On another trip to India, my favorite destination, we encountered an almost equally incredible event. We visited the Meenakshi Temple in the southern city of Madurai. In the evening, the Brahmans take the symbol of Shiva, the god of destruction, and carry it all the way from one side of the temple to the other to place it within the shrine of his wife, Meenakshi, so that the two gods may bed down for the evening. In the morning, the ceremony is reversed. The shrine is carried in a palanquin by a cadre of Brahmans accompanied by a group of musicians and followed by a few faithful devotees who chant along the way. We had no idea that this went on every single night of the year but we were surely thrilled that we had come across it.
Throughout the African continent there are countless ceremonies which mark religious or family occasions. In Benin, I attended a couple of voodoo gatherings in villages along our travel paths. I remember one that was especially dramatic. The drum-accompanied dancing was a common background for such events and there was almost always an elder who led the way. In this particular one, an older woman priestess started the dancing after coming out of the village fetish house and drinking some undefined liquid at the same time. It was not long before she floated away in a deep trance and had to be carried back and laid down in the fetish house to recover. The entire village reverberated with the music and the participants included some as young as two years old who entered the dance circle and performed admirably. Some of the little ones on the periphery played with traditional toys that kept them busy including pet birds with a string on one of their legs. The entire scene was surreal. In other such ceremonies we saw men and women drink and dance themselves into another world, drink blood from sacrificed animals and carry a goat's head in their mouth as they circled a fire. The whole region is filled with such happenings. Voodoo variations exist in the new world also, especially in Brazil where Candomble and other forms are practiced. The ceremonies there are a bit milder but drink, dance and spirit figures are major parts of the religion.
Special rituals mark developmental moments in the lives of many traditional peoples although these are not always accessible to the tourist. A comprehensive funeral with unlimited guests, animal sacrifices, wooden effigies of the deceased and other such artifacts is common in Indonesia; such ceremonies are especially colorful among the tribes of Central Sulawesi. In the jungles of New Guinea, young men are introduced into the tribe with tattoos resembling alligator scales carved into their back with a long sharpened bone of a flightless bird. Young men in Cote d'Ivoire go to live in the jungle with elders for months to learn about their way of life of their people as do Dogon youth on the escarpments of their tribal areas in Mali. Kathakali dancers spend hours making up their faces before performing on the West coast of India. Longhouse dwellers in Borneo take in their ladders at night so their enemies don't come looking for cannibal subjects. The world is filled with such incredible and fascinating events from end to end. Just exploring the colorful rituals available to visit would make a wonderful and informative trip through the traditional world.
Chicken Eating Rice from Boy's Neck
Kondh Curing Ceremony, Orissa, India