Tuesday, December 21, 2010

FF: Noserings: And the People Who Love Them

A Karakalpak woman from what would be modern day Uzbekistan. The photograph is from the 30s, but the dress is from earlier.
Personally, I don't really take the punk element in steampunk terribly seriously, at least in the modern context of the Sex Pistols or Vyvyan from the Young Ones (then again, Vyv wasn't meant to be taken seriously, I'm pretty sure). To paraphrase G.D. Falksen, I think the punk element in steampunk is more about the idea that we're dressing up in clothes and adopting the manners of Victorian-era civilizations- which in the context of modern society is very odd. In modern American society for example- wearing a gown or a nice waistcoat is against the grain. In a way, this blog could also be considered punk in steampunk: while most of the community is wearing the clothes of industrialized portions of Western Europe and America, I'm advocating the option of the attire of places elsewhere in the world who might not have been or be considered in the main mode of fashion. Food for thought I suppose.

But enough musing. One of the potential symbols of this punk movement is the symbol of the modern punk movement- the simple nose ring. A lot of cultures during the Age of Steam were piercing their noses: for status, for identification, and for beauty.

Two Tlingit girls from Alaska wearing traditional bone/tusk nose rings (1903)
Nose piercing has been around for thousands of years, of course- but some of the first recorded occurrences of it come from the Middle East, around 4,000 years ago. Most of these early piercings were rings, for the simplicity with which they could be set into the nose without fall out and for the luxury factor. Typically nasal piercings were sported by women, but in many cultures- such as the Northeast Woodlands Native Americans- it was unisex. Septum piercing also holds a broad appeal, particularly amongst male indigenous populations where it can be seen as a sign of manhood or strength. The skin of the septum is also particularly stretchable, which means more ornamentation can be packed into it.

India has had a tradition of nasal piercings that continue to this day. According to traditional Ayurveda medicine, it was believed that the left nostril was connected to feminine health and it would aid her with menstrual pain and childbirth. Nose studs and rings mean various things in the different provinces and communities in India, however one consistent custom is the luxury of bridal noserings. These pieces of bridal jewelry are often made of finely-worked gold and silver and studded with gems and pearls. Sometimes these were connected to matching earrings via jeweled chains. Despite their Muslim faith, which prohibits the permanent demarcation of the body, Mughal women also had noserings.

An Indian woman with a jeweled pendant adorning her nose-stud

Nostril piercing was (and still is) also popular for women in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Sometimes religious pendants will hang from these piercings (called bulak), which can grow to a massive size. Bedouin and other tribal women in the Middle East would also sport similar piercings.

In tribal Java and New Guinea, septum piercing with bone and ivory from wild boar was common- resulting in a tusk-like appearance above the upper lip.

A young man from the Solomon Islands with a stick through his septum
Oceania and the South Pacific
The Aborigines of Australia have been piercing their septum for thousands of years- usually with sharpened pieces of bone which were then used to stretch the skin out. This custom is also prevalent amongst peoples of the South Seas, such as Samoa and the Solomon Islands.

A modern woman of Senegal with a porcupine quill piercing, courtesy of photographer's direct.
Men of the Berber tribe in North Africa were noted by ethnographers of the time (per the 1910 edition of the encyclopedia Brittanica) to wear silver nose-ring; the bigger the ring, the richer (and therefore more important) the man. Further into the continent- in Western and Central Africa- women in tribes such as the Fulani will carry their household wealth on their body: in the form of rings in their ears, on their fingers, and in the septum of their noses. For many women in Africa, a nasal piercing is a symbol of beauty and strength

An Iroquois chief with a large bone ring

The Americas
Many Native American tribes partook in nasal piercing in its various forms. Algonquin women in the Northeast wore rings of bone, and later metal in their nostrils and septum. It was traditional for warriors in the Northeast, Northwest, and the High Plains and Plateau to pierce their septum to look more impressive in battle. One tribe- the Nez Perce (French for 'pierced nose')- earned their moniker for this very practice. It was considered highly desired and beautiful for a woman of the Northwest Coast to have a bone ring piercing.

A Panamanian woman with a large bone septum piercing.
In South America, certain tribes of the Amazon will pierce the septum of their nose with pieces or bone or sharp twigs to mimic the look of a jaguar. This was believed to make them more ferocious hunters and warriors.

So- do you have that nose ring fever, yet? Well you have a couple of options if you'd like to integrate one into your steampunk attire:

-Real: Before you go out and get any nose piercing, first of all ascertain if this is indeed a good idea. Is your employer going to pitch a fit? (Even though, by law in the United States it is illegal to fire a person over piercings or tattoos! Remember this and don't give in to harassment.) Is a nose ring or stud going to look ridiculous on you? Can you keep up with the necessary cleaning to keep it pristine until it's healed? Before you make your final decision, take a look at the section below and try out a temporary piercing to see how you like it. After a few weeks, find a reputable body piercing shop; go ahead and ask a few questions beforehand. It's quite all right to interview a person who will be shooting a hole into your face.

-Fake: If you're like Miss Kagashi and going into a field where facial piercings will result in a non-hire, then a good fake nose ring or stud is perfectly fine. This is a particularly elegant option for those of us who wear a variety of ensembles or just can't afford a proper piercing done by a professional. For a false nose ring, my personal favorite are these spring-loaded clip-on hoop earrings, such as these from Fire Mountain Gems. The spring is gentle, so when you clip it on to your nostril it holds snugly, but without digging into your skin. I've worn one of these with my North African/Ottoman ensemble for hours on end and after a while even forgot that I had it on!

This particular model can have chains linked to it from an earring- Indian style
For a stud, I would recommend buying a bindi or similar body gem and attaching it with spirit gum- a skin safe adhesive used in theatre and film for affixing prosthetics to actors. Works like a charm, just remember to allow time for the spirit gum to get tacky before putting it on.

For someone portraying a traveling character, it might make for a fun story or detail to have a nasal piercing that you received in another country. It can also be a helpful route for someone who might be unsure of the appropriateness of their pre-existing piercing with their outfit.

A drawing of a New Guinea man with a septum piercing

A Ceylonese woman with pierced ears and nostrils, decorated with pearl drops
A Bedouin woman in Saudi Arabia with a metal ring.

An Ahtena family from Alaska

1 comment:

  1. RE: Spirit Gum - while it is intended to be skin-safe, some people (like me) are terribly sensitive to it. Other alternatives can include eyelash glue or men's toupee tape.