Piercings around the nose and mouth are common even in Western culture, and all have been assigned their names accordingly; labret, monroe, medusa, septum... But what about piercings that are so unique that the English language has no need of a name for them? That’s exactly the type of piercings that are seen among the Matsés.
The Matsés and Matis, formerly considered by outsiders as a single group, make their home in the Javari River valley of the Amazon, adjacent the border of Brazil and Peru. As with many tribal cultures, piercing here is common, but it’s the amount of piercings and the way they’re worn that really sets the Matsés apart from their fellow natives. They wear long spindles in their nostrils and lower lips that give the appearance of whiskers.
Due to their interesting jewelry choices and the once common practice of tattooing tooth-like markings around the lips and jaw, the Matsés have been nicknamed “jaguar people,” and to look at traditional modifications among the tribe, it’s easy to see why. The women in particular wear these piercings and markings, along with body paint, as a show of strength, and the tribe has been said to revere the agility and command of the majestic jaguar as a jungle predator.
Although little research has been conducted to corroborate, the general practice of piercing and tattooing among the Matsés is believed to fall in line with that of other known Amazonian tribes. Traditional methods of both cultural arts would involve soot for coloring, along with natural saps, resins, or juices from the indigenous fruit-bearing flora and the use of palm thorn or other sharp or tuberous plant material to pierce the skin.
Although the Matsés and their fellow Panoan-speaking tribes are still in existence today, unrest, forced migration, and the introduction of modern diseases has dwindled their numbers, and most no longer practice the traditional tattooing of their faces and chests.