The World’s Strangest Social Rituals

September 25, 2019
In this article, we highlight five of the strangest social rituals in the world.

It isn’t easy to choose a selection of the strangest social rituals in the world. If you delve a little deeper into the subject, you’ll realize that the planet is full of customs that are very different from your own. Most of them are surprising and some are downright strange.

Social rituals or rites celebrate the most important moments in life as a community. The main ones are births, deaths, becoming an adult, and marriage. They are times of great change, and that’s why they end up being represented by so many rituals.

In the West, there are also rituals that might seem strange to those in other parts of the world. However, some of the rituals are actually more similar to ours than they seem at first glance. The way of doing it changes, but what they’re trying to represent is the same. Thus, let’s look at five of the strangest social rites in the world.

“”What is a rite?'”asked the little prince. “Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”.”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry-

The world’s strangest social rituals

1. The initiation ritual of the Satere-Mawé tribe

Initiation rituals, especially for men, often include cruel or very difficult practices that they have to overcome. Some of the strangest social rites in the world are initiation rites. One of the strangest takes place among the Satere-Mawé tribe, a community that lives in the Amazon and has barely come into contact with Western civilization.

You may not have heard of the Satere-Mawé, but you may have heard of guarana. This tribe was the one that discovered its special properties and shared it with the West. Well, in this community, for a child to be accepted as a man, they must go through an extremely difficult test. They have to put on gloves full of bullet ants, 20 times in a row, and for a period of about 10 minutes.

Bullet ants cause very painful bites, which some compare to touching a hot iron. During the ritual, many people faint, and recovery can take several weeks. However, the prize is that they are accepted as adults within the tribe.

A boy taking part in one of the strangest rituals in the world.

2. The Yanomami have one of the strangest social rituals

Death is another circumstance that gives rise to some of the world’s strangest social rites. The Yanomami, who live in the jungle areas of Venezuela and Brazil, perform a very curious ritual. When someone dies, their body is left exposed for a day. The next morning, women have to paint their faces in a dark color in order to express their sorrow. They also have to cry.

All the deceased person’s belongings are placed next to them, and are set on fire along with the deceased. If they don’t burn completely, then it’s because the person did something that can’t be forgiven. The following month, the family have to return, collect the ashes, and pour them over a banana soup, which everyone eats. It’s a way for the deceased to remain within those who survive.

3. A death ritual in the Baliem Valley

In Papua New Guinea, there’s a tribe called the Dani. They celebrate one of the world’s strangest social rites, and it also has to do with death. When a man dies, then the women and children of the family have to have one of their fingers amputated. The person in charge of doing this is a priest.

The priest observes the reaction of women and children at the time of amputation. If they resist or show a lot of pain, then they don’t just amputate one finger but several. They make a necklace with the amputated fingers, and put it on the deceased person before they bury them. The Dani still haven’t been able to abandon this cruel ritual.

A tribe with strange social rituals.

4. Babies and good luck

Birth is another time of life that gives rise to the strangest rituals in the world. One of them has been taking place for about 700 years, in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, in India. An old superstition there says that if they throw their babies from a height of 30 feet, and catch them in a sheet then that baby will have health and prosperity.

The authorities have banned this ritual, although the locals claim that it doesn’t cause any harm to the little ones. Despite the restriction, they continue to practice the ritual. Superstition has been stronger than laws or reason.

5. An interesting wedding ritual

The nuptial union also gives rise to several strange rituals throughout the world. One of the most curious takes place in certain areas of Scotland. Shortly before the wedding, both the groom and the bride are smeared with sticky food. They bathe them in tea and put raw eggs on them, as well as butter, puddings, and other sticky food.

A Scottish wedding.

Afterward, the couple has to go out and walk around the town, totally smeared with this food and smelling awful. They say that this public humiliation prepares them for marriage because no marriage problem could be worse than this ritual.

All these rituals, in one way or another, celebrate or mark life’s most important moments. Sometimes they’re difficult to understand, but for each society they have a special value and meaning, which helps them to make sense of life’s momentous occasions.

Turner, V. (2002). Dramas sociales y metáforas rituales. Ingrid Geist, compiladora, Antropología del ritual, México, enah/inah.