The piercing of the lips for the insertion of objects into them is very widely practiced throughout the world, however only two tribes pierce the lips with a ring; the Dogon tribe Of Mali, and the Nuba of Ethiopia. Among the Dogon the piercing of the lip has religious significance, they believe that the world was created by their ancestor spirit “Noomi” weaving thread through her teeth, but instead of thread out came speech. All the other lip piercing that is practiced in the world is done with labrets, which can either be a pin of wood, ivory, metal, or even in one case quartz crystals. Among the tribes of Central Africa, and South America the Labret piercing is stretched to extremely large proportions, and large wooden or clay plates are inserted.
Among the ancient Aztecs and Mayans labret piercing was reserved for male members of the higher castes, they wore beautiful labrets fashioned from pure gold in the shape of serpents, golden labrets with stones inset and ones of jade or obsidian (labret in Aztec “Tentetl”). The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest and the Inuit peoples of northern Canada and Alaska wore labrets fashioned from walrus ivory, abalone shell, bone, obsidian, and wood.
The Makololo tribes of Malawi wear lip plates in the upper lip called Pelele. The African explorer Dr. Livingstone asked a chief the reason for this, in surprise the chief answered “For beauty! They are the only beautiful things women have. Men have beards, women have none. What kind of person would she be without Pelele? She would not be a woman at all.”
“The plug of wood in the lips, which became little by little a disk, and then a real plaque, was in some manner a sign of possession of the husband of the Djinja woman. It is the man who is to marry her, and very often him alone who operates, transfixing the lips of the young girl with a blade of straw forms the first sign of the deformation to which she will be subject as an adult. It is in sum, a betrothal rite.”
Dr. Muraz referring to the Saras-Djinjas tribe, who insert lip plates up to 24cm in diameter in both lips. (Chari River South of Lake Chad in “Nudity to Raiment” Hillarie Hiler London 1929)