Sometimes, history is only as good as any written record or archeological/historical finds give us insight. This is why it’s sometimes difficult to chart the complete history of a different type of piercing. When it comes to ear stretching, we have a pretty comprehensive history, but it’s not perfect. This is because it also comes down to what’s classified as having stretched ears and whether the jewelry found is determined to be for earlobes or another type of body modification. Additionally, due to preservation issues, the soft tissue of the earlobes tends to no longer be there when bodies are found.
In this article, we’ll use the information we have to follow along the history of ear stretching, dating back to the 3300s BCE until the present.
Ötzi the Ice Man
This is the first known account of someone with stretched ear lobes. Discovered by German tourists in 1991, Ötzi is a frozen mummy dating back to 3300 BCE. Not only is this the first known account of stretched ears, but it’s also the first known account of body modification period. Upon his finding, his ears appeared to be stretched to a 0 gauge. There’s speculation that Ötzi is part of a “copper culture” that existed in the mid-fourth millennium BCE.
While this is the first known account, it’s definitely not the first. Unfortunately, we won’t know more about stretched ears predating Ötzi and his culture unless fossilized stretched lobes are found.
Ear Stretching in Ancient Egypt
While there’s mention of body piercing in ancient texts and some remains, as well as statues, it’s not until we take a closer look at Egypt that we really see ear stretching as a cultural tradition.
If you look at the busts of both Tutankhamun (commonly referred to as King Tut) and Horemheb, you can see that they both have large stretched lobes. A death mask of King Tutankhamun depicts him with stretched ears around 10-12mm. Additionally, a pair of large gauge earrings were found in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. These earrings are believed to be the first hanger-style plugs found to date.
Even more interesting is that you can see artistic representations of many pharaohs throughout history where they have stretched lobes. In addition to pharaohs, mummies of ancient Egyptian women were discovered with their stretched earlobes preserved.
In terms of the jewelry the ancient Egyptians wore, most of their plugs were made from faience. To make plugs out of faience, a “frit,” a powdered mix of quartz, copper, lime, and flux, is glazed to hardens into a stone-like consistency when heated to a thousand degrees. Plugs were also made from stone, bone, gold, and electrum, depending on the class of the person wearing them.
While we have proof of the ancient Egyptians wearing plugs, it is believed that this practice came from the Nubians who served as mercenaries during this time or the Hyksos in Asia.
Some of the jewelry uncovered from tombs include this pair of gold penannular earrings from the Second Intermediate Period to Early New Kingdom (around 1635 to 1458 B.C.E.). They look like thick and heavy seamless rings.
However, when comparing that pair to this gold and lapis lazuli earring from around 1295 to 1186 B.C.E., during the Ramesside period, it is possible that the jewelry was worn more like this with a thick peg attached to the ring going through the ear to keep it balanced and stable.
Cypriots & Gold Coils
Believe it or not, most of the jewelry the ancient Egyptians wore during the Bronze Age came from Cyprus. In order to make bronze, you had to have copper. Cyprus was rich in copper, so much so that the Egyptians sent tons of tin to Cyprus to combine it with their copper to produce bronze.
During this time, the Egyptians drew inspiration from Cypriot coils, made of solid gold and bronze, and worn in earlobes from around 1600-1100 B.C.
However, the tradition of Cypriots wearing thick rings of gold, copper, and silver goes back to the mid-second millennium B.C.E. It parallels Egypt’s earlobe stretching trends (with the exception of the giant faience plugs they wore).
Additionally, a terracotta statuette of a woman with a bird face from around 1450 to 1200 B.C. depicts the woman having stretched ears with large hoops in her ears.
Etruscans, who are from Etruria (which is now considered central Italy), were known for their elaborate jewelry. While nobody has translated the ancient Etruscan language, it is believed that earlobe stretching was done by both men and women to display social status and wealth.
The Etruscans were known for their elaborate jewelry. The Met Museum in New York has an Etruscan earring from 1000 B.C.E., a thick gold ring much larger than the typical earring we’d wear today.
In the 4th to the early 3rd century B.C., the Etruscans made golden grappolo earrings resembling the shape of a bunch of grapes. These earrings resemble modern ear weights, as they were extremely heavy and had wearable posts that got as thick as a modern 3/8-inch plug.
While it may be surprising to read, much of our modern jewelry, especially hangers and spirals, is based on jewelry from ancient Greece.
One of the earliest earrings discovered from ancient Grecian times was an electrum earring in the form of a double hook. This earring is much thicker than what we think of when we think of a traditional earring.
A terracotta statue from the 5th century B.C. depicts a woman’s head (possibly attributed to a sphinx) with stretched ears.
We can confirm that the ancient Greeks practiced the art of ear stretching when looking at the jewelry they wore. Stretching was mostly a unisex practice from 900 to 400 BCE until it became limited to women. Translations of the Greek historian Thucydides, who was around during the 5th century B.C.E., show that he felt the earrings were gaudy and worn by effeminate or old-fashioned older men.
During the ancient Grecian times, wearing jewelry was a way to establish wealth and status and carry your wealth around.
An earring that closely resembles many of the styles we see today is attributed to the 2nd half of the 5th century B.C. It is a gold hanger-style earring with an ornate crescent-shaped design. While this design is attributed to both the Greeks and the Cypriots, it shows that we take a lot of design inspiration from ancient history.
A pair of earrings from the first quarter of the 4th century B.C.E are attributed to the Greeks and the Cypriots. They are a pair of thick gold and copper alloy spiral earrings with a lion-griffon head terminal.
A white gold earring from the last quarter of the 4th century B.C. with a lion head has a wearable surface close to a half-inch thick.
Throughout ancient Greecian times, the earrings start to resemble modern-day ear weights. A pair of Hellenistic golden earrings from 300 B.C. show ornate gold disks with representations of Eros hanging from them. They are 3 ¾ inches tall, which means that they are quite heavy. Their sheer weight, combined with the thick gold rings worn in the ears, makes them so much like modern-day ear weights.
A Brief Note on the Ancient Romans
While the thickness of ancient Roman earrings varied, with some being substantially thicker than modern-day earrings, it’s unlikely that they purposefully stretched their ears.
The ancient Romans had high standards of beauty. While plastic surgery was mostly to repair wounded Roman soldiers that came back missing ears and noses or remove scars from gladiators and enslaved people, some ancient Roman women sought plastic surgery to repair their ear lobes after they stretched due to wearing heavy earrings.
If you’re an elder millennial, you might remember Olmec as the name of the talking sculpture in the TV game show Legends of the Hidden Temple. They got the name for this character from the Olmecs, the earliest known Mesoamerican civilization. They lived in what is now considered Veracruz, Mexico. In addition to possibly being the oldest Western hemisphere to develop a writing system, and the fact that they invented the concept of zero, they also practiced ear stretching.
The Olmecs were known for their sculptures. Some of their most famous are their ceramic babies, suspected to be either infantilized portraits of the elite, idealized portraits of mythological figures or deities, or even portraits of real babies. These sculptures date as far back as the 12th century B.C. However, despite being infants, many of them have stretched ears.
In addition to the babies, many of the sculpted figures hold babies. For example, this statue of a seated bench figure from the 10th-4th century B.C. depicts a figure sitting on a cloud throne while holding an infant. The figure has drilled stretched lobes, and it is believed that the Olmecs wore removable ornaments in them.
The Olmecs were also known for their colossal head sculptures found throughout Mexico. Art historians and archaeologists believe these heads were carved from massive boulders. So far, 17 have been found and are believed to represent leaders from around 1500-1000 B.C. Many of the colossal heads have carvings depicting jewelry worn in stretched earlobes. In his book, The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization, Anthropology professor Richard Diehl describes their jewelry, which resembles modern-day plugs and tunnels.
While the Mayans are mostly known for their pyramids, calendar, mathematics, and human sacrifice practices, they’re important to discuss as part of the history of ear stretching. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how far back ear stretching goes, researchers guess it goes as far back as the second millennium B.C.
While statues and figurines from ancient Mayan times depict men, women, and deities with stretched lobes, preserved jewelry gives us a more in-depth look at their ear stretching practice.
In Mayan culture, wearing jewelry made from jade (jadeite, to be more exact) was how you displayed wealth and power. It is believed that jade was a symbol of everlasting love as well. Because stretching to an ideal size was a slow process, having stretched ears was a way to demonstrate patience and discipline.
During the ancient Mayan times, children aged 4 through 7 would have their ears pierced with small flares and gain progressively larger flares as they progressed through life milestones.
The Mayans often traded with the Olmec, and you can see the influence reflected in the ear flares both wore. Mayan ear flares from between the 3rd and 9th centuries were constructed from jade. These ear flares have subtly carved lines at the corners to make each side represent flower petals.
In the image below, it’s easy to think that these represent a pair of ear flares. However, these actually represent half of a pair of ear flares.
The smaller, deep green piece fits perfectly inside the larger, lighter green piece. Nesting ear flares were common jewelry in ancient Mayan times. However, various methods commonly anchored the nesting pieces in place.
One of the methods for anchoring the ear flares in place includes the placement of a bead (or beads) set into the front, anchoring the jewelry in place with a set of beaded counterweights that were threaded through the jewelry and hung behind the earlobe.
Another method was using a decorative stick through the earlobe with a string and jade bead as a counterweight and a composite ear flare worn around the stick. The jade funerary mask of Mayan ajaw (ruler or king) Pakal the Great (683 A.D) depicts this composite jewelry style.
The Mayans also wore what we consider flared plugs today. The jadeite plugs below are from around 550-850 A.D. and are approximately 2 ¾ inches in diameter.
While the Olmec and Mayans had hierarchal societies ruled by kings, the Moche (also known as the early Chimu) were not a monarchial society. Instead, they were a group of autonomous people that shared cultural traditions and ideas.
The Moche lived in what is now known as Peru from around 100 to 700 A.D. They were masters at creating metal and ceramic objects. We can see some of this craftsmanship in the ear flares they wore.
In addition to being great metalsmiths, the Moche also used valuable materials to make mosaics. The above pair of ear flares with winged messengers are from the 3rd to 7th century A.D. They are made from turquoise, sodalite, spondylus shell, gold, and mother of pearl. The gold beads around the circumference of the mosaic represent the modern designs we see today.
In the Moche culture, the bigger the ear flare, the more important the person. The ear flares above have a wearable diameter of about a half inch. Because of the inlaid stone, these were also quite heavy. The length of the wearable part might have been used as a counterbalance. It’s also possible that the wearable part of the ear flares was connected to a headdress or piece of clothing to help take some of the weight off the ear.
Because of the weight, it’s suspected that these were worn just for ceremonial purposes rather than everyday wear. However, there are indications on the jewelry that they were, in fact, worn.
The figure on the mosaic is a common running motif found throughout Moche art. However, it’s unclear whether this is supposed to be a mythological creature or an anthropomorphized human.
The Incan empire in Peru did not last long. The empire began around 1300 C.E. and lasted until the Spanish conquered them in 1572. During their conquest, the Spanish melted down all jewelry made from gold and silver that came into their possession. Therefore, little remnants of the Incan metalsmithing remain.
However, a pair of ear spools (what we now call plugs) were found and credited to the Incan empire. These are most like modern-day double-flared plugs. The sides curve inward to make them easier to wear in the ear lobes. They are made of silver and have gold outlays.
In ancient Peruvian cultures, it wasn’t uncommon for prominent people of both genders to wear jewelry in their stretched lobes. However, in the Incan culture, only noblemen wore jewelry. What also sets them apart from other cultures in the Americas is that they had the largest stretched lobes amongst those who came before them, such as the Moche or Mayans.
The conquistadors often called the Incans orejones (big ears) during the Spanish conquests due to their large stretched lobes. In the ancient Incan culture, lobes were stretched to reach the shoulders when jewelry wasn’t worn in them.
In ancient Incan times, offerings and sacrifices were given to a huaca, or sacred being. The male figurine above represents one of the types of figures that was often offered to a huaca. As we can see, the ear lobes are large and elongated to show that they could accommodate the ear spools only worn by nobility.
While many of us were taught about the Spanish conquering of the Aztecs in history classes, we didn’t learn much about their ear-stretching practices. Fortunately, we’re here to fix that.
Based on archeological findings, we know that both Aztec men and women practiced ear stretching. The below image shows a sculpted kneeling female figure. While many figures were deities or had deity attributes, this figure doesn’t seem to have any. Yet, we still see the female figure with stretched ears and ear ornaments worn in them.
What we do know of the Aztec practice of ear stretching is that the initial ear piercing was usually done with a bone awl or a maguey spine. For jewelry, a string was threaded through the initial piercing until a person reached an age they could add ornaments to them.
From that age onward, ears were systematically stretched until they could hold the Aztec ear spools or flares. These were given to show a certain class or military rank. They were also given as a sign of maturation.
This is one Aztec ear spool from the 15th – early 16th century. Carved from obsidian, it closely resembles a modern-day flared plug.
Here is another Aztec obsidian ear ornament from the 15th – early 16th century. It is similar to the ear spool, but much longer and resembles a modern-day tunnel.
However, the Aztecs didn’t only wear obsidian jewelry in their ears. Made of wood and turquoise, this is an example of one of the heavier pieces of jewelry they wore in their ears. Most of the ear flare is constructed from wood, with mosaic-like turquoise pieces placed on the front for decoration.
Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha)
Before we discuss India’s jewelry and ear-stretching practices, it’s important that we first talk about one of the most influential figures in the world with stretched ears: the founder of Buddhism!
Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, was born in Lumbini, which is present-day Nepal. While many historians have argued precisely when he was born, the consensus is sometime around the 5th century B.C.E.
Although he was born into a royal family, a prophecy surrounded his birth. He was either destined to become a powerful king or a spiritual leader. To prevent him from becoming the latter, his father sheltered him. He was raised in luxury and was prevented from seeing anything that could be deemed unpleasant or unsettling.
However, shortly after his 29th birthday, Siddhartha Gautama finally saw what Buddhists call the Four Signs: an aged man, a sick man, a dead man, and a religious man. This made him realize he had the potential to become all four of these, and he renounced his wealth, wife, and son in favor of becoming a religious ascetic.
During this time, the nobility wore expensive jewelry in their ears. In many Asian cultures, having large ears is auspicious because it signifies wisdom and compassion. When Buddha gave up his wealth, his stretched ears remained as a reminder that he was previously dragged down by wealth.
Depending on the cultural beliefs surrounding Buddha and the stage of the Buddha, artistic depictions of him either represent him with jewelry in his stretched lobes or without.
Stretched Ears, Royalty & Deities
The earliest pair of actual Indian earrings still in existence is a pair of gold ear ornaments from the 1st century B.C.E. Not a lot of jewelry from this period exists because most of it wasn’t kept or preserved. Most jewelry was melted down to avoid transmitting one individual’s karma to another’s.
While artistic representations on terracotta plaques and stone sculptures depict divine and regal figures with stretched ears and wearing elaborate jewelry, the discovery of this pair of earrings confirms the fanciful jewelry in these art pieces is representative of actual jewelry worn during this period.
These earrings take the form of curling vines with buds on each end. The narrow slit in the curls of the vines was how the jewelry was inserted and removed from the earlobes.
The elephant and winged lions are emblems of royal power. Due to the craftsmanship displayed on these earrings and these emblems, it is believed these belonged to a king.
This pair of earrings are large in size and heavy. It is without a doubt that everyday wear would stretch the earlobes down to the shoulders.
Additionally, many artistic representations of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain deities or divine beings have elongated earlobes or jewelry that suggests their earlobes were stretched.
Japan: Jōmon, Kofun & More
The Jōmon period, often referred to as Japan’s Neolithic age, is the earliest in Japanese history. Beginning in 10,500 B.C.E., it lasted until 300 B.C.E. The Jōmon people were first hunter-gatherers but quickly became more sedentary.
Although there’s no sure reason why the Jōmon people practiced body modification, archeological evidence suggests it was a form of expression. Some historians believe that the body ornaments were used for religious or spiritual purposes, but they could also represent social status and rank.
This earring from the final Jōmon period (1000-300 B.C.E.) is carved from bone with some Japanese inscriptions. It flares out toward the end and resembles a modern-day double-flared tunnel.
The Kofun period in Japan lasted from around 300 to 710 C.E. and was named after the tomb mounds created for the ruling class. During this period, thick earrings were commonly worn.
This metal-plated earring with electrum is from the Kofun period. Here you can see a small slit in the ring for insertion and removal.
Both men and women during this period wore earrings, as headdresses found among the tombs show both ornamented with earrings.
This 6th-century headdress of a female Haniwa figure shows the thick earrings described above.
In Japanese culture, both followers of Shinto and Buddhism represented deities with stretched and elongated lobes in sculpture and paintings.
For example, in this wooden sculpture with gold leaf from around 1250 C.E., the Buddha of Limitless Light, or Amida Nyorai, is represented with stretched lobes without any jewelry.
On May 8, 2017, an episode of Antiques Roadshow featured a pair of Javanese ear plugs from around 1890. According to the expert, if they were to enter an auction, they would be sold for approximately $1,500 to $2,500. But the practice of Javanese ear stretching existed long before the 1800s.
The Javanese were excellent goldsmiths. Their ear ornaments started as twisted shapes that developed into jewelry that we model modern jewelry after today.
This ear ornament from between the 3rd century to the second half of the 10th century shows how the Javanese goldsmiths bent the metal to form the curvature of the ornament. It also displays the thickness of the early jewelry they wore.
Adornment was important in Javanese culture. The gods were always depicted wearing head-to-toe adornments, including crowns and/or diadems, ear ornaments, pectorals, sacred cords, waistbands and belts, armbands, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and both finger and toe rings.
In addition to establishing rank or economic status, adornment served a higher purpose. Wearing many adornments helped empower and enhance a person of high rank, attracting the divine spirit to inhabit them, a concept known as alamkara. In Sanskrit, the word alamkara translates to adornment or embellishment.
Sculptures from this period represent the lavish adornments created during this time and are all dressed from head to toe in them, one of the recurring motifs sculptors created to have the sculptures represent deities.
For example, in the late 9th to 10th century in Central Java, the Buddhist Bodhisattva Manjursi is depicted wearing plugs in both ears. In Central Java, the name of the plugs is the same as it is in Indian culture: kundala.
In East Java, the kundala was known as a subang. Subangs formed a circular box, as they were made from a circular rim and two discs. It is speculated that these “boxes” contained sweet aromatics to please the wearer.
One common motif of these plugs is the radiating directional star. Like the image below, stars with four arms represent the cardinal directions. This is the most common design found on the plugs of this time and was usually on the reverse side.
On the main side, such as this pair from the Majapahit period in Central Java, there are intricate foliate and female figures with precious stones or rock crystals held in claw settings. However, others that were discovered have deer-like animals or lions.
It’s important to note that subangs varied in thickness, much like modern-day plugs.
In ancient China, a popular type of earring worn by women was the er dang, which became popular during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.E.) and under the rule of the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.E.).
There were two versions of er dangs: solid and hollow.
A solid er dang had a large bead-shaped end and a small cone-shaped end, making it resemble a stick. These were simple to wear: the earlobe was pierced with a cone-shaped end, and the larger bead was shown on the outside of the earlobe. These were also known as yuandang, which means beaded earrings.
A hollow er dang was more symmetrical looking. Take this example from The Corning Museum of Glass:
The hollow er dang closely resembles a modern-day double-flared plug. They were hollow so that a pendant made of glass beads or precious stones could be strung through it, and it would hang down off the earlobe.
Originally, er dang were made from gold, jade, silver, glass, crystal, ivory, etc. The Corning Museum of Glass has a singular er dang from between 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E., which means it is from the time the Han dynasty ruled China.
Er dangs were predominately worn as single earrings as opposed to a pair. In fact, over a third of the Han Dynasty tombs uncovered through archeological research had single er dangs rather than a complete pair.
In 1915, when Korea was under Japanese rule, a pair of extravagant golden earrings were discovered in present-day Gyeongju, which was where the Silla kingdom capital was. The kingdom was founded in 57 B.C.E., and the Silla continued to rule the area until the 7th century C.E.
(IMG CRED: National Museum of Norea)
These earrings clued researchers into crucial information about the Silla culture, but not until much after their discovery. But it wasn’t until 2011 that the excavation report from the tombs where these earrings were discovered was published.
The pair, named National Treasure 90 in 1962, was found in a stone–chamber tomb known as the Double Burial in Bomun-dong. It’s estimated that the tomb was created between 540 and 560 C.E.
It is actually due to the discovery of these and other earrings that archaeologists could tell which gender wore them. Two main categories of Silla earrings are those with thin central rings and those with thick central rings. Thin-ringed earrings were worn by men (those buried with swords), while women wore thick-ringed earrings.
In addition to gender dictating the types of accessories worn, so did social class—those of the highest social class, such as nobility, wore these elaborate gold earrings.
Before the Spanish conquered the Philippines, what they called the West Indies, it was rich in gold. It was so abundant that all genders, all ages, and anyone from the highest social class to the enslaved people wore gold jewelry.
We know how much gold was worn because the Spanish explorers documented it in their journals. In fact, the journals describe the fact that the people wore barely any clothing and instead decorated their bodies with gold jewelry or tattoos.
There was so much gold pre-Spanish colonization that it was the largest export of the Philippines.
So, what does this have to do with ear stretching? Well, the Filipinos were great goldsmiths and created marvelous earrings and plugs to adorn themselves with.
One of the Spanish missionaries, Francisco Colin, S.J., wrote about what he observed in the Philippines. His manuscript, published in 1663, states, “All the women, and in some places, the men, adorn the ears with large rings or circlets of gold, for that purpose piercing them at an early age.”
Women typically had more lobe piercings than men; women had three to four holes, while men had one or two on each lobe.
Getting a lobe piercing began at an early age. A child’s earlobe was pierced with a thin copper wire between infancy and two or three years of age. The jewelry worn while it healed consisted of a thick cord or thin cotton thread.
The jewelry transitioned to a small piece of dry bamboo when the piercing was fully healed. Over time, larger and larger pieces of bamboo were used until you could stick a finger through the fistula.
Next, a tree leaf was wound up and inserted in the hole. As the leaf slowly releases its winding, it expands in the fistula, stretching the hole. This was repeated until the hole was big enough to fit the thick earring through.
There were many different styles of earrings worn in pre-colonial Philippine culture.
For example, this pair of dangling earrings, known as patan-aw, or look-at-me earrings, were worn to attract attention.
This pair resembles modern-day thick seamless rings. The opening was how they inserted and removed the earrings. Because these have less ornamentation, it’s likely the owner of these ear ornaments was of a lower class.
The Dayak of Borneo
Some of the heaviest ear weights we sell are inspired by the Dayak’s brass ear weights.
While not practiced much anymore, the Dayak women of Borneo used to stretch their ears and weigh them down with heavy brass ear weights so they could reach their shoulders. In their local language, the tradition is called telingaan aruk.
Around age four, a girl’s ears are pierced, a practice called subang, so she can wear the hisang jewelry used for elongating the earlobes. Every year, another hisang is added to the ear.
The higher number of rings through the ear meant a woman had higher social status and possessed more wisdom. The hisang is typically made of silver or bronze; the material depended on the girl’s social status importance to the tribe. It also is a symbol of beauty.
While the long earlobes are a sign of a woman’s value within the Dayak traditions, there is an assumption that they also symbolize patience. The idea is that the more women wear heavy jewelry, the stronger and more patient they become.
Asian Hill Tribes
Many of the Asian hill tribes, who are nomadic refugees who came from China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Tibet, practice the art of ear stretching.
In the Karen tribe, the women, who are well-known for the brass coils they wear for neck elongation, also stretch their ears as a way to enhance their beauty.
In the Hmong tribe, who originated in China and are now dispersed throughout Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, both men and women stretch their earlobes. The jewelry they wear is made from silver and brass, as they are great metalsmiths.
In the Lahu tribe, consisting of people from China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos, women practice ear stretching as a way to demonstrate bravery and resilience. It is also a way for them to show their connection to the natural world, as they are animists.
The Maasai in Kenya & Tanzania
The Maasai are an African tribe that lives in Kenya and Tanzania. They are another tribe whose traditions and culture have been passed down orally, so it’s unclear exactly when the stretching tradition started. What we do know is that it has been practiced for centuries.
Both genders stretch their lobes, sometimes doing one ear and sometimes doing both. After initially piercing the lobe with a sharp object, they use a bundle of twigs, larger pieces of wood, or even film canisters to stretch it larger.
For jewelry, married women wear strands of beads attached to leather that loops through the stretched lobe. Male youths who were warriors wore cross-sections of elephant tusks as plugs.
Like many other cultures mentioned in this article, the jewelry they wear in their stretched lobes is tied to social status. For females, it determines whether someone is eligible for marriage or married. For males, it determines whether one is a warrior or an elder. We know that this practice using intricate beadwork began at the end of the nineteenth century when colorful beads came to them from what is now the Czech Republic. However, they still used any European beads that came and metal constructed by blacksmiths.
Today, fewer and fewer boys are participating in the tradition of ear stretching, but women continue to do so.
Aside from the Maasai, many other groups in Kenya practice ear stretching.
The Mursi in Ethiopia
While Mursi women are most famous for their lip plates, they also practice ear stretching.
The Mursi, who call themselves Mun, is a tribe that lives in the Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia. Because traditions are passed down orally, it is unclear exactly when lip and ear stretching originated.
We know boys and girls pierce their ears with a thorn or knife, placing larger and larger pieces of wood into the fistula. Boys typically stop stretching when their piercings reach 2 to 3 centimeters. However, it’s common for a girl to stretch her ears even larger.
Sometimes the clay plates they wear in their ears are removed after some time, so the larger hole remains.
While it’s unknown why children’s ears are pierced, David Turton, who studied the Mursi, considers the possibility of it relating to their social and moral beliefs.
Ear Stretching Today
Today, people still practice ear stretching. It became trendy in the alternative scene. However, some people have decided to have their ears sewn up. Ultimately, deciding what you want to do with your earlobes is up to you. But if you want to stretch them, browse through our large selection of plugs and weights.