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Rings of pain and prestige

The rings worn by these two women from the Semban tribe in Malaysia's Sarawak state were signs of beauty and prestige long ago.

Ms Anyu Daik, 70, and Ms Anat Ugom, 44, have been wearing the copper rings around their forearms and calves - known respectively as the ruyang and rasung - since they were children.

The accessories are a distinctive feature of their culture, and the practice is said to go back centuries.

Girls wearing the rings had a special standing in the community - only they were allowed to attend festive ceremonies.

Finding a husband was also less of a challenge for such women.

But putting on the rings is painful and all the "ring ladies" grow up with atrophied limbs.

The girls take off the rings only to change to bigger ones as they grow up.

The custom is not popular these days and there are currently only five such women still alive in Malaysia.

But, for them, abandoning the custom is almost unimaginable.

"We don't feel complete as women if we don't wear the rings," said one of the women to the Borneo Post some time back.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2017, with the headline 'Rings of pain and prestige'. Print Edition | Subscribe