A LABRET is one form of body piercing. Taken literally, it is any type of adornment that is attached to the facial lip (labrum). However, the term usually refers to a piercing that is below the bottom lip, above the chin. It is sometimes referred to as a "tongue pillar."
Among the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, labret piercing was reserved for male members of the higher castes.
A less common name for the labret piercing is the "Mao." It is widely believed that this name originates from Mao Zedong's mole below his lower lip.
The pronunciation of the word "labret" has been heavily debated for years. Many people including industry professionals have often pronounced it as /ləˈbreɪ/. According to dictionary reference, it is pronounced /leɪ.brɛt/. The root word is the Latin labrum, which means lip. The -et suffix, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, means "something worn on". So, the combination of the Latin labrum (lip) and the suffix -et (something worn on), creates labret - something worn on the lip.
The labret was a traditional piercing among the American Northwest Coast Indians, where it was related to status:
- access to labrets. After 3,000 BP, a divergence in labret wear in north and south coasts. In the north from 1500 - 3500 BP, more labrets worn by males. After 1500 BP, labrets worn by females. In the south, between 2000 - 3500 BP, worn by males and females, but from 2000 BP on, labrets generally disappear and are replaced by cranial deformation by free males and females of whatever class (e.g. elite or commoner). So, for 4,000 years on the northwest coast, it was important to distinguish certain individuals in a very direct manner; either by cranial deformation or by labret wear. Gender and geographical region may also be identified by these methods.
When a mask was being made to represent someone of high status, naturally enough, that mask had a labret.
Types of labret piercings
There are several different labret variations based on precisely where the piercing is positioned on the lower lip, including a vertical labret through the top of the lower lip rather than in front of the lip tissue, snake bites that are dual piercings close together reminiscent of fangs, and a lowbret, which is placed as low as possible toward the chin. Other variations also include the upper lip as well as other lip tissues, such as the frenulum (the connective tissue between the upper lip and gums).