Mystifying Rituals: 40 Unique Customs Practiced Around the World

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1Maasai tribe

Maasai tribe

In a weird and bizarre tradition in Africa, people of the Maasai tribe (ethnic African group found in Kenya and Tanzania) spit on one another while greeting their friends.

2. The custom of wearing a hat greatly diminished when cars with little headroom were created.

3. The original US Constitution set no term limits on the President. George Washington voluntarily retired from office after two terms, establishing an informal two-term limit. This custom lasted for nearly 150 years until Franklin D. Roosevelt broke the tradition.

4. A tradition of High Wycombe in the United Kingdom, involves its Mayor being weighed annually in public on a specially erected scale, and their weight compared with the previous year. If it has increased, it means they have been indulging in too much good living at taxpayers' expense, and the crowd jeers and boos.

5. According to Romani Gypsies tradition, if a boy/man who is single kidnaps a girl and is able to keep the girl hostage for 3-5 days, then he has legally all the rights to get married to the girl.

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6Dog king

Dog king

In the 6th century a Swedish king – to demonstrate his low opinion of the Danes – sent a small dog to Denmark and officially made it their king. Appointing dogs to rule the conquered became a tradition in Scandinavia. They were given thrones and mansions and routinely signed paw-print decrees.

7. It was an ancient custom in Japan for a literate person to compose a poem as they lay dying. The custom has continued into modern Japan.

8. Hanging coffins are an ancient tradition in some parts of China, Indonesia and Philippine. It is believed that hanging the coffin prevents the dead’s body from being taken by beasts and will also bless the soul.

9. During the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, Queen Salote Tupou III of Tonga refused to cover her carriage when it started to rain because she was following a Tongan custom that says one should not imitate the actions of the person they are honoring.

10. The first time a Navajo baby laughs, the family throws a party. The person who made the baby laugh provides the food.

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Bridesmaids all wear matching colors because of an old tradition that dictated they not only dress like each other but like the bride herself in order to confuse evil spirits or those who wished to harm the bride.

12. Jallikattu is a traditional bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu, India where the bull is not killed and the competitors are unarmed.

13. People of the Mantawaians tribe in Indonesia have a belief that women look more beautiful if they have sharp pointy teeth, so these tribal women chisel their teeth to attain the desired look.

14. There exists a Greek wedding tradition in which the bride write the names of their single girlfriends on the bottom of their wedding day shoes with a belief that the first woman’s name to be erased will be the next to get married.

15. After death, Jewish tradition requires that the body be wrapped in a plain linen shroud and the clothing and coffin be simple to make sure that poor do not receive less honor in death than the rich.

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There was a Roman priesthood whose job was to perform a specific dance and chant around sacred shields. Since this ritual was unchanged for centuries, later Romans had no idea what the ritual actually meant while still continuing the tradition.

17. The skull binding tradition in old Mayan culture was done by distorting the normal growth of the skull of a child as small as a month old for six months. The people with deformed elongated head were believed to be more intelligent, of higher status and closer to the spirits. 

18. William the Conqueror introduced a custom to the United Kingdom. According to this custom, people would leave their homes and move to a summer home to aid the grape harvest. Due to the act of vacating their usual home, this custom was given the name: vacation.

19. There is a time-honored tradition of allowing brewery employees all the free beer they wish while working: It's called Der Sternewirth.

20. There was an ancient Persian custom to debate “affairs of weight” while drunk and sober. The same conclusion had to be reached when drunk and sober to be acted upon.

21HMS Birkenhead

HMS Birkenhead

The tradition of "women and children first" protocol is a legacy from the Birkenhead, a ship that ran into a dangerous reef, and whose soldiers famously stood firm allowing the women and children to board the boats safely as there were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers.

22. Spartan marriage involved a custom of capturing a woman, shaving her head, and dressing her in a man's clothing. Then the groom/capturer would secretly visit her and finally, sleep with her. All Spartans were required to marry at the age of 30.

23. The Karen tribe of Thailand follows a bizarre tradition of wearing rings on their neck to get a large neck. They believe that the large neck is a symbol of beauty and elegance.

24. In some parts of China there is a bizarre belief that if a husband carries his pregnant wife over burning coals bare feet, the wife will have easy and successful labor.

25. For centuries, Hindus in India practiced Sati, where widows were obliged to commit suicide upon their husband's death, often by self-immolation on their funeral pyre. The British banned it in the 19th century.

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