The Adrenalist

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Extreme Tribal Sports



Think that extreme sports couldn’t happen without advanced technology and equipment? Think again. Though members of indigenous tribes in the non-industrialized world have less leisure time than those of us materialists and gadget addicts reading this now, they still find the time to catch a thrill.  Often, that thrill is more intense than anything we will ever experience.

Here are the most adrenaline-fueled, extreme tribal sports that take place outside the trappings of modern society.


The Tarahumara, also known as the Raramuri, have been racing in the rugged Sierra Madre for thousands of years. They don’t run for no reason; they chase a grapefruit-sized ball made of wood, called a rarajipari, which they kick across the severe Chihuahua mountainscape. Then they kick it again. Then again, until the players have raced across an agreed-upon distance that can span as far as 120 miles. Rarajipari is one of the most epic nonstop footraces played out on planet earth. What makes Rarajipari even more extreme? Before the race, runners get themselves drunk on a traditional corn-based alcohol called tesguino, and then smoke tobacco and dried bat blood, which they swear, makes them run faster and farther than anyone else on earth.

Land Diving

Bungie jumping and BASE jumping are child’s play next to land diving, an ancient ritual practiced by the Vanautu tribes. The Vanuatu are almost certainly the most intense Adrenalists in either the developed or non-industrialized world – and the tools of their adrenaline rush aren’t ballistic nylon or titanium. Like real-life Tarzans, they use liana vines. Village elders give the vines the eyeball test and pick those that seem sap-filled and elastic enough to save a full-grown man from certain death. Then they cut the lianas – but not too short. According to tradition, land divers must scrape the tops of their heads upon the earth when they fall from a platform that tops out at 100 feet if they want to properly pay respect to the gods. Unfortunately, the elder eyeball test isn’t always accurate. When Queen Elizabeth II visited Vanuatu to see the spectacle in 1974, one diver suffered a lethal fall after both his lianas snapped.

 Free Diving

According to some reports, it isn’t uncommon for members of the Bajau tribe to get feelings of landsickness when they spend too much time on dry land. Perhaps more than any other people on the earth, the Bajau of Malaysia and Indonesia are amphibious. They live on houseboats, their vision is specially adapted to see underwater and their physiques are lean and their lungs strong – perfect for diving deep underwater and staying there for long periods of time. The Bajau freedive as deep as 20 meters to hunt for the fish that provide almost 100% of the protein they consume. We introduced you to Sulbin, a Bajau fisherman who spearfishes 60-feet deep. Like many Bajau, Sulbin is an extremely skilled diver and fisherman, but not a very good listener due to the damage to his eardrums caused by diving without decompressing. It’s an injury that some Bajau preempt in a very peculiar way: they intentionally perforate their eardrums themselves.

Suri Stick Fighting

Subject to devastating drought and famine, the Horn of Africa is a land of constant struggle. The age old practice of Suri stick fighting will lead you to believe it’s always been that way. Practiced by the Surma people of South Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia, the ritual martial art pits rival villages of men, armed with 7-foot sticks, against one another. The men fight one-on-one for pride and to practice the ways of war for when it counts. Regional tribes have long clashed to secure the limited resources provided by the land around this area. Sometimes, the game becomes deadly, such as when a warrior delivers a gut strike that causes damage to internal organs, an injury readily curable in the developed world, but possibly lethal in the remote plains of the Horn.

HimalayaPhoto Credit: ralky /

Sherpa Mountaineering

For more than 100 years, the native Sherpa people of Tibet have accompanied visitors from the developed world up the world’s highest and most dangerous mountains. But they’ve been going it alone far longer than that, first crossing over impossibly high mountain passes from their native lands more than 500 years ago. When they cross on foot, sometimes at elevations higher than 20,000 feet, they carry their weight in goods. The Sherpa are traditional pastoralists and traders, lugging sheep and wool over the Himalayas to warmer destinations where they can pick up goods such as salt, cotton and metal. Then they lug the items back. To achieve such feats of survival and dwell in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, the Sherpa have developed several biological adaptations including specialized hemoglobin-binding enzymes in their blood and hearts and lungs that function more efficiently in low oxygen conditions than anyone else on earth. There’s a good reason Sherpas are often tasked with scouting the perils ahead on Everest when climbers run into trouble. They are the best mountain climbers on earth.

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