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Beauty Rituals: Teeth Chiseling

Countries worldwide participate in various unique, and at times, disturbing beauty rituals and body modifications. For example, it is not uncommon for the Japanese to partake in beauty facials that are battered up with Nightingale droppings, and it is not strange for the Austrians that use leeches as a form of detoxification for their bodies. An interesting ritual is that performed by an Indonesian tribe known as the Mentawai, is that of tooth chiseling1. Although it is uncomfortable for most Westerners to understand and accept as a true beauty ritual, the Indonesian tribe finds tooth-chiseling a necessary ritual for physical and spiritual beauty. The Mentawai tribe resides on a jungle-like island just west of Sumatra, Indonesia. The historical ritual is usually performed by a priest, or Brahmin, that chisels the teeth of young men whose voices will deepen and for young girls who begin menstruating. The beauty ritual is believed to keep the soul from wandering and to also rid the human of evil spirits. What is interesting about this ritual is that it is not advertised in popular media like other beauty rituals. Perhaps because it is very painful, unique to its own culture, and can appear to be very terrifying to other cultures. What popular media has done for this particular beauty ritual is broadcast through documentaries, Internet websites, and journal articles the uniqueness of such a beauty ritual. The ritual of teeth chiseling thus becomes more interesting to learn about, and perhaps intrigues people worldwide to attempt the ritual and make it a part of their own culture. Exploring other culture’s beauty rituals not only opens one’s mind, but also makes an individual reconsider their own culture’s unique beauty rituals. For instance, I’ve had to question why it is almost mandatory for Western women to shave their body hair… Although this beauty ritual is nowhere near in competition of the Indonesian tooth chiseling, it makes one wonder why it is so important to our cultural traditions. To appeal to the opposite sex and build personal confidence? Ultimately, whether the culture is involved with popular media and technology or not, every culture partakes in beauty rituals for two reasons. One being social status, the other being group identity. Every culture is different, in that some cultures apply popular media and technology to their current and ongoing fashions and beauty rituals whereas other, indigenous cultures use their bodies to show off their personal and group’s creative outlook on life and the human body.

Mentawai Woman flashing her pearly, chiseled whites.

Mentawai Woman flashing her pearly, chiseled whites.

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Written by Rachael Bogdans

I am a recent graduate from Grand Valley State University where I studied Film/Video and Anthropology. My goal is to serve the world with communication of and about other cultures; the many different practices, alternatives to cooking and medicine, and to enlighten those who may have suffered from xenophobia.

There are 2 comments

  • o0aquamentus0o says:

    “For instance, I’ve had to question why it is almost mandatory for Western women to shave their body hair.” I wrote my college personal statement about this! I ask myself this question all the time, and usually the answer is, “not really that mandatory.” =P But compared with those who feel pressure to chisel away their teeth… I guess we’re lucky.

    On a more serious note, I totally agree with your observation that it’s important to learn about the rules of other cultures so that we can recognize how arbitrary our own might be.

  • This was a fascinating article!!

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