A while back a village lady about my same age explained to me the significance of earrings for women in her culture. When a girl is in her teens and starting to think about getting married, she adorns her ears with long, flashy, stylish earrings, not unlike what a girl in town would also wear. After she’s married, she tones it down a bit, but still wears whatever is trendy in current earring fashion.
After she begins having children and moves into the matronly category of women in the village, she switches to wearing large traditional silver pieces as a symbol of her family’s prosperity. By the time she is a grandmother, the weight of the earrings has stretched out the holes in her ear lobes to be big enough to poke a finger through. She no longer wears the family silver at this point, the holes in her ears now a sign that she has passed down her wealth to the next generation.
A couple of weeks ago, Fidi and I were at Adam’s house in MN village, getting ready to talk to a village musician later in the afternoon. Adam’s mom passed the time with us, comparing her skirt fabric and ours, admiring Fidi’s carved silver bracelet from Thailand.
“I have silver jewelry too—would you like for me to show you?” she asked.
She has a sweet and welcoming demeanor, but is always busy with some cooking or cleaning task around their wooden stilt house. I was glad for her to take the time to sit down and talk with us.
She brought out several bracelets, thick and weighty. One was a broad, carved wrist band; the others were snake-like coils for the upper arm. We passed them around and tried them on, and then she handed me something I wasn’t quite sure of. Two long, thin strips of silver wound loosely in a spiral. “My earrings from when I was younger,” she explained.
So this is how they did it, how they expanded the holes in their ears. The spiral is wound tightly to begin with and gradually loosened, causing the hole to grow. Eventually the silver strips are removed, but the skin is permanently stretched. I tried winding the strips as tight as I could, just to see what the smallest size of earring would be—even at their tightest, it would take a great deal of effort and a period of time to get them inside your ear lobes.
Adam’s mom assured me it didn’t hurt, though I’ve had enough ear and nose piercings (we’re talking double digits) to question her honesty. The price of beauty and status in the village—not so far off from the price I’ve been willing to pay.