Head binding also called Artificial cranial deformation is a form of body alteration in which the skull of a human being is intentionally deformed.  The head binding process typically begins approximately a month after birth, as the skull is most pliable at this time,  and continues for about six months. It is done by distorting the normal growth of a child’s skull by applying force. Flat shapes, elongated ones (produced by binding between two pieces of wood), rounded ones (binding in cloth) and conical ones are among the most utilized shapes. 

Although there is no universal reason for this practice, cranial deformation was probably performed to signify group affiliation, or to demonstrate social status. It could be aimed at creating a skull shape which is aesthetically more pleasing or associated with desirable attributes. For example, in the Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and the south south-western Malakulan (Australasia), a person with an elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits.


Intentional human cranial deformation is believed to predate written history. The earliest suggested examples include the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (9th millennium BC) from Shanidar Cave in IraqThe earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates‘ description of the Macrocephali or Long-heads. Macrocephali where a tribe of African men, who are believed to have  traveled through India. Not much else is know about them.


A Vanuatu woman holding baby with traditional binding. Photo by Martin Johnson… from the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum

Up until late into the 2oth century the Vanuatu people of the Tomman Island still practiced head binding. The process begins approximately a month after birth. “Each day the child’s head was smeared with burnt paste made from the Navanai-Molo nut (from the candle nut tree). This process softens the skin and prevents ‘binding rash’. The child’s head was then bound with Ne’Enbobosit, a soft bandage made from the inner bark of a type of banana tree. Over this was placed a No’onbat’ar (specially woven basket) made from Nibirip (pandanus) and this was bound around with the Ne’euwver (fibre rope). This process continued every day for approximately six months to produce the required shape.”


illustrations of Mayan skull modification techniques


In the Americas … the MayaInca, and certain tribes of North American natives performed the custom. In North America the practice was especially known among the Chinookan tribes of the Northwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast. 

mangbetu mangbetu2

In Africa, the Mangbetu people of north-east Democratic Republic of the Congo also practiced head elongation. Babies’ heads were bound with cloth to create the desired shape. As adults, the effect was emphasised by wrapping the hair around a woven basket frame so that the head appeared even more elongated.

In some parts of Europe, especially France, head elongation was practised up until the late 19th century. In the Deux-Sevres area, head elongation involved wrapping the baby’s head in a tight bandage. The binding was left for a period of two to four months and was then replaced with a fitted basket. When the baby was older, the basket was strengthened with metal thread.



Australian Museum

Wikipediarce & References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_cranial_deformationSource & References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_cranial_deformationSource