The people of Surma tribe are found southern Sudan as well as southwestern Ethiopia. One thing one finds fascinating about them is their interesting physical features.
During teenage years, females undergo the lip stretching procedure which involves removing their lower teeth to accommodate a lip plate; the lip plate is increased in size yearly until it is an astounding size.
Not to be outdone, some of the men do this similar exercise with their ears while the elongated lip plate gives them a fierce strange and frightening look.
They also indoctrinate their warriors known as ‘stick fighters’ by inflicting scars on them, the belief is that the more scars they have, the more attractive they are to female members of the tribe. The Mursi have their own language called Mursi, which is classified as one of the Surmic languages.
The Mursi have a reputation for being one of the more aggressive African tribes and are famous for their stick fighting ceremony – the donga.
As seen in these stunning photographs, their trademark ‘saucer’ lip plate has become the chief visible distinguishing characteristic of the Mursi and made them a prime attraction for tourists.
A girl’s lower lip is cut, by her mother or by another woman of her settlement, when she reaches the age of 15 or 16.
The cut is held open by a wooden plug until the wound heals. It appears to be up to the individual girl to decide how far to stretch the lip, by inserting progressively larger plugs over a period of several months. Some, but by no means all, girls persevere until their lips can take plates of 12 centimetres or more in diameter. It is often claimed that the size of the lip plate is correlated with the size of a woman’s bridewealth.
This is not born out by the fact that the marriages of many girls have already been arranged, and the amount of bridewealth to be paid by their husbands’ families has already been decided, before their lips are cut.
Another common idea is that the practice of cutting and stretching the lower lip originated as a deliberate disfigurement, designed to make women and girls less attractive to slave traders.
Like other forms of body decoration and alteration found the world over, the lip plate worn by Mursi women is best seen as an expression of social adulthood and reproductive potential. It is a kind of ‘bridge’ between the individual and society – between the biological ‘self’ and the social ‘self’.