Why the Mursi people of Ethiopia wear lip plates

The Mursi people have a distinct and very peculiar tradition of having lip plates in their mouths.

The larger the lip plate the higher the bride price {documentarytube}

The Mursi people live in southern Ethiopia between the Omo River and Mago River and have the tradition of wearing lip plates.

When a young lady reaches puberty, her lips are cut, and a wooden plate inserted.

This wooden plate represents an initiation into womanhood. It symbolizes womanhood, fertility and it implies that she is ready for marriage.

The process of inserting these wooden plates spans across a period. She starts with little wooden plates and it increases over time.

Early anthropologists argued that it was worn to prevent slave traders from taking these women when they see the ugliness of the lip plates. This claim has since been refuted.

The plates have symbolic value, a girl who does not wear lip plates is scolded and regarded as lazy. It might lead to less money being paid for her bride price.

Traditionally, it is believed that a young lady who does not wear lip plates is more vulnerable in the presence of men.

A researcher Shauna LaTosky who lived with the Mursi people interviewed an elderly Mursi woman, and this is what she had she say.

"If she takes food, she will feel ashamed and afraid of the men. She will walk hurriedly, since she has no lip [plate]. She will go quickly to put the food down and will not greet anyone."

It is a commonly held belief that a lady who wears lip plates would have healthier cows and know how to milk her cow.

A woman does not wear lip plates is seen to be disobedient to the customs of the land and is usually flogged by her father and male relatives.

Only young, unmarried, newly wedded women wear lip plates.

It is not worn everyday. It is worn for dances, when serving men food, dueling competitions and ritual events.

When they want to eat, they just remove it.

A lip plate is like a lip piercing. Those who carry out these piercings take safety precautions to ensure it isn't infected. Occasionally, the lip plate is carried out and cleaned.

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