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mouth and lip modifications

In the western world, one of our favorite things is dressing in costume, especially during the Halloween season, and one of our fave characters to dress up as is of course the toothy vampire.  For most of us, this requires a little temporary modification, but what about the tribal world, where mods are meant to be permanent?  There are some pretty interesting ways the peoples of the world modify their mouths.  Just take a look:

Vamping: There are actually several tribes across the globe that modify the teeth by filing them into sharp points or nubs, and most have been doing so since long before vampires became a western obsession.  Some of the more noteworthy include several tribal groups of the African Congo, a handful of the Papuan sub-groups, the Mentawai of Indonesia, and the Hindu ethnic groups of Bali.  There are several given reasons for the tooth modifications, but the most common are tribal identification, rites of passage, and physical beauty.

 sharpened tooth modifications

Giving Lip: Several of the tribes that inhabit modern day Ethiopia, particularly the Omo River Valley region, are known to stretch their lips to outstanding proportions.  The most well known include the Mursi and Surma, but there are a couple of other things these ethnic groups might modify along with their lower lip.  Aside from piercing and stretching, many of these tribes also forcefully knock out several of the adult front teeth, most commonly the two central bottom teeth, and possibly those directly adjacent them on both sides.  Yet other African tribes, like the Sara and the Makonde might pierce and stretch the top lip instead, or wear plugs in both lips of varying proportions.

 Mursi woman with large stretched lip piercing

Tongue Twisters: Many tribal societies have long been known for tongue piercing as well.  From the Ancient Mayans, to the North American Tlingit Indians, and finally the modern day Hindus of India and Thailand, tongue piercing has been performed for countless reasons across history.  In the modern era, it’s often used as a method of worship or offering to the gods, like with those who carry out ritual piercings at Thaipusam or other vegetarian festivals.  While in a trance or completing acts of devotion at such celebrations, the cheeks and other parts of the mouth are also commonly pierced.

 a ritual tongue piercing at festival

The Bling Thing: Although not necessarily a tribal practice, our last form of mouth mod is definitely used for social identification: tooth implants.  This is literally the process of embedding a gem in a human tooth.  Mostly performed by licensed dentists, the implants, or “tooth bling,” can be the result of drilling and bonding into a living tooth, or of tooth replacement as with a partial denture or specialized veneer.  Even though it’s mostly a modernized modification, the general aesthetic of sparkling teeth can definitely be traced to ancient tribal mouth work such as the intricate tooth carvings amongst the Aztec upper class, or the shimmering mineral pigments applied to the lips and faces of the ancient Egyptians.

gem tooth implants

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