Ngalla, a [Pygmy] farmer/hunter underwent the not-too-pleasant exercise of teeth filing at the age of 12. Now, he boasts, his teeth have remained intact and still effective at tearing and chewing meat.
"Teeth filing is part of our tradition. We are identified as Bakas through it," explains Ngalla. "We inherited this practice from our ancestors and nobody can stop us from continuing with it," he insists (Teeth Filing: Painfully Pleasant For Baka Pygmies).
The sad and disturbing story of Ota Benga, an Mbuti Pygmy who wound up on exhibit in the Bronx Zoo, is told on this Wikipedia website. Might as well put him on exhibit here too, since this picture is a fine example of what Mbuti style tooth filing looks like.
Bushmen also file their teeth, apparently (see van Reenen JF, 1978, "Tooth Mutilation amongst the Peoples of Kavango and Bushmanland, South West Africa (Namibia)." J. Dent. Assoc. S. Afr. 33:205-218 and van Reenen JF, 1978, "Tooth Mutilating Practices amongst the Ovambo and the West Caprivi Bushmen of South West Africa (Namibia)." J. Dent. Assoc. S. Afr. 33:665-671).
Many other African tribal groups also have tooth filing traditions:
A Brief Comment on Functional Use of Intentionally Filed Teeth, by Nicholas P. Herrmann et al:
Dental mutilation, also known as intentional dental modification, is an interesting cultural practice that has enjoyed a long and diverse history in many populations around the globe. There are many explanations for groups to artificially alter the morphology of their teeth. For instance, some researchers believe dental modifications are indicative of beautification (Fastlicht 1976; Romero 1958; Rubín de la Borbolla 1940), ethnic markers or tribal identification (Handler 1994; van Reenen 1978a, 1978b, 1986), and social status (Fastlicht 1948, 1976).
From Maya Dental Mutilation, by Dr. Herman Smith:
The ancient Maya practiced dental mutilation over a very long span of time, beginning centuries ago and carried out right up until the European intrusions of the sixteenth century. Teeth were filed into points, ground into rectangles and drilled with small holes to permit the insertion of small round pieces of jade or polished iron pyrite (fool's gold). In all, over a hundred different patterns of cross-hatching, circular holes and shape alteration are found among the ancient Maya.
From Balinese Religion:
This important life-cycle event usually occurs when a Balinese boy or girl reaches puberty-at a girl's first menstruation, when a boy's voice changes. If not then, it must definitely take place before marriage; sometimes filing is incorporated into the marriage ceremony. After filing, a father's duties to his female children are generally regarded as complete.
[Added 11-26: I neglected to mention that Balinese tooth filing does not involve pointing but on the contrary blunting of the canines to remove their natural points. Whether this is a completely independent tradition or a derivation from an older practice remains unclear.]
[Added 11-23, 6:15 PM: Here is an interesting video I just found depicting tooth filing among the Mentawi on Sumatra, an island in Indonesia:
Note the remarkable similarity to the pointed teeth of the Africans depicted above.]
Since tooth filing is a kind of rite-de-passage among all three of our baseline "feeder" groups, EP, WP and Bu, it looks very much as though it was a part of HBC -- which means that HBC is probably the source of so many of the other tooth filing traditions spread so widely among tribal peoples in so many places. It's possible, however, that this could have been a tradition originating with Bantu peoples and if so, it might have spread to the various pygmy and bushmen groups via the Bantu expansion, ca 3,000 ya. If that's the case, however, then all the other instances, in so many other parts of the world, would have to be regarded as "independent inventions" -- and it's difficult to understand why such a painful -- and essentially non-functional -- custom would have caught on so successfully among so many different groups.
[I probably won't be posting again till after the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers. And to the rest: be happy anyhow.]