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Column: Wife-carrying and other weird customs

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There are some really weird customs in the world. Here in the U.S.A., we don’t go in much for really far-out rituals and behaviors, although some might say giving a 16-year-old a license to get behind the wheel and direct a two-ton missile down the road a little bit “out there.”

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I guess right up there with “out-there” behavior is the world at large generally believing that alcohol is a good drug and the rest are not. But then, to make sure our belief system is intelligent, we tell pregnant women not to drink, two-ton operators not to drink, and no one under some age not to, also. For the rest of us, drinking is grand.

Ah, aren’t we smart?

The running of the bulls in Spain has always struck me as just past the insanity point. Down this narrow set of streets, nowhere to climb, or hide, or get away. Once you’re in that tunnel with those animals, you apparently find out whether or not The Fates are on your side. I doubt these three Greek goddesses give a bullock’s horn in your backside whether or not you survive this custom.

In Gloucestershire, England, there is an annual cheese-rolling custom, which involves rolling a wheel of cheese down a steeply inclined hillside. The cheese gets a one-second head start before a mob of people run pell-mell after it, they themselves falling, rolling, cart-wheeling, and otherwise tumbling completely out of control. The winner gets the cheese. I guess you have to be there to grasp the complexities of nearly killing oneself over the prize for first place: a beat-up cheese.

In India, it is felt that dropping a year-to-two-year-old infant off a 50-foot-tall building into a bed sheet held by a bunch of men will keep the infant healthy and safe. Hindus and Muslims in particular participate in this 700-year-old ritual, despite a lot of criticism about it. How does the baby like it? Not too well, as I gather from the filmed footage of it I saw. Probably it would be safer to throw 16-year-olds here off a roof rather than give them the keys to the car, but, hey, we’re OK. It’s the baby droppers that are weird.

But the weirdest custom that really takes the cake is the Finnish wife-carrying sport. In this event, the woman is carried with her legs forward, one on each side of the man’s head. She hangs down his back and wraps her arms around his middle, the better for her to hold her husband tight while he is running an obstacle course. Her job is to hang on; his is to go fast.

There are many thoughts about how this sport first originated in Finland. Tales have been passed down from one person to another about a man named Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen. He was a robber in the late 1800s who lived in a forest, and ran around with his gang of thieves. One theory is that Rosvo-Ronkainen and his thieves stole food and women from villages in the area he lived in, and then carried them on their backs as they ran away, (hence the “wife” or woman carrying). 

There was also the idea that Rosvo-Ronkainen trained his thieves to be “faster and stronger” by having them carry heavy sacks on their backs, which could have eventually evolved to a sport. Even though this sport has been considered by some as a joke, competitors take it very seriously.

There are some rules. For example, if you drop your wife, you have to pick her back up and continue. (Isn’t that just so life-like, really.) Also, she has to be some minimum weight. People are calling this a “run for your wife” contest, incidentally.

A Finnish couple won this year’s annual North American Wife Carrying Championship in Maine. The couple is the five-time World Champion, which contest is held, of course, in Finland.

Too much fun.

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