Fascinating tribal beauty rituals around the world, some of which are still practiced today

Fascinating tribal beauty rituals around the world, some of which are still practiced today

Ancient ritual

Text: Emily Heng

Image: Einat Klein photography
Image: Facebook | @nomadafrica
Image: Instagram | @jeanpaulgoudeofficial

Prosthetic cheekbones, tattooed eyeballs, and elf ears may sound like extreme measures to look pretty (beauty lies in the eyes of beholder), but you'd be wrong to assume that all body modifications are committed purely out of vanity. A large majority of them, though less reported by mainstream media, have roots in tradition and carry many a cultural significance. Often regarded as tribal, those practices range from scarification — intentionally scarring oneself in a certain pattern or style, à la Erik Killmonger in Black Panther — to stretched lips. Fascinated, we set out to the far-flung corners of the Internet to deliver on the most fascinating of the lot. Consider our world view (and yours, too, hopefully) forever altered.

Yaping Hullo

Who: Apatani Tribe
Where: India
What: An extreme nose piercing of sorts, Yaping Hullo are nose plugs worn exclusively by the women of the Apatani Tribe. Legend has it that the women were once known for their exceptional beauty, which caused men from rivalling tribes to kidnap them for their pleasure (ugh). To prevent this, the Apatani village elders suggested nose plugs and facial tattoos so they appear "undesirable" to raiders. And while that positively reeks of victim-blaming, the practice eventually evolved to become a vital part of Apatani culture. It was eventually banned by the government in the 1970s, though you may still spot the older generation of villagers sporting nose plugs and face tattoos.


Tā Moko

Who: Māori Tribe
Where: New Zealand
What: While face tattoos send quite the message in mainstream culture (we're looking at you, Mike Tyson), they take on a weightier meaning when done within the Māori Tribe. The intricate swirls, spirals, and curves that adorn each individual's face are one-of-a-kind — meaning no two are ever the same — with the positions and lines used in each design conveying one's rank, social status, and power. They also serve to highlight the most beautiful parts of a Māori's face, as the designs are usually created to draw attention to the eyes and the lips.


Long-neck women

Who: Kayan Tribe
Where: Northern Thailand
What: Beginning from age four or five, brass neck coils are placed around a Kayan girl's necks to give the appearance of a lengthened neck. As they grow, the coils are replaced by longer ones and are not to be removed under any circumstances. Yup, these women even wear them to sleep. The primary purpose behind these coils is protection, apparently — it is believed that the coils prevent them from being attacked by tigers or taken by slavers, though they are considered to be a sign of attractiveness as well within the community.



Who: Karo Tribe
Where: Ethiopia
What: Regarded to be a form of art within the Karo Tribe, scarification involves cutting skin with a sharp instrument in a controlled manner to create a deliberate pattern or design. The long process sometimes includes further opening of the flesh to dispense plant juices and dark pigments onto the wound — this causes the scar to heal raised and dark, forming keloids. Women who engage in this practice have admitted that it is done to attract the attention of men, though many others cite this ancient ritual as tradition more than anything else.


Stretched lips

Who: Mursi Tribe
Where: Southern Ethiopia
What: Lip piercings are child's play compared to this form of body modification. Donned exclusively by females, it is said that the mouth is slowly stretched from the age of 13. To prepare for the process, the lower lip is first pierced about one to two cm in length, and a wooden peg inserted to keep it in place. After the wound is healed, it will be replaced by progressively larger pegs until lips are stretched enough to accommodate a full plate. Apparently, the insertion of lip plates is a coming-of-age of exercise as it signifies that a girl has finally become a woman. A key part to wedding rituals, women are meant to serve their husbands a meal on their lip plates during the happy occasion.


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