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News of the Weird
 

Cultural Diversity


October 2nd, 2008

In many ways, reported the Los Angeles Times in August, the Torajans of Indonesia's Sulawesi Island "spend a lifetime preparing for their demise," in that the most glorious highlight of their existe...

"In many ways," reported the Los Angeles Times in August, the Torajans of Indonesia's Sulawesi Island "spend a lifetime preparing for their demise," in that the most glorious highlight of their existence appears to be planning the elaborate celebration of the end of it. In fact, taking one's last breath is only the beginning of a lengthy tribute, such as the one for Toraja's last king, who died in 2003 but has not been put away yet, pending completion of the necessary ritual animal sacrifices. (In the interim, the deceased is considered more "sick" than "dead.") Said one local ("cheerfully," according to the Times), "Torajans! (We) live to die!"

About 250,000 women in the southern India states of Karnataka and Maharashtra are self-described "elite" sex workers whose impoverished, or devoutly pious, parents "dedicated" them as children to the Hindu goddess Yellamma, according to an August dispatch in The New Yorker. Despite the state's outlawing the practice in 1982, the women's fate as "devadasis" remains an attractive alternative to ordinary marriage (which would usually be to poor and abusive men) and provides a degree of status, in that they dress nicely and can inherit family property, while street prostitutes cannot. However, devadasis still fall victim to the region's rampant HIV rate.

Castrillo de Murcia, Spain, lacks a "running of the bulls" tradition, but since 1620, it has included in its annual El Colacho festival a "leaping over the babies." In late May, the town's infants are laid on mattresses in the village square, and people in red-and-yellow devil costumes jump over them and keep running, to symbolize the vanquishing of demons from their lives.

 
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