Body piercing is a longstanding tradition involving the puncturing of body parts to create openings for the insertion of jewellery. This practice dates back thousands of years and serves various purposes, including religious, spiritual, sexual, and aesthetic reasons. Some forms of piercing, like ear and nose piercing, have been practiced for over five millennia, while newer types of body piercing have emerged with the advancement of civilization in the 21st century. Additional examples of body piercing include lip, tongue, navel, nipple, and genital piercings.
Lip piercing and mouth piercing: are practices where a hole is intentionally created on the lips or its surrounding areas to accommodate decorative jewellery, such as lip studs. The location of the piercing can vary around the mouth, but the actual surface of the lips is left untouched. There are several types of lip piercings, each with its own unique name and location on or around the lips. Some of these include the Monroe piercing (located off-center above the upper lip), Labret piercing (positioned in the center of the lower lip), Madonna piercing (placed on the right or left side above the upper lip), Jestrum piercing (center of the upper lip with a curved barbell), Vertical Labret piercing (vertical placement on the lower lip), Spider bite piercing (multiple piercings on one side of the lower lip), Scrumper (a combination of vertical labret and lower lip piercing), and Medusa piercing (center of the upper lip above the cupid’s bow). These various names indicate the specific style and placement of the lip piercing. This type of piercing is distinct from lip piercings and is commonly done to wear tongue rings or barbells.
Lip piercing: has a long historical background that can be traced across diverse African and American cultures. It was a prevalent tradition among various groups, such as the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, the Dogon people of Mali, the Nuba people of Sudan and Ethiopia, and several tribes residing in the Amazon basin of South America. These cultures embraced lip piercing as a significant aspect of their customs and rituals. In the Pre-Columbian era, lip stretching was a prominent custom among South American populations and certain tribes in Malawi. This involved piercing the lips and gradually inserting plates or plugs to stretch and enlarge the lip area. The specific name for these lip discs in Malawi is “pelele.”
For the Dogon people of Mali, lip piercing holds a symbolic meaning that represents the creation of the world by their ancestor spirit. According to their myth, the goddess Noomi wove a thread through her teeth, and when it emerged from her lips, it transformed into speech. This sacred act is reenacted through lip piercing as a ritual practice in their culture.
Similarly, among the Makololo people of Southern Africa, lip piercing is a significant part of their cultural tradition. Makololo women adorn themselves with plates, known as “pelele,” in their upper lips. This practice is associated with betrothal rites, where the potential husband inserts the plate about six months before the marriage ceremony. The size of the plate holds great importance, as it correlates with the dowry the groom must offer to the bride’s family. The larger the plate worn by the bride, the higher the dowry expected from the groom.
The ancient Aztecs of central Mexico and the Mayans of southern Mexico engaged in various body modifications as part of their ritual and ceremonial practices. One such modification was lip piercing, which held special significance for different social groups.
For young males intended to become warriors, lip piercing was performed at a tender age. An ornament was inserted into the pierced hole and gradually stretched as they captured more war prisoners. On the other hand, labret piercing, a form of lip piercing, was reserved for males of higher castes. These privileged individuals adorned themselves with exquisite gold labrets shaped like serpents, often embellished with precious stones.
In the case of both lip and labret piercing, immediately after the initial piercing, no ornament was placed. This allowed for intentional bloodletting, seen as an offering to appease the deities and invoke their favor or protection. These body modifications were deeply rooted in the religious and cultural beliefs of the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, and they served as significant markers of status, identity, and connection with their spiritual beliefs.
Despite its ancient origins, Lip piercing continues to be embraced in modern society, primarily for aesthetic reasons. Today, people choose to undergo lip piercing to enhance their appearance and express their individuality through body adornment.
Lip piercing and mouth piercing Difference are related but distinct practices in body modification:
Lip Piercing: Lip piercing specifically involves creating a hole in or around the lips for the insertion of jewellery This type of piercing can be done on either the upper or lower lip, or even on the corners of the mouth. Common types of lip piercings include Monroe piercing (off-center above the upper lip), Labret piercing (center of the lower lip), Medusa piercing (center of the upper lip), and Spider bite piercing (multiple piercings on one side of the lower lip), among others.
Mouth Piercing: Mouth piercing, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses a variety of piercings done in and around the mouth area. It not only includes lip piercings but also encompasses other types of oral piercings, such as tongue piercing, frenulum piercing (piercing under the tongue), cheek piercing (through the cheek), and uvula piercing (piercing of the uvula at the back of the throat).In summary, lip piercing focuses specifically on piercing the lips, while mouth piercing refers to a wider range of piercings done in and around the mouth region.