead them against bullies seeking to drive them from their’place of business. They all wore clothes decorated with pearl buttons so they could easily be identified. The buttons were sewn down the outside leg seam of their pants, from the knee down to the ankle, on the pockets of their waistcoats and the front of their caps. Henry was fascinated both by their lifestyle and their dress code and decided to take their fashion style to a new level by decorating a whole suit with pearly buttons, while at the same time raising money for various causes. He became an attraction wherever he went, and one point he was so popular that Hospitals and other charities started asking him to collect money for their causes. But he needed help in his quest to help the sick and poor, and it help from his costermonger friends, who later became known as the Pearly Kings and Queens of London.

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Gotmar Mela – India’s Centuries-Old Stone Pelting War

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For over three hundred years, the residents of Pandhurna and Sawargaon, two Indian villages located on the banks of the river Jaam, have been engaging in a bizarre stone-pelting ritual called Gotmar Mela that leaves hundreds critically injured and even dead.

The stone war of Gotmar Mela, as its sometimes referred to, takes place every year, on the second day to “Bhadrapad’ (the new moon day). A tree trunk is fixed in the middle of Jaam River, and a flag tied on top of it. On the day of the bloody event, people from Pandhurna and Sawargaon gather on each of the river banks and arm themselves with stones. The bravest of them run towards the tree and try to climb high enough to grab the flag, while the mob on the other side tries to prevent them from doing so by showering them with large stones. The village who manages to snag the flag is declared winner. The rules of Gotmar Mela are pretty simple, but who ever takes part in it knows full well it might be the last thing they do, as hundreds are critically injured and even killed, each year.

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Huangluo – The World’s First Long-Hair Village

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Hair is very important to women, who generally use it to highlight their features, but for the women of the ethnic Yao people of Huangluo Village, China, hair is their most prized possession.

Located in the Longji Scenic Are of Gulin, China, Huangluo Village numbers around 82 households of Red Yao ethnics, who get their name from the traditional red clothing. Like many other Chinese villages, Hunagluo enjoys very attractive natural surroundings and has plenty of ancient traditions to keep tourists entertained, but the most fascinating thing about it is the women’s obsession with long hair. In fact, the Yao settlement has received a Guinness certification for the “world’s longest hair village” and is also known as the “Long Hair Village” across China. Considering the average hair length of the 120 women in Huangluo is 1,7 meters and the longest locks exceed 2.1 meters, I’d say its reputation is well-deserved.

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Chinese Puzzle Balls – The Rubik’s Cube of the Ancient World

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For centuries, Chinese arts and crafts have been known around the world for their incredible beauty and finesse. If I were to pick a single object that best describes the Chinese attention to detail it would surely be an ivory puzzle ball. It’s definitely one of the most incredible things I have ever seen.

Chinese puzzle balls are ornate decorative items that consist of several concentric spheres, each of which rotates freely, carved from the same piece of material. Although the master carvers of old used ivory, in modern times you can find puzzle balls made of synthetic ivory, resin, wood, jade, and other materials. These detailed works of art are usually made up of at least 3 to 7 layers, but the world’s largest puzzle ball is actually made of 42 concentric balls all enclosed one within the other. Although the inner balls can be manipulated to align all the holes, Chinese puzzle balls got their name from people who, through the ages, pondered the mystery of making such objects.

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Bovine Boarding at Pakistan’s Traditional Bull Races

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If you think surfing and snowboarding are extreme sports, then you’ve probably never seen what happens in Pakistan, during traditional bovine races. It involves bulls, a board and dirt.

Tens of thousands of people gather whenever there is a bull race held in Pakistan. They are usually the highlight of festivals organized in rural areas of the Asian country, and attract lots of spectators due to their thrilling nature. Watching a bunch of oxen running alongside each other might not be your idea of a fun time, but add a man on riding a board on a dirty track trying to guide the animals, and things become pretty exciting. The traditional competition  attracts landlords and farmers from all around the province where the race is held, and they all bring their fastest and strongest bulls in hopes of gaining a reputation.

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Agni Keli – Unique Indian Tradition Encourages Fighting Fire with Fire

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Agni Keli, also known as the Fire Fight of Kateel Durga Parameswari Temple, in Mangalore, India, is a unique ritual which has hundreds of devotees throwing burning palm fronds at each other, to appease the Hindu goddess Durga.

Each year, the Festival of Kateel Durga Parameswari Temple is celebrated over 8 days, in the month of April. It commences on the night before Mesha Sankramana Day, and features a series of themed performances, the most intriguing of which is Agni Keli. On the second night of the festival, hundreds of devotees gather at the temple of Durga, in Mangalore, to carry out a centuries-old tradition that involves throwing and getting hit with burning palm fronds. The fiery action attracts thousands of spectators, who watch as the torch-wielding men try to set each other ablaze.

Photo: Daijiworld ..

The Ancient Sport of Camel Jumping in the Deserts of Yemen

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The men of the Zaraniq tribe, on the west coast of Yemen, have a truly unique tradition – they jump over a row of camels just like modern daredevils jump over cars.

Famous throughout Yemen for their speed, strength and courage, the members of the Zaraniq tribe are the world’s only professional camel jumpers. Taking running starts, jumpers try to sail over as many camels as possible, before tumbling to the ground. During camel jumping events, the one who leaps over the highest number of camels is considered the winner. “This is what we do,” says Bhayder Mohammed Yusef Qubaisi, one of the champions of the the Tihama-al-Yemen, a desert plain, on the coast of the Red Sea.

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