If tattooed black gums are considered a thing of beauty in West Africa, it’s chiseled, pointy-sharp teeth that’s the ‘in thing’ for some Indonesian tribes. I do wonder though, why it’s always the women who have to subject themselves to bizarre beauty rituals.
Well, we may not be able to answer that question any time soon, but we can tell you about Indonesian tooth-filing, a beauty regimen that involves the sawing of teeth until they achieve a sharp, narrow and pointed shape. Women in some Indonesian rural communities are considered extremely beautiful after they’ve undergone such a treatment. Mantawaian is one such village, where the wife of the village chief, Pilongi, had to go through with it a couple of years ago. She had managed to avoid the ritual when she was a young teenager, but as the wife of a powerful man in the village, she had to oblige him by becoming more beautiful.
Located on a remote Sumatran archipelago, the ideals of beauty for the Mantawaian people go far beyond the skin. According to a National Geographic documentary, they go through a number of rituals such as teeth chiseling in order to maintain a balance between the body and the soul. They believe that at the dawn of time, the Mantawaians had split into spirits and humans. But the humans are always under the threat of re-joining the spirit world if their own souls aren’t kept happy or aren’t pleased with their bodies. So permanent decorations like tattoos are made on the body to make the souls happy, and to avoid death for as long as possible.
Tooth-filing is an extremely painful practice, which thanks to the progression of time has become optional for many young women. Pilongi had to go through with it however, because her husband needed a beautiful wife in keeping with his status in the village. “I asked her to do it and I assured (her) that she would be more beautiful afterwards,” said her husband. Pilongi herself did not know what to expect. “But when they do it, I will just let them sharpen my teeth,” she said. The tooth-filing ceremony took place in the village communal house, and several villagers had gathered to witness it. Excited and nervous, Pilongi made her way over there as well. “I am not worried about the pain. If I think about that, I won’t get more beauty.” The sawman sharpened his tools in preparation for the event – a sharp chisel causes less pain and gets the job done faster as well.
The surgery was performed without any anesthetics, as is the general practice. It was over rather quickly, and Pilongi was given a raw green banana to chew on and dull the pain. She was visibly relieved and happy after the ritual was over. “Now that my teeth are sharp, I look more beautiful for my husband,” she said. “So he won’t leave me.” Her husband, however, had a different story to tell. “Maybe when she is tired of me, she will get a new husband, now that she’s beautiful,” he joked. But what matters most to Pilongi and the other Mantawaians is that her soul is finally back in balance. Now, if she could only avoid biting her tongue.