Thursday, June 23, 2022

Did Bontoc Igorots Practice Earlobe Stretching?

The Bontoc Igorots may have practiced earlobe stretching both for decorative and practical purposes. I say "may" because this needs a bit more validation from other sources. This the first time I've heard about it being practiced among our ancestors. This is the first time I saw the picture (see below) and the accompanying description from a Princeton University catalog. I did a little bit of digging on the files and documents I have on Cordillera history and I can't find one that referenced the practice.

Growing up in Mt. Province, it was quite common for me to see old folks with overextended holes in their earlobes. However, the explanation I usually got when I asked about the holes was that these were the effects of heavy earrings that were often made of gold, silver, or bronze. The earrings were so heavy that the holes in the earlobes stretch and enlarge over time. It's a logical explanation. But it's also possible that the immensely larger holes in the earlobes of older folks were due to intentional stretching.

This photo is from the Graphic Arts Collection of the Firestone Library of Princeton University. It's just one of 30 photographs of various indigenous groups in the Philippines that the university library digitized. The photographer who took the images wasn't identified. It's presumed that the photos were taken from the early 20th century. Probably between 1904 and 1910.

The description for the photo goes:

"Showing ornamental stretching of the ear lobe and taken in Bontoc Province, Island of Luzon. While a baby, a hole is made in the lobe of the ear with a splinter of bamboo or wood. This hole is gradually made larger by the insertion of a wooden wedge until it often reaches as much as 2 inches in diameter and is used for carrying a hugh metal or stone ornament, a pipe, or a package of betel nut."

It's difficult to identify the item (or items) that were stuffed in the woman's earlobes. I zoomed in on the image but I can't still figure out what it is. It looks like strips of cloth/textile that were meticulously folded and inserted into the lobe. It also looks like dried and folded corn leaves. 

Earlobe stretching is common among indigenous groups from around the world. It was practiced (and some still practice it) by the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Lahu tribes of Thailand, the Karen-Padaung of Myanmar, the Fulani of Nigeria, the Maasai of Kenya, and the Mursi in Ethipia.