15 National Pastimes That Make American Football Look Like a Dance Recital
American football is pretty brutal. The helmets and pads do some work in terms of protecting people, but also mean players do more damage when slamming into one another. Concussions and broken bones are par for the course, with the long-term effects of multiple knocks to the head still being investigated.
But there are customs, sports and pastimes from other places that make it look like nobody’s even trying. Ones where bloodshed isn’t a byproduct — it’s an essential part of it all, and if nobody loses consciousness things aren’t going right. They make the bit with the eyeball in Any Given Sunday look like a particularly sedate episode of Rugrats.
It seems like kicking the shit out of people, having the shit kicked out of you or witnessing other people have the shit kicked out of them must fulfill some kind of primal urge and serve as a culturally universal thing. That probably means — and it’s something we’re all probably best off not delving into too deeply — that there’s something intrinsically desperately wrong with humanity.
The Traditional Soccer Variant That Kills Lots of Italians
Calcio fiorentino, or “historic football,” was originally played in medieval Italy, but has enjoyed a modern resurgence. There are few rules — players from the four quarters of Florence kick the shit out of each other, sometimes touching the ball.
The Festive Fighting Festival
Every December 25th in Chumbivilcas province, Peru, the festival of Takanakuy is held. Everyone settles disputes built up over the year by getting drunk and fighting. (This happens at Christmas a lot of places, but less organized.)
The Town-Wide Easter Soccer Brawl
Every Shrove Tuesday in Ashbourne in England, as many people as want to play have a soccer game that goes through the whole town and is pretty much a giant fight. The only rules are no vehicles and no murder.
Polo, But with a Headless Goat
Afghanistan's national sport is buzkashi, in which players on horseback compete to grab a decapitated, gutted, stitched-back-together goat, circle the field and drop it back in place.
The Fatal Mass Tree-Tobogganing
Every six years in Lake Sawa, Japan, 16 enormous pine trees or Onbashira are felled and slid down a mountainside, hundreds of people riding them. It’s more common for people to die than nobody to die.
Two Bulls, One Dude
Pacu jawi is Indonesian plough racing — a rider stands on a plough pulled by two bulls and yanks their tails to make them run. There’s no prize — the point is to show off the bulls for selling-’em reasons.
Grabbed by the Bulls
Played in India’s southernmost state, banned multiple times, jallikattu is incredibly dangerous. A bull is released into a crowd, who jump onto it and cling onto its back long enough to bring it to a standstill. Lots of people die.
One Hump or Two?
Practiced mainly by the Zanariq tribe in Yemen, camel jumping involves no athleticism on the camels’ part — it’s all about leaping from a small mound of dirt over as many camels as possible. If you hit them, they’ll kill you.
Imagine playing soccer, but with the ball replaced with a coconut. Rough, huh? Now imagine that coconut is on fire, and you’re barefoot — you have sepak bola api, an Indonesian game generally played at the beginning of Ramadan.
Goose-pulling — in which a goose is dangled above a road and a player on horseback gallops at full speed and yanks its head off — used to be pretty popular in Europe. Modern incarnations are a lot more humane.
Lethwei, also known as Burmese boxing, is the most hardcore contact sport there is — participants can hit each other with anything, including their heads, and there are no points, with knockouts being the only way to win.
Throwing Spears? That’s Not Very Rice
An Indonesian celebration of rice-growing season, pasola is involves participants on horseback throwing spears at each other. While it was once an honor to die during pasola, it is now done with blunted spears. Do people still die? Yep!
It Takes a Lot of Bulls
Most famously practiced in Pamplona, Spain, bull-running involves letting a bunch of bulls into the streets while hundreds of people try to get away. Many are gored, people sometimes die, and it’s not great for the bulls either.
Great Balls of Fire
The indigenous Mexican sport of pasárutakua is superficially similar to field hockey, but with a few key differences: Firstly, unlike hockey, it has religious significance, commemorating the origin of the sun. Secondly the ball’s on fire.
Pull Mein Finger
Bavarian finger-wrestling, or fingerhakeln, seems fairly gentle at first glance, like a weenier version of thumb wars. But the object of it is to totally fuck your opponent up by basically smashing them into a table, ideally while slightly drunk.