People hang onto their culture because it makes them unique. Despite the incursion of civilization, societies protect and project their ways of life, beliefs and value system. It could be food, dress code, religion, economic life, greetings, communal lifestyle or any other aspect of culture.
For the Murci tribe in Ethiopia, no level of civilization can penetrate their fashion culture especially as it has to do with lip plates. The Murcia people are the only tribe in Africa that wears lip plate as dress code and they are still clinging to it till today.
The Mursi tribe are an African tribe from the isolated Omo valley in Southern Ethiopia near the border with Sudan. There are an estimated 10,000 members of this sedentary tribe, whose lip plated face plate decorations are a source of endless fascination to tourists from all parts of the world.
The lip plate has an interesting origin. It was gathered that hundreds of years ago other tribes in Ethiopia would kidnap the Murci women and take them back to their villages to be their wives. Apparently, the Murci women were among the most beautiful women at that time. In order to put an end to this development, the Murci men inserted plates in the women’s lips so they would not be attractive to other tribes and slave traders.
Even after the lip plates helped in stopping the incidents of kidnapping, the Murci tribe got stuck with this practice as it became fashionable to time. Now the lip plates are considered beautiful and the women create and decorate their own plates to be the most beautiful. They compete among themselves by showing off their lip plates to know who is the most beautiful in the community.
When do female members of the tribe get qualified to fix lip plates and what is the process of fixing it? At sexual maturity, perhaps at the age 10 to 16, women have their bottom teeth pulled out and bottom lip slit by an oyster/clam shell, separating the lower lip and jaw. Then a small, clay lip plate is inserted. Increasingly larger plates are inserted at intervals to stretch lips.
A girl’s lower lip is cut, by her mother or by another woman of her settlement, when she reaches the sexual maturity. 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 of the stronger girls persevere until their lips can take plates of 12 centimetres or more in diameter. This process of lip plate fixing most times begins after the girl has met her would be husband and bride price to be paid already decided. Scary you might say but the Murci women love this till today. Wearing lip plates is a thing of beauty among the Murci women today.
The Murci are also known for other forms of fashion notable among which is the use of scraps and junks of all forms as jewelry. This includes the use of old bottle tops, broken digital wristwatches and simcards in their hair, and for ear-rings. They turn Western rubbish into jewellery.
Despite what you may think about this culture, tourists visit the land of the Murci very often just to appreciate their way of life.
View: Isn’t this wonderful? Which design do you like most? If you were a Murci woman which design would like to have as your own lip plate? For the guys which lip plate would you prefer for your partner?