What is the Tradition of Neck Rings in Africa and Asia?

Where do neck rings come from and what do they do

Neck rings are an interesting fashion choice. Many cultures have a different standard of beauty, and while I can't quite identify why somebody would make the choice to wear neck rings I certainly respect their choice to do so. Neck rings are used to give the appearance of an elongated neck in many countries throughout Africa and Asia.

I say 'give the appearance' because these neck rings don't actually stretch the neck. We will get into what is actually happening, as well as taking a look at the cultural significance of this fascinating practice. I've seen this in action for myself on a trip to Thailand and neck stretching can't truly be appreciated until you actually lay eyes on it for yourself.

How Does It Work?

Well, as stated the neck isn't actually being stretched by these rings. Instead, the clavicle is deformed and pushed downwards. It can also reshape the ribs in the same way. The neck rings slowly push these bones downwards by around 45 degrees. This can give the illusion of an elongated neck, which is seen as a thing of beauty by many cultures. Neck rings are recognizable worldwide, but have you wondered about the most famous piece of jewelry? Read all about it!

What is the Tradition of Neck Rings in Africa thailand woman

What Are They Made From?

Neck rings are usually made from brass or gold alloys. I feel it's prudent to add that none of the neck rings used are actually complete 'rings' or circles. Some are torcs which have an opening on once side, but the vast majority are actually giant metal spirals of metal that can weigh up to 20 pounds! Needless to say, they need to be kept beautiful and shiny which can be accomplished quickly and easily with some premium jewelry cleaning cloths. Our complete gentle jewelry cleaning kit can also provide a deeper clean if that's what is required.

Why Did People Start Wearing Neck Rings?

There are a variety of reasons given about why the tradition of wearing neck rings started across Africa and Asia. The most obvious is that they are a display of wealth that is considered to enhance a woman's natural beauty. They also symbolize a wife's fidelity to her husband in many places.

There are other reasons stated however, a group in Myanmar claims that the practice started to provide protection from tiger attacks. Tigers are known to go directly for the neck of their prey, so on paper the idea seems to make sense. Another legend claims that neck rings were used to make women less desirable to neighboring tribes and so they were less prone to be kidnapped.

What is the Tradition of Neck Rings in Africa elder woman

When Did This Practice Start?

Neck rings have been in used for thousands of years. Anthropologists have definitively traces the practice back to the 11th century, but the truth is that is seems to go even further back than that. As far as when it starts in life, the younger the better. Children as young as 5 are fitted with neck rings.

It's much easier to manipulate bones when the skeleton is young and pliable. These rings are obviously increased in height over time, but they also need to be swapped on occasion for a larger diameter to keep the wearer from being choked as they grow.

Lifestyle Changes Needed

Obviously such a drastic change in appearance can lead to some semi-dramatic lifestyle changes. Wearers of neck rings are unable to lean their heads back. This makes drinking from a glass a complicated affair, so they are forced to drink from a straw at all times. The metal coils of neck rings can get quite hot and sweaty which leads to some chafing. The neck rings are often treated with anti-chafing ointment or cloth to keep the skin from damage.

What is the Tradition of Neck Rings in Africa family working

Are Neck Rings Dangerous?

While it might be shocking to look at to the uninitiated, the practice of wearing neck rings isn't dangerous in and of itself. The neck isn't actually stretched, which is good because that could cause paralysis. If the rings are removed, however, that can present some serious problems. Once the body becomes adjusted to the neck rings it can come to rely on them to support the head of the person wearing them.

As the neck muscles begin to atrophy the head can no longer be supported without the use of the neck rings. The collapse of these critical neck muscles can lead to the collapse of the neck and everything within it, leading to suffocation. They aren't dangerous when kept on and used for their intended purpose.

Modern Day

Neck rings are still worn permanently by members of many cultures, and it has been somewhat adopted by even Western countries. They are seen semi-regularly as statement pieces, but of course the come right back off once the wearer is done parading it around.

Final Thoughts

I speak from experience when I say it can be shocking to see a woman wearing a gigantic coil of neck rings. It isn't my place to tell them what to think or how to live. As stated, it certainly isn't something that I would choose for myself or my significant other but I can appreciate their use. It makes the neck look slender and graceful, and I can definitely understand the appeal.

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