Every February and March, when the moon grows full, residents of the Indonesian island of Sumba drink heartily, rave all night, then stagger to the shoreline before dawn. Robed priests, bloodied by freshly sacrificed bulls and chickens, wade into the waves, chanting while searching for tiny sea worms writhing in sexual frenzy. These worms mate for just a few hours each year and are a symbol of the sea goddess Nyale, who bestows fertility. Priests jubilantly lift them aloft in midfornication. The crowd erupts in joy. When worms and moon align, it’s Pasola time.
The name of this ancient festival speaks for itself. Pa means game, sola a pointed object. At Pasola, armed Sumbanese on horseback assemble on a large field and lob spears at one another. When blood is shed, priests proclaim it a successful Pasola, for despite the violence (and even, in some years, deaths), Pasola is meant to keep the peace. By licensing this ritualized violence once a year, local tribes hope to be free of it at other times.
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Catching the start of Pasola is challenging since it takes place without prior notice, but the jousting rolls on for weeks near the villages of Wanokaka, Koda and Gaura. Sumba itself is a rugged, rarely visited island near Flores. But if you make it there and time your visit right, you’re in for a visceral experience. And did I mention the best part? Those sea worms, cooked with ginger and garlic, are a special festival treat.
2. Eurovision Song Contest
More than 100 million people tune in every year to the Eurovision Song Contest (eurovision.tv) on TV — but there’s more to Eurovision than the contest itself. From May 14 to 18, at least 30,000 people will visit Malmo, Sweden, this year’s host city, for the weeklong series of cultural events that lead up to the final. From morning until night, music lovers will mingle at the Moorish Pavilion, a massive dance hall inside Folkets Park, and the Eurovision Village, a temporary amphitheater erected in the town center. Local musicians and Eurovision contestants will perform live at both venues and at bars, restaurants and street parties across the city.
Regardless of where they take place, the performances offer a chance to hear such esoterica as schlager (a saccharine Germanic pop), operatic pop, Gypsy punk and turbo folk. With 39 competing countries this year and a large LGBT fan base, Eurovision creates a tolerant atmosphere that smacks of gay pride, Glastonbury and the Olympics rolled into one.
—William Lee Adams
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3. Guca Trumpet Festival
For more than 50 years, the village of Guca, in the western Serbian Dragacevo region, has exploded every summer with the joyful oompahs of a weeklong brass festival.
Dubbed the Balkan Woodstock, the Guca Trumpet Festival (guca.rs), to be held this year from Aug. 5 to 11, features regional sounds played mostly by Romany musicians. The exuberant music, called cocek, originated among Serbian military bands, but the region’s Roma took it on and sped it up.
The Dragacevski Sabor Trubaca, as the festival is locally called, has become an event of global pilgrimage ever since the international success of the likes of musician Goran Bregovic and filmmaker Emir Kusturica raised the cultural profile of the Balkans. Last year more than half a million descended on the Serbian countryside to wiggle their pants off. “A lot of young people come, and it’s grown to the point where they have pop stars doing concerts in hotels and discos,” says Michael Ginsburg, whose New York City–based brass orchestra, Zlatne Uste, competed at the festival in 2010. The main acts perform in the football stadium, but the real fun is had around town in various makeshift kafanas, or cafés. Lambs roast on spits while virtuosic toots rock the umbrellas. And everyone forgets their troubles. Says founder Nikola Stojic: “If someone has never danced, in Guca they will dance.”
The world’s most lucrative art competition isn’t in New York City or Hong Kong but in Grand Rapids — a Michigan city better known for Rust Belt decline than edgy painting and photography. Founded in 2009 by Rick DeVos — heir to the Amway fortune — the annual ArtPrize (Sept. 18 to Oct. 6) will distribute some $560,000 to its 2013 winners, chosen by both a professional jury and the votes of the more than 400,000 visitors who will arrive to view the work.
The prize money is the largest of its kind in the world, but ArtPrize’s real difference isn’t cash. It’s the event’s “unusual and daring ability to completely democratize the process of artistic judgment,” says 2011 judge Noit Banai. “Whether one agrees or disagrees with the grand public’s choice, the process empowers ordinary people to be the sole judge of value.”
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5. Burt Munro Challenge
Every November thousands of motorcyclists make for Invercargill on the South Island of New Zealand. It’s the birthplace of the late Burt Munro, who in 1967 broke the world 1,000-cc land-speed record on a 48-year-old Indian motorbike modified with parts made in his garage. Little was known about his achievements until the 2005 release of The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Anthony Hopkins. The highest-grossing local film at the New Zealand box office, it turned Munro into a cult figure and precipitated the birth of the Burt Munro Challenge two years later.
Like its eponym, the Burt is unique, combining seven forms of racing: beach, circuit, street, long track, sprint, hill climb and speedway. Throw in live music, food, camping and Invercargill’s famous hospitality, and you’ve got one of the most colorful motorsport festivals ever conceived.
On the fifth and last day, the Munro family awards a trophy to the competitor who most closely mirrors the traits that enamored Munro to a nation.
“A lot of people have asked me over the years what my dad was like when I was a kid,” John Munro tells TIME. “I’d say he was just my dad and what he did seemed normal. But now I understand him as a different person, one with imagination, tolerance, unique skills and superhuman patience. All of that gives me great respect for him and for what he contributed to society.”
—Ian Lloyd Neubauer