1. ELONGATED LIPS
In Ataye’s Mursi village, teen girls have their lips slit, their two front teeth knocked out, and then a small clay disc inserted into the lower lip to elongate it. Increasingly bigger plates are inserted so the lips continue to stretch longer and longer. The bigger the disc, the more attractive the woman and the bigger her marriage dowry — which is normally a herd of cattle in this part of the world.
A 20-year-old Ethiopian woman has the largest lip disc in the world with her 60-centimeter in circumference lip plate, That’s the plate that women in some African tribes will slip into their pierced bottom lip and let the flesh stretch around it.
Ataye says she suffers no adverse effects from this enormous lip plate and can eat and drink fine. However, the lip disc is reportedly starting to be banned by Ethiopia and losing its popularity. Ataye apparently won’t be pressing her daughter to take up the tradition and will instead allow her to make her own decision about it.
2. STRETCHED EARS
People all over the world still practice ear stretching.
Religion, coming of age ceremonies, warding off evil, sexual enhancement and physical beauty are common motivations. However, that just barely scratches the surface as there are many other reasons, as well.
From the Masai tribes in Kenya to the Huaorani tribe in the Amazon Basin, stretched ears are still a common sight. It is a fascinating testament of human culture that a Western youth can walk into a piercing shop to select stretched ear jewelry while a Hmong youth in Thailand selects from an array of silver tubes.
3. WOODEN PLUGS OF NOSES
The Apatani tribe in the Ziro valley in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in India’s northeast. Apanti women were considered the most beautiful among the Arunachal tribes; so beautiful, in fact, that they had to make themselves look unattractive as protection from invaders from other tribes. Hence, Apanti women wore large wooden plugs in their noses, a tradition not carried forward by the younger members of the 26,000 people-strong tribe today.
4. SCARCIFICATION OF FACE
Most Dinka boys and girls don’t cry when the local sorcerer takes a red-hot knife to their dark faces. If they wince or cry or react to the pain they will lose face in the community, so it’s best to sit through the process in peace. Facial scarification is practiced throughout Sudan, and various marks across the faces of tribesmen give identity to the tribe and beauty to its women.
Men of the Dinka tribe in South Sudan scar their faces with three parallel lines across the forehead in a rugged display of courage to the tribe. Dinka boys receive their scars around adolescence to mark the transition to manhood, when they take the responsibilities of the other men in the nomadic tribe.
5. TRANCE AND HEAVY PIERCING
The vegetarian festival in Phuket sees a great deal of devotional activities in the Chinese communities. Trance and heavy piercing are part of the tradition. This festival is held on theSouthern Thai island of Phuket every year in October. Most impressive are the processions that are held almost every morning during the ten days of the festival. The processions feature devotees of the different city shrines which act as “mediums” for the Chinese Gods. Some of the mediums put sharp objects (mostly metal objects) through their cheeks as an act of devotion for themselves and for the whole community. Other rituals that are performed include walking barefoot over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs.
For some people, this would be totally extreme, but for local Thais, this is completely normal. They ignore the pain because this ritual is a rite of passage to adulthood. This is an annual ritual performed in public to announce to the whole world that they have become adults.
All the mediums act involuntarily while in a trance, which allows them to endure the long piercing sessions. Although the wounds are said to be healed completely after the service,scars accumulate on their faces year after year.
6. HUMAN TOOTH SHARPENING
Human tooth sharpening is the practice of manually sharpening the teeth, usually the front incisors. Historically, many cultures have practiced this form of body modification. In Bali, teeth were filed down because it was thought that the teeth represented anger, jealousy, and other similarly negative emotions. The teeth were also sharpened as a rite of passage for adolescents. Teeth filing was also used by Aborigines for spiritual reasons, similar to assorted Vietnamese and Sudanese tribes. In Mayan culture, the teeth were sharpened, and sometimes had designs carved into them, to distinguish those in the upper-classes. Many cultures would sharpen their teeth to imitate animals, such as the Wapare of inter-tropical Africa, who sharpened their teeth to imitate sharks, as well as kicking out some mandibular teeth during puberty.
7. BODY SCARCIFICATION
Though scarification is done by people all over the world, it is practiced heavily by Sepik River tribes in Papua, New Guinea as part of an initiation ceremony for men. This is only a small part of a ceremony that lasts for weeks and includes public humiliation, but it’s ridiculously painful. The elders of the tribe use razor blades to cut the young men all over their bodies in a pattern that closely imitates the rough skin of an alligator. They believe that the alligator will then consume any semblance of a boy left in their bodies, and they will become men.
8. LONG NECKS OR GIRAFFE WOMEN
The Kayan women of Northern Thailand and the Kaya State of Burma are known for the exquisite and incredible brass coils they wear around their necks. They are often called the “long necks” or the “giraffe women” by outsiders and can wear up to 25 coils, which many never take off.
Myth has it that the women will break their necks or be unable to support them if the coils are removed but this is simply not true. Maeneng, above, is the matriarch of her village, and while she is the only one to wear 25 coils, she often helps adjust and repair the coils of other women.
Children are often given their first set of coils at age 5. This consists of a set weighing about 4 1/2 pounds, then new rings are slowly added. In actuality, the Kayan women do not have their necks elongated; instead, it works in the other direction. As the weight of the coils press down, the clavicle is lowered, and with each addition to the neck rings it falls further, compressing the rib cage as well. The shoulders finally fall away to give the appearance of an elongated neck.
9.San Yak Tattoos
They may be extra trendy these days (think the vertical tattoo that runs down Angelina’s back), but San Yak tattoos have adorned the holy and superstitious for hundreds of years in Thailand and Cambodia. Traditionally the tattoos are a mix of Buddhist prayers and images and shamanistic spells that have survived from the pre-Buddhist, Hindu religion in Southeast Asia.
Because of the religious nature of these tattoos, holy men or even Buddhist monks themselves will tattoo people using the traditional method of long metal needles, tapping ink deep under the skin. The level of detail the tattoo artists are able to achieve is stunning given the rudimentary tools, but the popularity of these tattoos aren’t just for their aesthetic appeal. Like religious amulets, San Yak tattoos are believed to ward off evil spirits and give their owner ridiculous amounts of luck. Like St. Christopher medals, the more the better.
10. ELONGATED HEADS
Elongated Heads – Conehead Style
You may have seen the recent sensational stories about alien graves which were unearthed in Peru. While conspiracy theorists and sci-fi fans had a field day with this news, the actual discovery occurred in 1999 and involved perfectly human, non-alien specimens. The group of archaeologists who discovered this small, ancient cemetery just recently released the results of their research, and pictures of cone-shaped skulls flooded the internet and prompted wild speculations. In reality, these were just regular human beings who, for some unknown reason, decided to shape their growing children’s skulls by binding their heads between two boards. Mostly likely the practice had some sort of cultural or religious origin, but we may never know for sure. What we do know is that the practice was probably not very healthy for the kids, judging from the fact that many of these skeletons were of deceased children. Perhaps that’s why the tradition was abandoned.