Made famous by anthropologists, old photos and recent National Geographic magazines, the custom of wearing lip plates is one of the distinct features of the women of the Surma and Mursi tribes in southern Ethiopia. At an early age, a small incision is made into the girl’s bottom lip, using a small knife, the front teeth of the lower jaw are removed, and a disc of locally derived baked clay is inserted into the incision. As the girl ages, and the bottom lip stretches with the weight of the plate, the smaller discs are removed and replaced with ever larger discs, further stretching the lip until it becomes so distended that, as observed in some Surma women, the lip (with the plate removed) can sometimes be pulled right over the head. The discs are removed at mealtimes to allow for eating and drinking.
Various anthropological studies have been made to determine the cultural significance of the lip plates, and while several suggestions have been made, including the idea that the lip plate prevents the entry of evil spirits into the body via the mouth, and the idea that the practice was instituted to mar the appearance and hence put off slave traders looking for unblemished girls. However, the prevalent philosophy is that the size of the lip plate is representative of the wearer’s family’s wealth, and thus is indicative of her bride price; often those girls with particularly large plates bring in bride prices of over fifty head of cattle.
Other Tribes Omo Valley
Relatively large, Arbore is far more rustic and unaffected than many similarly size towns in south Omo, in common with their linguistically and culturally affiliated Tsemai neighbors, the Arbore migrated to their present homeland from Konso perhaps two...read more
Ari women are famous for their pottery which they sell to support their families. The Ari inhabits the northern border of Mago National park in southwestern Ethiopia. Ari villages have neat compounds in fertile and scenic land with Coffee plantations. They...read more
This tribe is part of the Hamer - Bashada cultural unit. The Benna reside in the higher grounds east of the Mago National Park, and their population is estimated at around 35,000 people. They are primarily agriculturalists; however, Benna men also hunt for...read more
The Bodi are pastoralists living close the Omo River in southwestern Ethiopia. The Bodi are of Nilo-sahran stock and pastoral background. Although they do cultivate sorghum along the banks of the Omo River, their culture is very much cattle centered....read more
The Dasenech, alternatively known as the Galeb or Reshiat, range across a large territory following the western banks of the Omo River to Lake Turkana. Local oral tradition, reinforced by that of the Turkana, recounts that the Dasenech migrated to their...read more
The Karo, which number only about 3,000 people mainly live on the practice of flood retreat cultivation on the banks of the Omo River in southwestern Ethiopia. The Karo excel in face and body painting, practiced in preparation of their dances and ceremonies, they...read more
The Hamer people are primarily pastoralists who occupy the land southeast of the Mago National Park and beyond, stretching into the Murle Controlled Hunting Area. The Hammer territory also stretches from the lower Omo region in the west to Chew Bahir in...read more
This often death defying ceremonial practice exists within the Hamer culture. Considered a rite of passage, the jumping of the bulls is a task that a Hamer boy must fulfill in order to pass from childhood to early adulthood. Several days before the...read more
The Mursi people are primarily pastoralists. They reside in the western regions of the Mago National Park, and move between the lower Tama Steppe, where they spend the wet season, and the Mursi Hills sector of the Park, where they spend the dry season....read more
Also known as Bume, the Nyangatom live south of Omo National park and occasionally migrate in to the lower regions of the park when water or grazing is scarce. Numbering around 6,000-7,000 in population, the Bumi are agro pastoralists, relying on cattle...read more