The 5 Most Intense Rites of Passage from Around the World

#2. Cliff Diving

Jumping off something really big and not dying is a neat trick, and was formally used as a rite of passage in Hawaii in the 18th century, where King Kahekili used to jump off cliffs just to show that he could. The Birdman, as he was soon nicknamed, began making his warriors jump off the same cliffs to prove their loyalty and forever earn his respect and whatever the 18th century Hawaiian equivalent of an extreme sports reality show was.

"I hope I at least get some longer shorts out of this."

In the modern era, cliff diving's fallen by the wayside a bit, at least as a formalized rite of passage -- really, ever since we stopped having badass bird-kings and switched to cruddy democracy. Obviously, anywhere there's a lake or pier or jetty and moron teenagers desperate to impress other moron teenagers, there will be cliff diving. This is even quaintly called tombstoning in the English media, supposedly due to the angle at which participants enter the water (straight up and down, like a tombstone) and not, as you might suspect, because that's what's waiting for you on the other side of this ridiculous jump.

The future(?) of England(?!).

That said, this is still a professional sport practiced in various places around the world, even though the reign of King Birdman is long over.

Cameron Spencer / Getty

#1. Land Divers

But if jumping into water is too tame for you, consider for a moment the land divers of Vanuatu.

After scaling a wooden tower they've spent the past couple weeks assembling, these men and boys will hurl themselves at the dirt below in order to prove the usual assortment of traits -- courage, strength, gullibility. Yes, they have vines attached to their legs that do break their fall, similar to a bungee jump. Except that these are vines, and, accordingly, a little less consistent than bungee cords. Also, they're measured and matched to the jumper's weight by a process that involves little more than squinting.

Paul Stein via Wikimedia Commons
"Wait. You mean these aren't ISO-certified vines? Why did I not think to ask about that until now?"

Also, critically, the goal of a successful land dive isn't just to bounce back a safe distance from the ground. It's to hit the ground, headfirst. Only a little bit, but still.

Paul Stein via Wikimedia Commons
The ground is, to be fair, softened a bit. Although, to be fair, it is still the ground.

Aside from the expected benefits -- ensuring good harvests, turning boys into men -- there's a charming backstory behind land diving. Basically, the legend goes that there once was a wife who climbed a tree to escape her husband's beatings. When the husband pursued her up the tree, she jumped off, using vines tied around her ankles to break her fall. The husband, assuming she'd died and now despondent that he'd lost the wife he loved beating so much, jumped after her, neglecting the vine part. He died, predictably, and ... happily. Right? That's a happy ending? He was the bad guy, right?

Well, not according to everyone. Because after thoughtfully considering this story, the local men of Vanuatu managed to walk away with entirely the wrong lesson, and have since practiced land diving so that they might avoid a similar fate (of being tricked into jumping off trees by their fleeing wives). That their solution to the problem -- risking catastrophic head injuries by jumping off trees -- is exactly the same as the problem they're trying to avoid suggests that maybe a few centuries of catastrophic head injuries have twisted the story up a bit.

Or, more likely, that their wives are even trickier than they thought.

Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and the biggest coward in the world. Join him on Facebook or Twitter and listen to him recount stories of all the things he's quietly backed away from.

For more insane customs, check out 5 Cultures With the Most WTF Wedding Rituals and The 5 Creepiest Death Rituals From Around the World.

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