Men, women and children of the warmer climates of Southeast Asia often wear anklets since the climate encourages being bare-footed. They also wear hair pins and combs, tiaras, earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, rings, necklaces, brooches, buttons, sashes, belts, belt buckles and daggers. The diverse peoples of Southeast Asia embrace religious traditions ranging from Buddhism and Hinduism to Islam and Christianity as well as strong ties to earlier localized religious traditions related to ancestor and nature worship. Ornaments worn in Southeast Asia and their decorative vocabulary are extremely varied.
The wealth of materials used in Southeast Asian jewelry include gold, silver, bronze, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, rock crystal, jade, etched and plain agates, pearls, amber, elephant ivory, hornbill, boar tusks, tortoiseshell, marine shells, iridescent insect casings and a large number of glass beads. This broad range of materials directly corresponds to rich sources in these regions for nearly all of these goods, except for glass beads. Beads desired by many different groups in Southeast Asia historically were imported from Sri Lanka and South Asia in exchange for gold and spices.
Indian epics refer to the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra (Yavadvipa and Malayadvipa respectively in Sanskrit) as lands of gold and silver. Such descriptions catalyzed increased trade and political influence that spread Hinduism and Buddhism from South to Southeast Asia. But it was the spices—particularly pepper—that drew Islamic and much later European traders to this region, where pepper or “black gold” was valued even more than gold. Myanmar (Burma) is famed for its emeralds, rubies and jade. Historically and currently, peninsular and insular Southeast Asia use these abundant resources to make their own jewelry and continue to profit from exporting many of these goods to lands beyond.