16 Crazy Tribal Body Modifications from Around the World 

Jeff Richard
Updated December 16, 2018 785.5k views 16 items

Tattoos and piercings are so commonplace in the 21st century it's easy to forget they actually mean something. Previous to their explosion into mainstream culture, they really meant something. Getting pierced or tattooed with or by a friend is something you'll never forgot. Why is that? What is is about tattoos, piercings, branding, and other body mods that makes them so intensely meaningful? On top of the significance of the individual piece, having certain crazy body modifications gives us a sense of tribal belonging.

Such is the case with bizarre tribal body modifications around the world. To the lay person, these may seem nonsensical. Grotesque. Horrifying. But each culture from which these mods originate has its own perspective regarding the human body, and with nearly every entry below, there is a deep-seated belief that justifies the "damages" done.

And then, well... then there are the guys who get their sacks split just because. So hold onto your nose rings (and whatever else), because we're taking a look at some of the craziest body mods out there.

Scarification is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 16 Crazy Tribal Body Modifications from Around the World
Photo: CFA Bruijning/Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures/Creative Commons

Tattoos are a way of creating a unique imprint on your skin. Scarification takes things one step further, by literally carving the skin away. Once healed, the wounds leave a series of scars in an intricate design. The procedure was by done tribes in what are now Suriname, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, and other places for a number of reasons, including religious and rite-of-passage rituals

Though not heavily practiced in the 21st century, undergoing scarification was seen as a testament to bravery. Thus, the more scars, the more courageous the owner. It was also a seen as a sign of beauty, and similar scars were displayed by members of families, to show their bond.

Scrotal Splitting
Scrotal Splitting is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 16 Crazy Tribal Body Modifications from Around the World
Photo: Spencer and Gillen/Wellcome LIrary, London/Creative Commons

Scrotal splitting is more or less exactly what it sounds like - splitting the sack in half. There are various ways to achieve this, and if you're interested, you can check out this detailed page rife with graphic photos of split sacks. Eventually, the split heals, creating two separate sacks, each with one ball. Scrotal splitting is in no way a tribal or religious practice, but a modern phenomena unique to those interested in extreme body modification. If you're inclined to call them a tribe, so be it. 

However, tribes around the world have (don't click the link at work, btw) performed a ritual modification known as penile subincision. Penile subincision entails splitting the urethra, starting at the top and working your way downward. The practice affects urination to the extent that most men who have undergone the procedure sit or squat to pee. Some carry tubes with them to help aim, and others use the sack to cover the slit so pee can shoot freely from the tip of dong. The practice was performed in Australia, Africa, and South America, and by Polynesian and Melanesian cultures of the Pacific islands. 

Nose Plugs
Nose Plugs is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 16 Crazy Tribal Body Modifications from Around the World
Photo: Sumantbarooah/Creative Commons

The not-so-distant cousin of lip-stretching (also on this list), nose-plugging works in a similar way: punch holes in the sides of the nostrils and insert plugs. The custom was commonplace among the Apatani people of Arunachal Pradesh, India, though hasn't been practiced since the 1970s.

It's said the practice of nose-plugging, which was performed on women (along with facial tattooing) when they came of age, originated as a way to mark members of the tribe. In the event that rival tribes tried to steal Apatani women, the nose plugs and face tattoos would make those women taken easy to identify in the future. 

Skull Elongation
Skull Elongation is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 16 Crazy Tribal Body Modifications from Around the World
Photo: Didier Descouens/ Museum of Toulouse/Creative Commons

Let's say you're rooting through an archeological dig site and stumble across a skull like the one pictured. While it may look like something History Channel would peddle to bored afternoon viewers as an ancient alien it is, in fact, the head of a Peruvian aboriginal with a cranial deformation, one done on purpose, no less.

It's one thing to deliberately mutilate your body as part of a tribal ceremony, it's another to have your parents gently squish your soft baby head between two boards as an infant. Or wrap the head so tightly in ropes it changes shape. As was the case with the Inca, who believed an elongated skull was a sign of nobility and connection to the spirits.