Mursi Woman with Lip Plate in the Southern Omo Valley of Ethiopia

PHOTO: Mursi Woman with Lip Plate in the Southern Omo Valley of Ethiopia

Woman and child from the Mursi tribe in southern Ethiopia. The woman is wearing a lip plate that stretches out her lower lip, making her more attractive and thus more marriageable.

The Mursi people are among the least developed of the 56 indigenous tribes that inhabit the southern Omo Valley in Ethiopia. I visited this tribe during a day trip into the remote Mago National Park. Thick, black mud sucked at my shoes as I walked among chest-high straw huts scattered around a small clearing. The living conditions were miserable: no electricity, very little shade, and no sign of water. In fact, the Mursi exist mostly on meat, milk, and blood from their livestock. Several Mursi women followed me around, hoping to earn the five Ethiopian Birr they charge for the right to take a photo. I ultimately chose this Mursi woman with lip plate, who insisted on being paid ten Birr, an extra five for her infant.

Mursi women begin wearing lip plates when they reach puberty. In a special ceremony, a girl’s lower lip is cut and a small wooden stick inserted. Her lip is then stretched out over a one-year period by inserting increasingly larger plates made of wood or ceramic. The larger the plate, the more attractive and thus more marriageable the woman is said to be. Although women are not forced to go through the ceremony or wear a lip plate, there is strong social pressure to do so. A girl who refuses to wear a lip plate is considered to be lazy and risks being beaten by her mother, sister, and subsequent husband. A Mursi woman with lip plate is more likely to be unmarried or a newlywed. The longer a woman is married, the less she will wear it, and if her husband dies, the woman will remove the lip plate and never wear it again.

10 Comments on “PHOTO: Mursi Woman with Lip Plate in the Southern Omo Valley of Ethiopia

  1. In my experience in Africa village women age rapidly. It is a harsh life for women. Most men are indolent, lazy and careless of family responsibilities. Cows and alcohol when available, are the first order of business.

    • Hi Neil: From what I observed, and the little I was able to glean from our guide, I suspect you are spot on.

  2. What is her name? What is her story? What is the name of her young baby?

    • I have no idea Jordana. The Mursi are not particularly friendly. In fact, they seem suspicious of strangers and I felt they only tolerated us for the fees they charge for photos. Other than posing for photos, they wanted little to do with us.

    • Hi Trina: I don’t speak her language, and neither did our guide or the armed guard that was required to accompany us, so there was no way to get details like that. However I was aware that all the women looked very worn – it’s a tough life they live. As such, I suspect she was relatively young.

    • Hi Margie: It was truly amazing! But also totally exhausting. Ethiopia is not easy travel, but it’s very rewarding. Glad you enjoyed my photo. I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever taken.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *