Neck rings, or neck-rings, are any form of stiff jewellery worn as an ornament around the neck of an individual, as opposed to a loose necklace. Many cultures and periods have made neck rings, with both males and females wearing them at various times.
Of the two most notable types the first is the torc, an often heavy and valuable ornament normally open at the throat. These were worn by various early cultures but are especially associated with the ancient Celts of the European Iron Age, where they were evidently a key indicator of wealth and status, mostly worn by men. The other type is one or more spiral metal coils of many turns, often worn only by women. In a few African and Asian cultures neck rings are worn usually to create the appearance that the neck has been stretched. Padaung (Kayan Lahwi) women of the Kayan people begin to wear neck coils from as young as age two. The length of the coil is gradually increased to as much as twenty turns. The weight of the coils will eventually place sufficient pressure on the clavicles to cause them to deform and create an impression of a longer neck.
The custom of wearing neck rings is related to an ideal of beauty: an elongated neck. Neck rings push the clavicle and ribs down. The neck stretching is mostly illusory: the weight of the rings twists the collarbone and eventually the upper ribs at an angle 45 degrees lower than what is natural, causing the illusion of an elongated neck. The vertebrae do not elongate, though the space between them may increase as the intervertebral discs absorb liquid.
The South Ndebele peoples of Africa also wear neck rings as part of their traditional dress and as a sign of wealth and status. Only married women are allowed to wear the rings, called dzilla. Metal rings are also worn on different parts of the body, not just the neck. The rings are usually made of copper or brass. Although it can vary from person to person whether the removal of neck rings can cause pain, if they are removed incorrectly this may result in death. The custom requires that the girls who do choose to wear the neck rings start before puberty in order to get the body used to them. These heavy coils can weigh as much as 11 pounds (5 kg) (before puberty, as they will add more rings later down the line.) The neck rings put a huge strain on the body. Once a persons neck has adjusted to the neck rings they have to leave the neck rings on permanently. Because the rings have been on these women for such a long time, this weakens the neck muscles causing the neck to essentially not being able to support itself. The neck muscles will tire quickly and not be able to carry the weight of the head in other words; when the neck is no longer able to fulfill its function it is very likely that it will collapse, thus resulting in suffocation.
Although it might look as if the neck is being elongated this is an illusion. The neck is forced upwards and the shoulders, collarbone, and upper ribs, pushed downward. For one, bruising in the neck area often result in tumors which sometimes lead to cancers in people who have been wearing the neck rings for an extended amount of time. Because the shoulders, collarbone, upper ribs etc. are being forced downwards, they have spent a lot of time not attaining to its job, when the artificial support system (being the coils) are removed the neck will have nothing to support it resulting in it to collapse. In order for this not to happen the person previously wearing the neck rings will have to replace the rings with some sort of towel, neck brace or some other type of support.
Tourism is often considered to encourage the use of neck rings in Myanmar, as they are a popular attraction for tourists.
Small Kayan girls may wear brass collars from the age of two to five years old, as it is more comfortable to deform the collarbone and upper ribs slowly. The alternative, an accelerated process at around the age of twelve, when girls first begin to compete for the attention of boys, is painful. Marco Polo first described the practice to Western culture in c.1300. Refugee practitioners in Thailand were first accessible to tourists in 1984.
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