African Culture And Neck Rings: The Practice Of Neck Elongation

Our multi-cultural world is an ever-dynamic and diverse one, full of numerous cultural expressions. One of these creative, cultural expressions is body modification. Body modification is a practice that has been around for centuries. It is seen in practices such as body piercings, tattoos, foot binding, and skull flattening.


However, one of the apparently most archaic forms of these modifications is wearing neck rings. Neck rings are worn for different reasons peculiar to the person and tribe, but the most obvious one is to create an impression of a long neck. In particular, we will look into the origin of neck rings, what status symbols are assigned to it by different cultures, and its overall influences on the lifestyle of the wearer.

Neck Rings In African Tribes

For several millennia in both Africa and Asia, neck rings are an ancient culture that has been widely accepted. Though the practice seems to be much farther in human history, anthropologists have only been able to trace its beginning back to the eleventh century. They found it was mostly practiced among circles in India, Asia, and Africa.

In the Ndebele tribe of South Africa, the ladies not only wear these rings on their neck, but also around their legs and arms. The rings are usually made of copper and brass. The man or husband, in this case, gives these rings to his female partner, and they are worn as a seal of faithfulness, only to be taken off after her demise.

Why Neck Rings?

It is quite still unclear why our long-gone ancestors decided to adopt the use of neck rings. There is a folklore amidst the Myanmar people of Southeast Asia that they were worn to protect the villagers from tiger attacks. These villages are so remote that their residents overlap with the habitats of these feral creatures. And since tigers are known to swipe their powerful claws at the throats of their victims, this lore could have some truth in it.

Another lore postulates that these rings were put in place to make women less beautiful. It further narrates that it was to reduce their chances of being kidnapped by men of neighboring tribes. However, if this was true, its effect today is unseen. In modern culture, it now exemplifies beauty.

Neck Rings as a Status Symbol


Over time, different cultures where neck rings featured have attached symbolic statuses defined by the meanings they gave to it. For some, the rings are an indication of affluence and a high societal status. Others, as earlier highlighted, are simply a symbol of faithfulness between a wife and her husband. Other people view it as a bespoke fashion accessory revealing an intense beauty from the wearer’s long neck.

However, these neck rings are not actually rings. To be more direct, they are coils of brass or gold alloys. These coils are replaced by new and longer ones as the neck extends. Girls as young as five years old wear neck rings. As they grow, the rings are replaced with new and longer ones with increased diameters. This is to create enough space and prevent choking. They can weigh as much as 20 pounds.

Do Neck Rings Make the Necks Longer?

Though it is true that you could see the appearance of a long neck on the wearer, these rings do not make the neck longer. It is nothing outside of an illusion. Any real attempt to stretch the neck beyond its natural length is a dangerous one which could lead to paralysis. What the rings do is only push the collar bone and ribs down, making the neck look longer. However, one side effect is weakening the wearer’s neck muscles.

Neck Rings Have an Influence on Lifestyle

Needless to say, wearing the rings brings with it some accompanying lifestyle changes the wearer surely needs to adjust to. For instance, the wearers cannot lean their heads back. This also means you can’t just grab a tumbler and drink liquids, you most def need a straw.

At high environmental temperatures, the metal becomes hot and may cause skin chafing. The wearers need to use soothing, natural ointments or put pieces of fabric in-between their skin and the rings. The elongation eventually impacts their vocal cords and women seem to later grow deeper voices.


Neck Rings in Modern Fashion

Though this millennia-old practice is not as universal, it is still seen today in modern fashion — with slight differences. For one, the neck coils are not as thick as they were thousands of years earlier. This means you can worry much less about any structural damage being done.

It is also less likely for a modern woman to leave it on for extended periods of time. This could either be for her rightly needed comfort or its inappropriateness for another function. Lastly, they remain a beautiful, ornate trend that makes a lady look more elegant and urbane.

Watch this video on the women of the Padaung tribe, Myanmar:

Also Read: Very Puzzled: Jigsaw Puzzles That Represent Our World

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