The Ancient History of Ear Stretching
From Africa to the Americas, ancient tribes and civilizations have used body modifications to enhance their beauty for thousands of years.
Human beings have always valued beauty as something of high importance. Body modifications of all types have been used as a simple way to change one’s appearance, adding to the individual’s natural beauty as well as social status. Body modifications are one of the many great cultural aspects of various peoples all over the world.
Ötzi the Ice Man
Ötzi the Ice Man, a frozen mummy dating all the way back to 3300 BCE, is the earliest known example of body modification. Discovered by German tourists in 1991, the oldest known human mummy sports several tattoos around his his back, ankles and knees, as well as ear lobes stretched to around 0 gauge (around 8mm).
The Maasai of Kenya
The Maasai tribes of Kenya have used ear stretching to alter their appearance for centuries. Ear stretching may have been performed in various ways within the tribe: sometimes weight was used to elongate ear lobes; other times it was the size of the piercing that brought about the stretching, much like it is today. The Masai peoples would stretch their piercings by using larger and larger pieces of stone, wood, tusk, thorn and more recently, sometimes even film canisters. The older members of the tribe often had more stretched out piercings than younger members, since safe stretching can take many years. This may have made having larger spaced lobes a sign of age and wisdom.
Both men and women adorned themselves with jewelry of all types, from colorful, eye catching bracelets to intricate earrings and other piercings. They especially favored bangles and beads in the form of a wide range of different ornaments. Beads would be made into beautiful pieces of jewelry and worn in both cartilage and ear piercings. These body modifications made up a major part of Maasai culture.
The Huaorani of the Amazon
Another example of a culture that has been ear stretching for years is the Huaorani tribes of the Amazon. These tribes have been known for their fierceness and close ties with animals. However, like the Masai, the Huaorani tribes have also granted much importance to beauty enhancement.
Both men and women began spacing their ears very early, beginning in their childhood years. The initial piercing procedure would be performed with a spine from the trunk of a tree. After that, the Huaorani would stretch their lobes using wood or stone plugs of increasing size. At a certain age, the peoples of the tribe would remove their plugs and leave their piercings with no decorations for a wholesomely natural look.
Ear Stretching Today
Today, tribes such as the Masai and Huaorani, affected by the intervention of the Western world, have begun to abandon some of their traditions. But whereas the indigenous peoples are giving up on their old valued customs, some of these customs have caught on in the modern world.
For instance, ear stretching, the boldest of Masai and Huaorani traditions, is currently becoming a massive trend. Plugs of all shapes and sizes are being crafted by jewelers worldwide. But today’s technology has opened up a whole world of new possibilities for jewelry materials, from the natural stone, shell, bone or wood, to all kinds of metal and acrylic. These materials allow for more variety and color to show up in piercings.
The bold color is not welcome everywhere, of course. Some employers frown upon employees with any kind of body modification. However, despite this, both men and women are expressing interest in ear stretching. And it is certainly becoming more and more socially accepted all over the world and amongst all age groups.
Every day, more and more people of all ages and genders are getting their ears pierced and stretching. Ear stretching has always been, and still is today, a popular and beloved type of body modification.