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By Kanyanta E. Kauma

ONLY a few days ago, viewers all across the country  and world at large witnessed  one of the most prolific and anticipated traditional ceremonies on Zambian  soil; the N’cwala ceremony of the Ngoni people,

This rich and colourful ceremony beamed live on the national broadcaster for  hours on end, punctuated by loud chants and stomping feet as Ngoni  impis (warriors) of all ages and sizes braved the blazing heat for the annual ceremony –  a beautiful reminder of the resilience and passion of the  warrior clan.

For first time viewers of the ceremony however, the festivities provided  a bittersweet spectacle; exposing the diversity and vibrance of local culture yet simultaneously highlighting its occasional barbaric and primitive nature.

In a day and age where much more visibility is given to both human and animal rights, many parts of this local event arguably bore a number of head-turning and unacceptable practices that would easily drop the jaw of any activist.

This includes the decorated public stabbing of a helpless bull with the imperial Paramount Chief himself slurping up the dark red fluid that oozed from its dying heart, offering bits of its freshly roasted guts as a triumphant treat to his venerated guests.

With the world constantly changing, the motives and necessity of such cultural practices are being questioned with each passing day, raising questions on just how far tradition and customs will be allowed to go in coming years.

With such rites coming under fire each day under the  intense scrutiny and attention of a global audience, the argument  draws an even vaguer line between acceptable culture and modern rights.

Though shocking and unusual,  practices such as these reflect only a miniscule fragment of a much wider set of strange and bizzare customs  observed  in  different  parts of  the world.

Here is a list of but some of these practices, observed as part of a custom ceremony or ritual, as compiled with the help of various online sources.


Bullet Ant gloves of the Satere-Mawe tribe:

When boys of this Amazonian tribe come of age, they must prove their manhood in a tradition that’s torturous and terrifying. The young men trap bullet ants which are then drugged by a medicine man, who places the deadly creatures in woven mitts.

It is said the sting of a bullet ant can be compared to a bullet hitting the flesh. The young men then have to wear the mitts on their hands and dance for ten minutes to take their mind off the pain. Satere-Mawe men have to go through this ritual at least 20 times in their lifetime.


Consuming the dead:

The Yanomami tribe who reside in the Amazon rain forest bordering Venezuela and Brazil are repelled by the idea of burying the dead.  They believe no physical trace of the body should be left to allow the spirit to rest in peace.

The ash and bone powder obtained after cremation is mixed into a plantain soup which is consumed by the deceased’s family.

By doing this, the Yanomami believe the soul of their lost and loved one will reside within them.


Self flagellation:

Shiite Muslims are well known for their martyrdom, and Ashura is no exception. Ashura is an event recognised by many Muslims around the world for various reasons.  For some Shiites, the day is observed in commemoration of the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad, at the 7th century battle of Karbala.

Hussein, along with his comrades, was repeatedly struck on the head with daggers.  Today, select men join a procession and flagellate themselves with daggers to the head, among other means, in order to pay tribute and absolve sin.

People spill their own blood and those of their relatives to mourn the fact that they were not present to save Hussein.


Tibetan Sky burials:

Tibetan Buddhists practice ritual dissection, or “Sky Burials” – the tradition of chopping up the dead into small pieces and giving the remains to animals, particularly birds.

Sometimes the body is left intact –  which is not a problem for advantageous vultures. While this may seem undignified and even a bit disgusting, the ritual makes complete sense from a Buddhist perspective.

Buddhists have no desire to preserve or commemorate a dead person, something that is seen as an empty vessel. Moreover, in tune with their respect for all life, Buddhists see it as only fitting that one’s final act (even if committed in proxy) is to have their remains used to sustain the life of another living creature; and in fact, the ritual is seen as a gesture of compassion and charity.

Today, over 80 percent of Tibetan Buddhists choose sky burial, a ritual that has been observed for thousands of years.


Papua body modifications:

A tribe in Papua New Guinea called Kaningara practices a bloody body-modification ritual that is intended to strengthen the spiritual connection between them and their environment.  One of these ritual ceremonies is carried out in Haus Tambaran, or “The Spirit House.”

The adolescents live in seclusion in Haus Tambaran for two months. After this period of isolation, they prepare for an initiation ceremony which recognises their transition to manhood.

An expert cutter marks their bodies with sharp pieces of bamboo. The resulting patterns resemble the skin of a crocodile; this is based on the notion that crocodiles are the creators of humans.

The marks symbolise the tooth marks left by the spirit of the crocodile as it ate the young boy’s body and expelled him as a grown man.

*The author is a Journalist, writer and student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Public Relations. For comments, suggestions and contributions email

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