About Paul King

Paul King is a Professional Body Piercer (since 1991) and an enthusiast before that! He is Gauntlet trained and certified with a one and half year apprenticeship under Elayne Angel. He worked in all three former Gauntlet locations, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco and was store manager of LA and NYC. In 1996 Jim Ward, Founder of Gauntlet, awarded Paul King with the honorary title of Master Piercer. He apprenticed many Piercers for Gauntlet as well as co-taught Gauntlet Training seminars. Paul King has lectured at Universities, (including San Francisco State, SF Academy of Art and Skyline College), and the Association of Professional Piercers, (APP), on various aspects of body piercing. He is an avid traveler, collector and layman anthropologist. In 1999 Paul King and Grant Dempsey partnered to create Cold Steel America, two tattooing and piercing shops in San Francisco. He is an active member of the Association of Professional Piercers. He successfully completed a three year elected board member position for the APP. In 2007 he received the APP’s President’s Award for contributions to the Piercing Industry. He currently serves the APP again as the appointed Treasurer. Please visit his website at http://store.ebay.com/Rituals-of-Life to view photos of travels, tribal piercing and tattooing artifacts. He can also be found at www.myspace.com/paulrking He loves to guest lecture, so just ask!

Nipple Piercings, Male and Female

(Editor’s note: These articles were first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series. This time, however, we are combining two of his articles — male and female nipple piercings — into one general nipple piercing–related column. Enjoy.)

MALE NIPPLE PIERCING

Dear Readers,

It may seem odd at first glance that I have chosen to separate the history of nipple piercing, a shared anatomical piercing, into two topics. The reason is twofold. Until modern times, males and females within a culture have not shared this custom, and because of the volume on this topic, the articles work best broken up.

First of all, Roman Centurions did not have their nipples pierced. Over the years it has been my great pleasure (and fortune) to have had many long discussions with Jim Ward, Founder of Gauntlet, PFIQ and longtime friend of Richard Simonton (a.k.a Doug Malloy). Jim has told me the genesis behind this urban myth. It appears that Doug’s only evidence of the Romans having pierced nipples was a photograph of a baroque statue from Versailles. In the photo the statue is wearing a breastplate with rings for attaching a cape. When Jim conveyed his doubts about Doug’s rather stretched conclusions, Doug replied, “Well it makes a good story…”

It appears the Karankawa Native Americans, a now extinct nomadic people that previously inhabited the Gulf Coast of Texas, “pierced the nipples of each breast and the lower lip with small pieces of cane.” That they could heal these piercings is particularly interesting since they “smeared their bodies with a mixture of dirt and alligator or shark grease” to thwart mosquitoes.1

Both American and British sailors have passed on legends of getting pierced as an initiation for having passed an important latitude or longitude, (i.e. Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn or the International Date Line, etc.). There is enough folklore and photos to substantiate the old tales of “sailors with pierced nipples adding links each time the sailor crossed the equator.”2 However, the adding of links seems to be a lesser known practice. Additionally, there exists an abundance of sailor stories for earlobe piercing. Since the turn of the century, sailors such as Le Captain Ringman or The Great Omi, heavily tattooed and pierced, would sometimes reenter mainland society as sideshow human oddities.

The 1950s and ’60s were a time for self-exploration and sowed the seeds of the modern day body modification and S/M communities. Men such as Fakir Musafar (Rowland Loomis) and Jim Ward compelled to pierce their own nipples, bravely figured out their procedures in an information vacuum.3

Let’s count our blessings, times have changed!
__________________
1 The Handbook of Texas Online, by Carol A. Lipscomb at www.tsha.utekas.edu, her bibliography: Albert Gatschet, The Karankawa Indians, the Coast People of Texas, (1891), William Newcomb, The Indians of Texas, (1961), Richard Schaedel, The Karankawa of the Texas Gulf Coast, (1949).

2 PFIQ (Piercing Fans International Quarterly # 21)

3 Fakir pierced his nipples in 1956, Jim Ward in 1968

* * *

FEMALE NIPPLE PIERCINGS

The previous issue discussed the history of the male nipple piercing. As most of you know, I enjoy setting the record straight, debunking myths and documenting the facts. I thought this month I’d do the same thing. Instead, once again, I’ve gotten another of life’s lessons on expectations. Things are not always as simple as they would seem. What I’ve done this month is uncovered a quagmire of dead-end trails, shedding some new light on the history of female nipple piercing, with much still remaining in the dark.

Perhaps the oldest attribution of female nipple piercing comes from Eduard Fuchs. He was a German scholar, “sexologist” and writer from the early 1900s. To the best of my knowledge his work has never been translated. Unfortunately my understanding of the German language isn’t even rusty, it’s nonexistent. So I have to rely on quotes from his works that appear in various books and documents. It has been mentioned on the rec.arts.bodyart newsgroup that Fuch as well as an author named Pelham,1 “made extensive use of the same English source, one article in Society, a journal unavailable to me.”2 I, too, have been unable to find any record of this journal from the turn of the century. Perhaps some inquisitive and persistent English readers could help with further research through their local libraries.

Quoting Fuch’s writing as the source, Hans Peter Duerr’s book, Dreamtime,3 traces the earliest known practice of female nipple piercing to perhaps the Court of Queen Isabella of Bavaria. Her rule (1385 to 1417), though extravagant was rather short lived:

“Queen Isabella … introduced the ‘garments of the grand neckline,’ where the dress was open to the navel.4 This fashion eventually led to the application of rouge5 to freely display nipples, those ‘little apples of paradise’ to placing diamond-studded rings or small caps on them, even piercing them and passing gold chains through them decorated with diamonds, possibly to demonstrate the youthful resilience of the bosom.”6

I have included the entire section of text here with footnotes not normally quoted from Dreamtime in order to illustrate that though piercing of female nipples may have occurred during the Court of Queen Isabella, we cannot draw that conclusion from this passage as written. The paragraph was patched together by Mr. Duerr using three sources, some written over 60 years apart and in different languages. Until more research is done, one can only deduce that the fashion of the time led to a trend of piercing nipples at some unspecified later time, perhaps months or even years later. Some may say I’m splitting hairs here, but I would hate to see the female nipple piercing renamed the “Queen Isabella,” follow me?

Eduard Fuch is again quoted by author Stephen Kern, in Anatomy and Destiny. This time the reference is much later and from a different source. “In the late 1890s the ‘bosom ring’ came into fashion briefly and sold in expensive Parisian jewelry shops. These ‘anneaux de sein’ were inserted through the nipple, and some women wore one on either side linked with a delicate chain. The rings enlarged the breasts and kept them in a state of constant excitation.7 This provocative ornamentation was rare …”

Unfortunately things get even murkier from here. D.W. Jones, who seems to have done a fair amount of research, posts on rec.arts.bodyart, “In 1898 a single Bond Street jeweler is supposed to have performed the nipple-boring operation on forty English ladies and young girls … In fact many ladies, instead of rings, had small chains fastened from breast to breast, and a celebrated actress of the Gaiety Theatre wore a pearl chain with a bow at the end.”8 Unfortunately, this is not footnoted and as such will have to be treated as an urban myth until the source is traced. If anyone knows how to track down D.W. Jones, please tell him I’m looking for him …

The twentieth century brought a flurry of sensational books on erotica. Unfortunately most authors’ intent was more to titillate than to educate. It’s hard to find facts not steeped in the authors’ opinions, usually running to extreme. The necessity for footnotes or bibliographies was usually overlooked in these quasi-scientific books. A strong support for D.W. Jones’s post may be found in this following passage from a book of this lurid genre:

“No more perfect example of Victorian extremism can be found than the unbelievable breast piercing craze that swept London in the 1890s. This barbaric practice achieved fantastic popularity among seemingly sane, civilized Englishwomen, who submitted to the excruciating pain of having their nipples, pierced in order to insert decorative gold and jeweled rings. In an attempt to explain what had driven so many females to embrace such a crackpot fad, a fashionable London modeste wrote a letter to a popular magazine,9 which said in part, ‘For a long time I could not understand why I should consent to such a painful operation without sufficient reason. I soon, however, came to the conclusion that many ladies are ready to bare the passing passion for the sake of love. I found the breast that the ladies who wore rings were incomparably rounder and fuller developed than those who did not. My doubts were now at an end … So I had my nipples pierced, and when the wounds healed, I had rings inserted … With regard to the experience of wearing these rings, I can only say that they are not in the least uncomfortable or painful. On the contrary, the slight rubbing and slipping of the rings causes in me a titillating feeling, and all my colleagues to whom I have spoken on this subject have confirmed my opinion.’”10

Fuch’s French joined with Jones’s and Hurwood’s English references of the same period seem to support the notion of a brief but extraordinary fashion trend. It would be wonderful to someday discover in which country the trend started and by whom.

A piece of folklore I feel compelled to share was passed on to me by Jim Ward. However, please understand none of my research, in anyway substantiates this information appearing in World Medicine. “In the France of Louis XIV [1638-1715], the church condoned the extreme décolleté of ladies’ fashions only because the wearing of gold rings through the exposed nipples made them ‘dressed,’ not bare. The fashion spread across the Channel and a few haut ton [hauteur?] had gold rings inserted in their nipples. But as far as I can find out, the regular wearing of nipple rings has been common only among the Berber tribe of northern Algeria known in the mountains as the Kabyle.”11

Researching the Kabyle, I could find no anthropological references to female nipple piercing. It is near impossible to believe the women of the Kabyle-Berber society, would have nipple piercings when one considers:

a) Religiously, they’re fairly strict Muslim.
b) Culturally, they’re extremely subjugated and sexually repressed by Kabyle men, and,
c) Materially, they’re almost exclusively limited to silver and coral for jewelry adornment. Trying to heal a nipple piercing with silver seems rather hindering, if even possible.

It’s surprising that such a sensational article could appear in a medical journal without any annotation. But to quote Doug Malloy, “It makes for an interesting story anyways, doesn’t it?” If any reader has documentation to support any statements from the medical journal article, please come forth. I have been unable to track the article’s author.

After the 1890s, the female nipple piercing seems to go completely underground. I have been unable to trace any references or photos until the quite remarkable piercing legend, Ethel Granger. For those readers unfamiliar with Ms. Granger, she appeared in the first edition of Guinness Book of World Records. She was entered as the Smallest Waist in the world.12 With strong encouragement from her husband, Ethel started modifying her body when she got married in the 1920s. By World War II, she had both her nipples pierced and over ten ear piercings in each ear many of them stretched and or punched, including her conch. She had two piercings in her nostrils and one in her septum that she could connect by running a knitting needle from one nostril, through the septum and out the other nostril.13 Certainly there were more women secretly with adorned nipples, however material remains elusive.

In closing, having read both nipple articles, the reader will notice from the 1890s onward both men and women of European and American societies were having their nipples pierced. However it appears very early on, female nipple piercing was preformed within the fashion conscious affluent classes while male nipple piercing was practiced by the working class fringe, mostly sailors and carnies. While the stylish quickly dropped the practice, those finding significance in the ritual or ornamentation in their lifestyle, carried on the tradition. In the later half of the twentieth century, it appears not much has changed.

______________
1 I am not familiar with the author Pelham or his work.

2 A website hosted by Anne Greenblaat, http://www.faqs.org/faqs/bodyart/piercing-faq/historical/, Article: “Titrings, a bit of History” by D.W. Jones, posting date May 2000

3 Dreamtime, Concerning the Boundary between Wilderness and Civilization, by Hans Peter Duerr, 1978, translated by Felicitas Goodman, 1985.

4 Dreamtime, pg 54, original text footnote #62, author K. Weinhold, Die deutschen Frauen in dem Mittelalter II, (Wein, 1882), pg. 276

5 Dreamtime, pg 54, original text footnote #63, author M. Garland, “The Changing Face of Beauty,” (London 1957), pg. 71

6 Dreamtime, pg. 55, original text footnote #64, author Eduard Fuchs, Die Frau in der Karikatur, (Muchen, 1925), pg. 179.

7 Anatomy & Destiny, Stephen Kern, (New York 1975), pg. 97, original text footnote # 8, author Eduard Fuchs, Illustrierte Sittengeschichte vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, Erganzungsband, (Munich 1912) pg. 68. Fuchs refers to an original article in Geschlecht und Gesellschaft, Bd. II, Heft. 3.

8 From the website hosted by Anne Greenblaat, http://www.faqs.org/faqs/bodyart/piercing-faq/historical/, Article: “Titrings, a bit of History” by D.W. Jones, posting date May 2000

9 Unfortunately no magazine title is given! Could this also be the illusive “Society” magazine?

10 The Golden Age of Erotica, Hurwood. 1965. pg. 305-306.

11 Those Little Perforations. Tim Healey, Radiologist. Article in World Medicine November 15, 1978.

12 Guinness has since changed the category to Smallest Waist on a Living Person. So unfortunately, Ethel has been displaced by a living, though larger, waist!

13 Piercing Fans International Quarterly (PFIQ), Issue #15, Interview by Fakir Musafar, Editor Jim Ward.

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.



Labrets and Lip Piercings

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series.)

Current Western piercing culture has defined the centered piercing just under the lower lip as a labret, though historically, anthropologists have referred to piercings anywhere around the mouth and cheek as labrets. For the sake of this article, consider piercings currently referred to as Monroe, Beauty Mark, Madonna, Philtrum, cheek and side lip as falling into the category of labret.

Fellow piercing geeks will enjoy knowing that contrary to popular urban myth, “labret” is not a French word. It is actually English, derived from Latin and created sometime in the nineteenth century.1 The “t” is to be pronounced, not silent. Labret (\La’ bret\) is formed by the compounding of the Latin word labrium, meaning “lip,”2 and –et, meaning “small” or “something worn on.”3 There is even an archaic form of the word, “labretifery,” which means, “the practice of wearing labrets.”4 How fancy is that? (OK, I’m a geek.)

After the 2003 APP conference in Amsterdam, I traveled to Berlin to visit the Babylonian exhibit at the famous Pergamon Museum. While wandering the halls of the Mesopotamian exhibits I stumbled across a stele from 671 B.C.E. of King Esahaddon of Assyria. The (approximately) six-foot-tall stone monument was excavated from the citadel of Sam ‘al Zinjirli. The carving depicts the king holding two ropes in his left hand that attach to rings in two prisoners’ lips. This is not my interpretation, but the museum curator’s description, listed on the artifact.

The book Marks of Civilization5 contains perhaps the best collective information on North American labrets. The wearing of labrets was widely practiced by the Eskimos and Aleuts of Alaska in prehistoric and early post-contact eras, yet disappeared within three generations due to intense efforts on the part of Christian missionaries. One essay lists the largest labret found measuring 11.9 cm and weighing seven ounces. The first European record reporting the Aleut labret dates back to 1741, though we know Russian fur traders had contact before that. The practice of wearing labrets varied all over Unalaska. In some areas only boys would get their lips pierced, while in others only girls. In some regions the custom was to pierce infants, while others were pierced at puberty. The reasons varied as well. For a boy it could be part of his induction into manhood, for a girl, part of her coming of marrying age, and for some tribes as part of the marriage ceremonies. Most of the indigenous people believed in animal reincarnation; this sympathetic association was revealed by the wearing of a whale-tail shaped labret or paired lateral labrets imitating a walrus’s tusks.

In South America only the boys of the Suya tribe have their lips pierced, and the lip plugs are painted red for confidence in speech, war, ideas, and so on. Both the boys and girls get their ears pierced once they reach adolescence. They are then expected to “listen” and act like adults, etc. The plugs are painted white for passivity and good listening.

Kichepo and Surma women of Southeastern Sudan in Africa have the largest lip piercings in the world; the elder, more respected women will sometimes have their lips stretched over ten inches in diameter! Some myths say it is to imitate birds, while other stories say it’s to eat less, and thus be less of a burden, or to gossip less, or possibly to be made less attractive to other tribes and slave traders to help prevent kidnapping.

In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, the indigenous people would adorn their lips with expertly worked pieces of obsidian, semiprecious stone and gold. These lip piercings held great significance of both religious and social status and were considered objects of great beauty. The APP’s International Liaison, Alicia Cardenas [Ed. note: Alicia is no longer in this position] will be writing an article of greater depth into Mesoamerican lip piercing, including whether or not the Olmec — from 1100 B.C.E. to 200 C.E., the oldest known Mesoamerican advanced civilization — practiced lip piercing. If they did, the Olmec would be the oldest known people to engage in labretifery!


__________
1 Collin’s English Dictionary, 2000.
2 Webster’s Dictionary, 1913.
3 American Heritage Dictionary 4th edition, 2000.
4 www.quinion.com
5 Marks of Civilization, Edited by Arnold Rubin, University of California, Los Angeles, 1992. ISBN 0-930741-12-9, Essays of interest: Labrets and Tattooing in Native Alaska by Joy Gritton and Women, Marriage, Mouths and Feasting: The Symbolism of Tlingit Labrets by Aldona Jonaitis.

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.



The Conch Piercing

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series.)

In the piercing world we have come to call the piercing of the ear’s concha a “conch” piercing, pronouncing the ch softly, as in “church.” However, per Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd edition, the correct pronunciation of the ch should be hard, sounding like the letter “K.” I bring this up merely as a matter of curiosity or trivial fact; I am certainly not suggesting the piercing community should stray from tradition. Sometime in the early 1990s, the original Nomad body piercing shop in San Francisco, owned by Blake Perlingieri and Kristian White, started referring to this piercing as the “Sadhu,” a rather catchy name that has stuck to an extent, and which refers collectively to Indian Hindu holy men. “Incorrectly they are sometimes referred to as ‘Fakirs’ who were originally Moslem street magicians who adopted a few yogic techniques for their repertoires and used them solely for entertainment.”1 It is a particular subsect of these Sadhus, the Gorak Naths or Gorakhnathis, that have their conchae pierced.

There is little historical documentation of the conch piercing, and its practice seems sporadic within different cultures. Other than the Gorak Naths, I have only found the Mangebetu to have strong cultural ties to the perforation and adorning of the Concha.

The Mangebetu, sometimes spelled Mangbetu, are an African tribe found in the Republic of Zaire (previously known as Congo). The Mangebetu were formerly regarded for their sophisticated court and developed arts; it is the women of this tribe that can still be seen wearing the beautiful long pieces of ivory in their conchae. The conch perforations often “hold monkey bones which are used to part their hair,”2 though sometimes, the bones were simply for decoration. In the past when elongation of the skull was more widely practiced, and hair styles were worn high to accentuate the skull’s shape, the conch jewelry was used to support the hair. The woman’s hair was sometimes extended using hair from the dead of an enemy tribe.

It’s impossible, of course, to say when the conch piercing was practiced for the first time. The history of the Sadhus has been long debated. Some archeologists believe that asceticism was implicit in the teachings of the Rg-Veda, written in the Vedic language, what we know as “The Vedas”, holy texts which came to India with the “invasion” of the Nordic Aryan Tribes around 1500 B.C.E. These Aryan tribes became the upper castes, the Brahmans, in the Hindu society. The other camp believes that yogic ascetic and other shamanistic practices can be traced much further back to the Indus Valley Culture, already fully developed in 2500 B.C.E. As is usually the case in history, it’s probably a little of both.

“Almost nothing is known of the historical Gorakhnath. His personality was quickly distorted by myth and magical folklore … It seems he was an ascetic yogi who lived sometime around the ninth to 12th C.E. He established a new synthesis between Pasuhupata Shaivism, Tantra and the so-called Teachings of Siddhas. He was closely linked with Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism, and is also credited with the authorship of a lost treatise, called simply Hatha Yoga, and with the foundation of the movement of that same name. His teachings also involve the so-called “left-hand path” of Tantra, which involves sexual tantra with a partner, as opposed to simple visualization (the “right-hand” path).”3

“The main symbol that characterizes the Gorakhnathis, are huge earrings worn in split ears. Gorakhathis are also called Kanphatas or Kanphata Yogis (‘Kan’ meaning ear and ‘phat’ meaning split), because at the initiation ceremony the ears are split to insert enormous earrings. These earrings are commonly called yogi’s earrings and are made of agate, glass and various materials. Traditionally rhinoceros horn was a favorite because of its durability and because it is a sacred animal. Such rings covered with gold have been found. The wearing of the earrings is of great importance. If one is broken, another must be substituted before the yogi can eat, engage in conversation or carry out religious duties. Modern adherents claim this piercing the central hollow of the ears is a technique by which the acquisition of magical powers is promoted.”4

The piercing procedure is performed “with the double edge ‘Bhairavi knife’ (Bhairavi is a manifestation of Shiva). Before the operation, the Nath Babas are called Aughars — meaning ‘unfinished’ — and many will never reach the second stage.”5 It is not known at what point in the development of this subgroup of Sadhus, that they began piercing their conchae, if they originated the practice or if the practice existed in a previous sect. They have certainly been the only Hindu practitioners of this ritual for some time.


______________
1. Shiva by Paula Fouce and Denise Tomecko, Tamarind Press, 1990, p 79
2. Africa Adorned by Angela Fisher, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishing, 1984, p 79
3. http://www.kheper.net/topics/natha_siddhas.html
4. http://www.philter.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/hindu/devot/gorak.html by Richard Shaw, Lancaster University, St Martin’s College.
5. Sadhus Holy Men of India by Dolf Martsuiker, Thames and Hudson 1993, p 35

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.



Western History of Female Infibulation (Outer Labia Piercing)

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers, on March 14, 2002. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series.)

Female infibulation, as defined by this article, involves multiple piercings of the outer labia. It does not include excision of the clitoris, clitoral hood and/or labia minora. Most western women today who wear outer labia piercings do so by choice to increase both aesthetic and physical pleasure. In western fetish communities, in which outer labia piercings are performed for chastity play, the process is mutually consensual. Many piercers today find outer labia piercings heal quicker and with fewer problems by using barbells, curved or straight, instead of rings.

Historically, the piercing was often performed with a needle followed by thread until it healed, though sometimes the rings would be directly inserted after or as part of the piercing process. A single ring or suture would pass through both outer labia, pulling them together and obstructing access of the vagina.

THROUGH HISTORY

“Roman reference in the fifth century B.C.E., Herodotus says Ethiopians performed infibulation freely on wives. Rhodius and Fabricius d’ Aquapendente refer to the use of infibulation for preservation of chastity. Celsus states that among Romans occasionally posterior piercing was performed to prevent access from the rear as well.”1

In 1737 in Leicester, England, George Baggerley was fined 20 schillings for sewing his wife’s outer labia together with needle and thread.2

“In some other tribes in Asia and Africa, they run a ring through the tips of the opposite nymph; and this ring is so encased in girls, that it can be removed only by filing it, or forcibly cutting it with scissors. We can imagine those shackles can be welded only by soldering, so as to unite the branches of the buckle after it has been sunk into the flesh; and this soldering can be performed only with a red-hot iron, which is laid on the buckle itself, in order to melt in the ore lead. As to the women they wear there an iron circle provided with a lock, the key of which the husband holds; for this tool supplies the place of seraglio and eunuchs, who require such expense and who cost so dear in Asia, that absolutely nobody but seigniors and princes have slaves trained for guarding other slaves; villains from among the population use those rings we have just spoken about.”3 Some writings, such as the previous passage, suggest that the rings were sometimes soldered shut, though an eyewitness account of this supposed process has remained elusive.

Fakir Musafar provides an Indian reference: “Tamil suitors used to demand the sewing up of the outer labia until marriage with the use of gold wire.”4

“It is not possible to conclude whether there was one origin or several independent origins. [Some] feel that there is sufficient evidence to assume that infibulation was practiced in ancient Egypt, and that perhaps it is there the custom originated. Or it could have been an old African puberty rite that came to Egypt by diffusion. (Infibulation is known in the Sudan as ‘Pharaonic circumcision’ and in Egypt it is referred to as ‘Sudanese circumcision.’)”5

This author is opposed to any form of nonconsensual genital mutilation, whether on infant boys in the U.S. or on women and young girls in some traditional African societies and extremist Muslim groups throughout the world. The practices of foreskin and clitoral hood circumcision, clitoridectomy, excision and abrasion of the vulva area followed by suturing together of both outer labia until the vaginal opening heals shut, are forced on hundreds of thousands of children today. For more information on these practices or to learn how you can help fight these human rights abuses please contact Minority Rights Group, UNESCO and World Health Organization.

_____________________________
1Chastity Safeguards, 1947, Haldeman-Julius, pub. Girard, Kansas.

2 Male Infibulation, Eric John Dingwall, pg. 59 (account from “The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, 1737, vol. VII pp 250)

3 Recherches philosphiques sur les Americains, tome II p. 140 (Berlin 1779) author De Pauw, from Padlocks and Girdles of Chastity, 1928

4 Piercing Fans International Quarterly, Issue 11, Fakir Musafar

5 Female Circumcision, Excision and Infibulation, History, Minority Rights Groups, Marie Assaad, 1980

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.



Ampallangs and Apadravyas

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series.)

In Sulawesi it was called Kambi or Kambiong; in the Philippines, Tugbuk. In southern Borneo it was called Kaleng and, while the Kenyah called it Aja, the Kayan called it Uttang or Oettang. A few anthropologists made the Iban’s name for it the most famous: Palang, or ampallang. An Indian scholar gives a description of it and calls it apadravya. First of all, the reader will come to know that what we have all called the ampallang and the apadravya piercings are, historically, one and the same. This article will cover origin, practices and mythology around this very extreme and ancient piercing.

As to the exact origin of this piercing, nobody knows. Scholars have devoted their careers to dissecting trade patterns, in particular in South and South East Asia. The complexities of trade influence over time can most simply be described as the overlapping of cultures, like waves crossing from different directions. Based on the knowledge that all known occurrences of this custom are recorded on the same trade routes and the intense nature of piercing and healing the glans of the penis, one can safely deduce that this piercing custom did not spontaneously originate in various locations, but was shared.

The only known reference of the apadravya is the sixth century Kama Sutra. I know of no other mention or art depictions of the piercing in India. If the practice survived until substantial European contact, in the seventeenth century, then surely there would have been some recording. One can only speculate that this piercing was probably neither widespread nor lasting in the Indian culture.

According to Vatsyayana, the author of the Kama Sutra, apadravyas are any one of a number of devices which a man

puts on or around the lingam (penis) to supplement its length or its thickness, so as to fit into the yoni (vagina). The people of the southern countries think that true sexual pleasure can not be obtained without perforating the lingam, and they therefore cause it to be pierced…now when a young man perforates his lingam he should pierce it with a sharp instrument, and then stand in water as long as blood continues to flow. At night he should engage in sexual intercourse, even with vigor, so as to clean the hole. After this he should continue to wash the hole with decoctions and increase the size by putting into it small pieces of cane… and thus gradually enlarging it.

There should be some debate on the definition of the term “southern countries” used in the Kama Sutra, It could mean Southern India or it could mean SE Asia. If it means SE Asia, again, this would argue that the origins of the piercing are probably not in India.

The first known depiction is on a bronze dog from SE Asia, fourth century. The earliest record in European literature of the piercing on a man is from 1588. The explorer, Cavendish, is said to have been to the island of Capul, Philippines. “Every man hath a nayle (nail) of Tynne (Tin) thrust quite through the head of his privie part (glans of his penis)…” 1

Though the Indian culture was extremely prolific, there is another good argument against Indian origins: Statuary predating Hindu influence in Bali depict possible penile piercings. One anthropologist has cited the visual influence of certain indigenous rodents and the rhinoceros on the island of Borneo (that naturally have barbed penises) as the original inspiration for the piercing.2

The only traditional practice of this piercing still known to exist is on Borneo, with the Kayan people believed to be the oldest practitioners of the Palang; all current tribes practicing the palang give credit to the Kayan. This is interesting, considering they are inland and thought by anthropologists to be the most isolated and oldest inhabitants. Current history dates the palang to other tribes only about 100 years.3

Just as interesting as the mysterious origins are the variations of materials, practice and mythology around this extreme piercing.

Other than the mention in the Kama Sutra, the oldest accounts of this piercing come from the Philippines. Popular in the region was a device called Sakra, which is believed to be a derivative of the Indian Sanskrit word chakra: a center of force or energy. The apparatus could be a round wheel with projecting points (like a spur held in place by a pin), stars, rings, fine twisted wire, pig bristles, bamboo shavings, seeds, horn, coral, agate, hornbill ivory, beads, broken glass and, in one case, an object that looked like a snake head. Quills, as well, were used as nonfunctional retainers. The early explanations from the Codex say the women insisted upon the piercings to discourage the men from sodomy. The Spanish quickly set about eradicating the behavior, referred to as “a custom invented by the devil.”4

Certainly the greatest volume of documentation for this piercing, however, is from the Iban in Borneo, who would sometimes tattoo a rosette (or, occasionally, a fishhook) to show they had a palang. Palang in Iban means “cross” or “cross bar,” and, in the region, the Pins would be made of gold or brass. Often, a sleeve insert to reduce friction (a “bushing”) was put in place so the pin could be removed as desired,5 with up to three palangs sometimes worn at a time.6 The Iban also refer to the ampallang as “burah palang” or “tanduh duri,” which translates to “spout thorn” or “point.” The ends of the pin could have been smooth, or may have been “little pins, coins, discs, brushes, rings/rowels.”7

On Borneo and Sulawesi, a splint is used to hold the penis for the actual piercing procedure. It varies in length from several inches to a foot, approximately a one-and-a-half inches thick with a hole in both sides.8 The slats are placed on either side of the penis and then tightly secured, flattening out the penis. After sufficient time has passed for the lack of blood and cold water to decrease sensation, the penis is pierced9 – sometimes, a pigeon’s feather anointed with oil would be inserted and taken out each day. The piercing takes about one month to heal.

There are many myths of origin for this piercing. The Kayan say a woman complained of a man’s penis size, saying it was no better than a rolled leaf used to give herself satisfaction, and the insulted male ran off to the woods and pierced himself. The Kelabit say a visiting Kayan warrior used his piercing on a woman causing her death, but she was so satisfied the Kelabit continued the practice.10 Another story goes11:


“The lady had various ways of indicating the size of the ampallang desired. She might hide in her husbands plate of rice a betel leaf rolled about a cigarette, or with the fingers of her right hand placed between her teeth she will five the measure of the one she aspires. The Dayak women have a right to insist upon the ampallang and if the man does not consent they may seek separation. They say that the embrace without this contrivance is plain rice; with it is rice with salt.”

In the mid 1970s, Doug Malloy labeled the vertical piercing of the glans an “apadravya” and a horizontal piercing “ampallang.” Doug passed this folklore onto Jim Ward, founder of Gauntlet and editor of Piercing Fans International, Quarterly.12 For posterity, it’s important that the piercing community knows the historical origins, however, continuing the practice of differentiating the same piercing as two, honors our own western traditions.


________________
1 Male Infibulation by John Dingwall

2 Tom Harrison is an anthropologist from the 1950s and 60s. He wrote several articles, a book and collected artifacts on the Palang for the Sarawak Museum, Kuching, Malaysia. This author was able to go there and obtain photocopies of his work.

3 Tom Harrison

4 The Penis Inserts of Southeast Asia Donald E. Brown, James W. Edwards, and Ruth P. Moore

5 The Sexual Relations of Mankind (SRM, per researcher Von Graffin) by Montegazza

6 A Stroll through Borneo by James Barclay

7 Tom Harrison

8 Tom Harrison

9 SRM states they will sometimes leave the device on for eight to ten days. (!) An Iban personally told this author, “2-3 hours.”

10 Tom Harrison

11 SRM

12 Per telephone conversation with Jim Ward, August 3, 2002.

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.



Western History of Male Infibulation (Piercing of the Foreskin)

(Editor’s note: This article was first published on October 17, 2001, in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is the first in that series.)

Male infibulation involves pulling the foreskin of the penis over the glans and piercing the foreskin through both sides, vertically or horizontally. In theory, this type of foreskin piercing secures the prepuce like a hood over the glans, making arousal painful and erection impossible. The procedure was usually performed with needle followed by thread until healed, at which point a ring or fibula pin would be directly inserted. (Sometimes, the “jewelry” would be inserted immediately after or as part of the piercing process.)

Ironically, in recent times the male foreskin piercing is usually performed to enhance aesthetics and pleasure. Most modern piercers find that typical foreskin piercings heal more quickly and with fewer complications when using barbells instead of rings.

Clear records of male infibulation can be found from twelfth century B.C.E. through fourth century C.E., then again from the seventeenth century C.E. until present. The practice seems to have fallen out of vogue for about 1,300 years in between; scanning western literature during that period, no references to the practice have been found. Then, in the latter part of 1715, Onania was published in London, and set into motion the journey of masturbation into the dark ages; this was “Patient Zero” in all religious rhetoric on the evils of “self-pollution.” The pamphlet (and the doctoral essays in the following generations that quoted from it) set the misconceptions that masturbation was injurious and evil and had to be stopped by whatever means — including piercing. The author remains anonymous.

Remember: The Arabs, Greeks and Romans were not prudes. They infibulated not for fear of sin, but out of superstition and control. They believed young singers’ voices could be kept pure and unchanged, that athletes and gladiators performed better chaste and, of course, slaves’ sex members needed to be controlled for breeding, protection from STDs, and the safety of non-slave women.

It seems that the resurgence of infibulation was most widely practiced in Germany around the end of the eighteenth century. Doctors Campe and Vogel felt piercing the flesh of the foreskin and, once healed, installing an iron ring was appropriate for “difficult cases.” Keep in mind, that these operations were performed non-consensually on children.

A few scientific heretics first appeared around 1875. They thought the evils of masturbation were exaggerated and that the medical operations were barbaric and ultimately ineffective. There were those whose rhetoric clung to the past, such as Freud and the Catholic Church. Then, however, the final nail was hammered in with the Kinsey Report of 1948, showing 92 percent of the population masturbated, thus closing the door on recorded incidences of medical infibulation in the western world. It is known that piercing continued in the SM (sado-masochistic) underground but, since SM was still considered a mental illness and illegal, records remain illusive.

As a footnote, it would seem logical that the “Prince Albert” was first practiced as a form of infibulation on circumcised men, however a clear cut example, describing the practice or of the use of the name Prince Albert, has not been traced prior to The Art of Pierced Penises and Decorative Tattoos by Doug Malloy. So far, American books on the history of circumcision (where the operation is widely practiced) have yielded no concrete references. Exploration of LGBT archives and the Leather Archives in Chicago — a museum dedicated to the Leather and SM communities — should be under taken for possible references prior to the 1970s. The smoking gun is out there — it just hasn’t been found.

A General Time Line

Twelfth century B.C.E.: Per Mensius, infibulation was at least in practice to the time of the siege of Troy. Chastity Safeguards by Anonymous.

Up to fourth century C.E.: Fragmented accounts given in the second century and after by Celsus and Oribasius, giving descriptions of the reasons and operation. Male Infibulation by Dingwall M.A.

Seventeenth century: Surgeon, Dionis, describes the “bouclement de garcons” (the male ring) piercing chastity during the reign of Louis XIV, written beginning of eighteenth century. Male Infibulation by Dingwall M.A.

Eighteenth century: Doctors such as Campe, Jaeger and Vogel support infibulation as a means to stop masturbation. Male Infibulation by Dingwall M.A.

1822: A detailed account of Dr. Marx’s encounter with a patient who had been infibulated several times appears in the Gazette de Sante.

1876-1892: Dr. Yellowees declared that he performed infibulation operations by passing metal safety pins through the foreskin. Masturbation, The History of a Great Terror by Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck.

1910: “Self pollution: When everything else fails, we have no hesitation in recommending surgical treatment. This is of various kinds, from repeated blistering to that ancient operation which Latin writers tell was practiced upon singers of the Roman stage, called infibulation.” Know Thyself: Nature’s Secrets Revealed by Bishop Fallows and Dr. Truitt.

1926: Regarding prevention of masturbation: “Other physicians perforate the foreskin and introduce a ring.” The Sexual Life of Our Time by I. Bloch, M.D.

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have information you would like to share.

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.