The custom of wearing copper rings is old and still a common practice in several parts of Africa. The copper neck rings are worn by African people for several reasons, and these reasons are peculiar to each tribe. However, the most common purpose is to create the illusion of neck elongation.
Body modification is a part of several cultures, for example, tattoos, piercings, skull flattening, and foot binding. However, wearing copper rings on the neck for neck elongation is one of the most archaic body modification customs in the world. Now, let’s talk about its origin, status symbols, and the influence of copper neck rings on the wearer’s lives.
The Origin of Neck Rings in Africa
African tribes are famous for their strange and unusual ceremonies and customs, and wearing copper rings around the neck is one of them. However, the custom is not bound to the African tribes only, but it is also pretty common among several Asian and Indian tribes.
For several years, neck rings have been a part of the African and Asian tribes, and this ancient practice is still accepted widely.
In South Africa, the Ndebele tribe is famous for its tradition of wearing copper rings around the necks. In the Ndebele tribe, only women wear these rings, and the rings are not only worn around the neck but also on their arms and legs. These rings are made of copper or brass, and the men give them to their female partners.
Women wear these rings as a symbolic seal of faithfulness towards their male partners. The copper rings are only removed from the women’s bodies after they die.
Historical Purpose of Neck Rings
As we mentioned earlier, the custom is also common in some Asian tribes, including the tribes of Myanmar. Folklore in Myanmar says that the people wore neck rings to keep their necks safe from tiger attacks. As we all know, tigers directly attack the neck, so this custom might have emerged from a safety precaution.
The folklore that goes on among the African tribes is different from the Asian version. In African tribes, it is believed that women were made to wear these rings to reduce their beauty. According to African folklore, the neck rings made the women look ugly so the men from other tribes wouldn’t kidnap them. However, this version seems illogical because the neck rings now exemplify beauty instead of making women look ugly.
The Status Symbols Related to Neck Rings
Among the African tribes, neck rings hold a symbolic status, which is different for everyone; some tribes wear them as a symbol of higher status, while others simply wear them to indicate a woman’s faithfulness towards her male partner. The rest believe that the neck rings intensify the beauty by creating the illusion of neck elongation.
The neck rings are copper or brass coils that are changed with newer ones as the neck elongates. In African tribes, girls as young as five years old wear neck rings; as they grow older, the smaller rings are replaced with bigger ones to prevent choking and create more space. These rings can even weigh around 10 kilograms.
Do The Neck Rings Actually Elongate the Neck?
Even though one can see the long necks of the women who wear copper rings around their necks, the rings don’t really elongate the neck. The long neck covered with neck rings is nothing but an illusion. This is because it is impossible to stretch the neck more than its natural length. Even if someone succeeds in stretching the neck beyond its length, the person is bound to suffer from paralysis.
The neck rings create the illusion of a long neck by pushing the collar bone and ribs of the wearer in the downward direction. However, there is still a side effect to this strange practice: the weakening of the neck muscles.
Can a Neck Ring Wearer Live Normally?
No, it is impossible for a person who has so many copper rings around her neck to have a normal lifestyle. With the rings in the neck, the wearer can’t lean her head back, neither can she drink any liquids directly from a tumbler. The only way to do so is to use a straw.
In most African areas, the temperature can go very high. Such high temperatures can cause the copper or brass rings to become hot and cause skin damage. To prevent chafing, wearers need to place fabric between the rings and their skin. The neck elongation also affects the vocal cords, and the wearer later ends up having deeper voices.
The Custom of Wearing Neck Rings in Myanmar
As we mentioned earlier, other than African tribes, some Asian tribes also follow strange and unusual ceremonies and customs. In Myanmar, there is a tribe named Kayan Lahwi whose women still wear copper rings around their necks. Like the African tribes, the Kayan girls also start wearing neck rings from a very young age.
The neck rings worn by Kayan women are a little different from the African ones. The Kayan women tie colorful ribbons, laces, or beads with their neck rings as they believe that it increases the beauty and elegance of their neck rings.
When the Burmese military took over Burma, they ordered to eliminate this strange tradition. However, these people were so attached to this custom that they fled to Thailand to save this tradition.
Modern World and Neck Rings
The tradition of wearing neck rings is still practiced today; however, women tend to remove these rings regularly. As a result, the rings don’t cause as much structural damage to the body as the fixed rings did. Moreover, the rings are not as thick as they used to be. In contrast, some modern tribal people have left the tradition of wearing neck rings completely.
Other than the traditional use of neck rings, they have become a symbol of elegance and beauty, and women often wear them to show off their long necks.
There have been several fashion trends that involved wearing necklaces that were inspired by the African and Asian copper/brass neck rings.
Although these customs may seem unusual and bizarre to us, they are normal for those who practice them. With modernity taking over the world, most people know that neck elongation is nothing but a useless and unrealistic beauty standard. This is why only a very few tribes still practice this custom while most other tribes have stopped practicing such customs.