History of Ear Gauging in Tribal Civilizations

A study of the history of ear gauging indicates the practice to be as old as recorded human history. For males, this form of ear piercing has been a symbol of status, while for women, in addition to being used as means of bodily decoration, it has also been employed to signify the attainment of womanhood.

Ear gauging, which is also referred to as ear stretching, is the stretching of ear lobe piercings to larger diameters than that of the original piercing. It is a form of body enhancement or beautification that many young western people adopt to look ‘different’ from the usual crowd. However, this is not a modern form of body piercing, since it has been around for as long as archaeological records exist.

In many cases, ear gauging has been used historically to indicate the standing of members of a specific tribe, and in many respects this is still the situation today. Stretched piercings have been, and still are, a reflection on the individual’s sexual capability and also their superiority over other males in the tribe. The larger the stretching, the more important the individual.

Otzi the Iceman is a prime example of mummies known to have stretched ears. This is the earliest known example of ear gauging, Otzi having 7-11 mm ear piercings during 3300 BC. It has been suggested that the stretching of the ears noted in depictions of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, may have been caused by the weight of the gold jewelry he wore, but this is mere supposition.

It is supported, however, by the fact that the Masai tribe of Kenya and the Lahu and Karen-Paduang people of Thailand use this ‘gravity’ technique to stretch their piercings. Let us have a look at the ear gauging practices used today by various cultures.

A. Mursi Tribal Women

The Mursi is an Ethiopian tribe where the women are obliged to wear plates in their gauged ears and on their bottom lip. About a year prior to her marriage, or at about 15 years of age, a Mursi girl’s lip will be pierced by her mother and a wooden peg pushed through the incision.

Once healed, the peg is changed for a larger diameter one. Eventually, the peg is replaced by a plate of clay or wood, and this plate is successively changed for larger diameter ones until the required diameter is attained – from around 8 – 22 cm in diameter (3 – 9 inches). Once these plates have been secured, she receives a higher degree of respect than those without them, and is known as a ‘Bhansanai’.

These lip and ear plates need not be worn permanently, but are an expected adornment during special occasions such as during weddings and other celebrations, and when they serve food to men. Today, young women can generally make their own decision as to whether or not they follow this tradition.

B. The Masai People of Kenya

The practice of ear gauging has been common among Masai men and women for thousands of years. In recent years, however, most young men have not been following this custom, although you will still find many Masai women wearing ear decorations made from stones, cross-cut elephant tusks, wood and animal bones.

The original piercing is carried out using a thorn, sharpened twig or a sharp knife point. Once healed, ear gauging is then carried out by wearing increasingly heavy jewellery that pulls the lobe down and stretches the piercing. This is the traditional way of gauging ears in the more primitive cultures, although many Masai today will use proper ear gauging techniques, such as their own versions of insertion tapers or taper spikes. Beads are a common form of ornamentation, although plugs made from bone, tusks and wood are also used.

C. The African Fulani Tribe

Fulani women from Nigeria and Central Africa tend to use smaller diameter ear gauges, and decorate them using large gold domes or hoops carrying earrings. A Fulani child will have her ears pierced at around 3 years old, although they may not be stretched until she is older. The gauges used by Fulani women are relatively small compared to the Masai and Mursi, although the jewellery can be larger.

D. Asian Hill Tribes

Of the various hill tribes, the only two known to practice ear gauging are the Lahu from Thailand, and the Karen-Padaung (Longnecks) from Myanmar (Burma) and also the Phrae province in Thailand. That latter tribe are best known for their neck rings, offering the appearance of long necks, but both cultures believe the ear to be sacred and the more jewellery they can wear on the better. By gauging their ears, they are able to wear the maximum amount of jewellery they believe possible.

E. Mexican and Central American Civilizations

In Mayan and Aztec society, ear gauging was regarded as desirable for males. There are many Mayan representations of men with flares and ear plugs (ear spools) in gauged ears, and the material used was indicative of the social standing of the wearer. Jade ear plugs were worn by the higher classes, while the rest would use bone, stone, wood and other materials. In central Mexico, the craftsmanship of the Aztecs is evident in the ear gauging plugs and ornaments of gold and silver, though the lower classes would adorn their stretches earlobes with shells, copper and wood among many other imaginative materials.

Ear gauging has been carried out worldwide, and among other notable areas involved in this practice are Japan, where the Ainu used ear jewellery made from shells, bone and a ball and ring known as Ninkari. There are many other cultures worldwide where ear gauging was a part of their life, and even today many people regard ear stretching as a fashion statement and a way of expressing their own personality and individuality.

Tragus and Anti-Tragus Piercings

Tragus piercings and anti-tragus piercings are becoming increasingly popular – in fact, tragus piercings are now one of the most common ear piercings around. Ear piercings are the most familiar form of Body piercings and the tragus and anti-tragus are fresh expressions of the mundane ear lobe piercings.

The tragus is a thick little piece of cartilage that juts out from the ear canal. To get an understanding of the exact location of the tragus, place a finger by the outer corner of your eye. From this point, trace the finger back, in a straight line, until you touch your ear. The first piece of your ear you will feel is your tragus. You should be able to grasp this little nub between your fingers – this is where the piercing will go through.

There are all sorts of misconceptions about the tragus. Some people may try to tell you that piercing your tragus will affect your balance – that is simply not true. Your balance is affected by fluids in your ear drums, which are located deep within your ears, and are far away from any pierce-able surface. The tragus does not have anything to do with your balance, so don’t be fooled by uneducated people who might try and tell you otherwise. In fact, the only purpose a tragus has is to hold your headphones (such as the standard iPod headphones) securely in your ears; and once pierced, there are thousands of headphones to choose from which will not irritate your piercing. Honestly, the tragus has nothing to do with your ear, your hearing, or your balance. It is just a flap of cartilage – perhaps if humans developed sonar and echo-location the tragus would be useful (super developed traguses help bats use sonar, for example) – but alas, on our species, it’s just a surface begging to get pierced!

The tragus is recommended to be pierced with a captive bead ring, but a barbell will suffice. The reason rings are almost always preferred for the initial piercing as opposed to barbells is because rings tend to heal quicker, better, and more securely. Once healed, you can use any type of jewelry, even typical jewelry normally reserved for ear lobes. Your piercer will help you choose which gage is right for you (and by the way, expanding the tragus is not unheard of, but rare), mark the location on your ear, and push the needle right through. Some piercers may put a cork behind the tragus to “catch” the needle, some piercers just use clamps to aid the needle through, and yet others just use their hands. Each piercer is different, so they will pierce according to their style. Clamps are the most common method, and many people report that the actually clamping to secure the skin hurts more than the piercing! The tragus piercing should be painless – there aren’t a lot of nerves there – but some people do feel slight and temporary pain. Because it is so close to the ear, some people even say they hear a little “pop!” sound as the needle pushes through. Should you hear a little noise, it’s nothing to be concerned about. Once the needle is in, the jewelry is slid into place and secured, and you are done! The whole process, from prep to finish, shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

The tragus does take a while to heal – sometimes up to a year to be fully and completely healed. Many people irritate their new piercing by placing their dirty cell phones up to their ear or by sleeping on the ear with the piercing. I suggest NOT doing either of these for at least the first six months. If your piercing does become infected (and it shouldn’t with proper aftercare), soak it in warm salt water, don’t touch it with your hands, and perhaps (using a q-tip) rub some diluted tea tree oil around the piercing. Never use any sort of rubbing alcohol, for this will irritate and scar your piercing. Your piercer will give you a complete rundown of what to expect and how to handle your new piercing though, so pay attention to their advice.

The Anti-Tragus is very similar to the tragus. It is pierced the same way, the aftercare is the same, and the healing time is the same too. To locate your anti-tragus, place a finger on your earlobe (generally where someone’s first ear piercing would be) and with your finger, draw a straight line up. The flap of cartilage you come to before the empty space is your anti-tragus. Your tragus and anti-tragus are located very close to each other, and the anti-tragus is just opposite of the tragus. Just like the other piercing, this piercing does not affect your hearing or balance. The anti-tragus is rarer than the tragus, mostly because many people don’t think they can get this area pierced, but it can be pierced and it does look great when healed. Curved Barbells and captive ring beads are used most frequently in these piercings.

If you are considering an anti-tragus or tragus piercings, be sure to use a licensed professional. Once it is fully healed, the way your ornament or decorate the piercing is completely up to you, and the jewelry possibilities are endless!

The History and Culture of Stretched Ears

People have been decorating and making changes to the appearance of their bodies since recorded history began. This has taken many forms through the ages, such as tattooing, piercing, stretching, scarring, branding, muscle sculpture, hair styling and many more, and for almost as many different reasons.

The three major purposes of these forms of body modification have historically been tribal (to display allegiance to one tribe or group of people), in war (to scare the enemy and distinguish friend from foe), and for fashion and perceived beauty. Ear stretching has been popular for centuries, but this popularity has increased in Western culture in recent years.

For some, there is a profound spirituality in the protracted process of stretching ears, while for others it is fun and more involved than simple ear piercing, and the fact that fewer people do it adds to its appeal. Others have their own reasons, but irrespective of these, stretched ears have always been part of human history and will continue to be so.

Reasons For Stretching Ears

Just as with other forms of body modification or enhancement, people have historically stretched their ears for a number of reasons. For some cultures, this represented a coming of age, while for others it was carried out to enhance beauty or sexuality. Throughout the ages it has been used both for religious reasons and to protect the subject from witchcraft or evil. Ear stretching is still carried out all over the world for a variety of reasons, including those mentioned above.

If you travel to Africa, you will find that stretched ears are common among many indigenous peoples, including the Maasia in east Africa, the Mursi in Ethiopia, and it is also carried out in some Asian countries such as Thailand. In South America, stretched ears are common amongst the Huaorami of the Amazon Basin, but you generally need go no further than your own hometown to see some excellent examples of ear stretching. Stretched piercings and flesh tunnels are now a common form of ear adornment for Western youth.

Icemen and Pharaohs

One of the more famous examples from history is Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300 year-old mummified body found in the Alps between Austria and Italy. In addition to several tattoos, Ötzi had an ear stretched to around 7 mm – 11 mm diameter. The giant Easter Island statues display stretched ear lobes, the likely reason for them being known as ‘Long Ears’. The story goes that the statues were carved in honour of the original inhabitants of the island representing them with the earlobe stretchings that were part of their culture. When a different tribe arrived on the island, they were known as ‘Short Ears’, and were forced into slavery by the Long Ears. Eventually there were more Short Ears than Long Ears, and the latter were overthrown and the statues toppled over.

In Egypt, the boy king Tutankhamen is represented as having stretched ears, and his famous golden death mask features holes that can take 10 mm diameter bars. The processes used to stretch these famous sets of ears are not known, because there are many techniques that can be used. It is likely that primitive stretchings were carried out using wooden plugs or bamboo, and although a few people like to return to these early methods, they are not recommended today for health reasons.

Stretching Ears is Not Reversible

If you are interested in stretched ears, there are certain factors of which you should be aware. The first is that it is generally permanent. Once stretched, your ears stay that way. The holes do not heal over like a normal ear piercing, so make sure that you are happy with having stretched ears for the rest of your life. There is time at the beginning to stop and allow your ears to heal back to normal, but once the diameter reached 10-12 mm, it is too late and the hole will not close up. Another is that it takes time and patience. You do not visit a piercer and come out after an hour or two with stretched ears!

If you have decided that you want it done, you are advised to have the procedure carried out professionally. Yes, you can go it alone, but a professional will provide you with the best results, and it will also be safer. It will be quicker if your ears are already pierced, because otherwise you will need that done first and then wait up to 8 weeks for it to heal. Then you can start of the stretching, or gauging as it is often referred to.

That is because the diameter of the needles used is referred to as their ‘gauge’. The gauge of a needle drops as the diameter increases, so that an 18-gauge needle is small – in fact, that’s the gauge of an average initial piercing. Once you reach a 2 gauge, the diameter is that of a pencil and so on down. An 11 mm hole is 000-gauge (actually 11.11 mm or 7/16 inch).

Ear Stretching Should Not Be Rushed

As already explained, ear stretching is a slow process, and you should never try to rush it. If you try to rush, it will likely take longer eventually because unless the ear has time to get used to each lower gauge it won’t heal properly. You might then have to start all over again. Gauged ears should not bleed and there is distinct procedure to follow. Fundamentally, you increase the diameter of the piercing in small steps, allowing healing between each step. A common way to achieve this is to use an insertion taper, where one end of the taper is the same diameter as your existing hole, and the other side is of larger diameter.

This can be in the form of a stud that you wear until you are ready for the next size up. The next stud will have one end at the current diameter and the other at the lower gauge (larger diameter). That is pushed through and secured, and you wear that until the next insertion, and so on. If you keep your ears and jewellery clean and sterilized between sessions using anti-bacterial soap or saline solution then you should heal fine between each session – allow about two weeks between sessions.

Take the Advice of the Pros

It is very important to follow the advice of the professionals, and do not try to cut corners. Many people have ruined their ears by failing to be patient, so don’t let that be you. Follow cleaning instructions to the letter, both during and after the entire stretching process. There are many different types of ear jewellery available for stretched ears, including flesh tunnels, bars and rings.

There is also a wide choice of materials, from wood or plastic to gold and platinum. Many prefer glass while others find Teflon best, particularly if they suffer allergies. Niobium, surgical stainless steel and titanium are also popular materials for stretched ear jewellery.

Keep in mind that not all can be worn indefinitely, particularly the porous materials such as wood, shell and some plastics that can harbour bacteria, yeasts and fungi. Such jewellery should be regularly removed and thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Ear stretching sets you apart from the usual crowd, and can be a very distinctive form of ornamentation. It is something that few people regret having done.

Designing and Making Paper Items

There are several ways of decorating paper. Most of the techniques were born out of experimentation of the artist with the colours and other materials found in the environment. This implies that aside from those methods that will be detailed, every artist must endeavour to create new ways of designing paper items.

1. Marbling (controlled and uncontrolled)

2. Comb-pattern

3. Wax resist

4. Doodling

5. Spraying

6. Roller and twine pattern

7. Ink-blowing

1. Marbling (controlled and uncontrolled)

Marbling is a method of making decorative patterns on paper by transferring colour from the surface of a liquid onto paper. Tools and materials required for marbling include paper, brushes, thinner, basin or trough, various colours of oil paint, cooked starch, empty tins, stick, and water.

Controlled Marbling

Process:

1. Fill a trough with cooked starch in an even consistency.

2. Sprinkle different colours of oil paint on the starch.

3. With the aid of the stick, stir gently for the colours to mix on the surface of the starch in order to make the patterns.

4. Place paper flat on top of the starch and tap the back to remove trapped air.

5. Hold one edge of the paper and remove it by dragging it along the edge of the trough to remove the starch.

6. Excess starch is washed off with water and hanged to dry.

Uncontrolled Marbling

Process:

1. Fill a trough with water.

2. Sprinkle different colours on the water.

3. Stir in different directions for the colours to come together over water.

4. Place paper flat on top of the trough and tap the back to remove trapped air.

5. Hold one edge of the paper and remove it by dragging it along the edge of the trough.

2. Comb-pattern

The tools and materials are large brush, paper or hair comb, cooked starch, water, powder colours, paper.

Process:

1. Mix powder colour with cooked starch to an even consistency to form a thin paste.

2. The brush is used to paint paste over the entire surface of paper.

3. The comb is used in making rhythmic patterns on the sheet.

4. It is hanged to dry.

3. Wax resist

Tools and materials required for this paper pattern making technique include brush, crayon or candle, powder colour, paper.

Process:

1. A sheet of paper is folded and creased to create parallel lines.

2. Wax is used to draw lines within the folded lines.

3. Go over the lines for a second run.

4. Colours are mixed and painted over the waxed paper.

Another technique is to sprinkle molten wax on paper. It is painted over with any high key colour. Wax is sprinkled over again and painted over with a low-key colour. After drying it, place the paper between two sheets of newspaper and iron to remove the wax leaving the patterned design.

4. Doodling

The tools and materials used include pencil, colours, paper, and brushes.

Process:

1. Create doodles to cover the entire sheet. Doodles are scribbles make on paper without any forethought plan.

2. Different colours are mixed to paint familiar shapes created by the doodles.

3. Erase the extensions created by the pencil.

5. Spraying

Tools and materials used include spray diffuser or shoe brush, paper, colour, cut out shapes, natural objects.

Process:

1. Arrange the natural objects or patterned templates and maintain their positions with drawing pins on the sheet of paper.

2. Spray colours on the patterns using the spray diffuser or an empty pen barrel with a mesh held at one end.

3. Gently remove the drawing pins and the cut out patterns.

4. The sprayed patterns on the paper is left to dry.

6. Roller and twine pattern

Tools and materials used include paper, printing ink, two hand rollers, rags, twine, thinner, glass slab.

Process:

1. Twine is wound around one hand roller.

2. Printing ink is placed on glass slab and rolled over with the second roller.

3. Printing ink is transferred onto the twined roller by rolling it over the glass slab.

4. The inked twined roller is rolled over the paper from the edge to edge and covered all over.

5. The rollers are cleaned with thinner and a different colour is used to go over the already created pattern to give a two coloured effect.

7. Ink-blowing

Tools and materials used include ink, paper, and empty pen barrel.

Process:

1. Sprinkle the paint at different sections on the paper.

2. Blow the paint to sprinkle it in a hairstyle manner using the empty pen barrel.

3. Leave the paper to dry.

Decorative papers are used for making book covers, endpaper, wrappers, wallpaper, background for calligraphy etc.