Mursi & Surma: - People of Lip Plates and Stick Fighting

In the remote wilderness of the south west Ethiopia live the Mursi & Surma. These peoples were completely forgotten by Ethiopia and the outside world at large, and they on their part had no notion of the outside world including Ethiopia until the seventies. The peoples of this savannah and mountainous land have such extensive cultural features that never cease to amaze visitors. While the women show their beauty and endurance by the ear lobes and the piercing of the lips, the men demonstrate their courage and stamina in the stick fighting ceremony.

The Mursi (or Murzu) are Sub-Saharan African nomadic cattle herder tribe located in the Omo valley in southwestern Ethiopia close to the Sudanese border. The estimated population of the Mursi is around 5000. Surrounded by mountains and three rivers, the home of the Mursi is one of the most isolated regions of the country. Their neighbors include the Bodi, the Aari, the Banna, the Kara, the Bumi and the Chai. The Mursi have their own language, also called Mursi. Few are familiar with Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, and their literacy level is very low. The religion of the Mursi tribe is classified as Animism, although about 15% are Christians. The Mursi women are famous of wearing plates in their lower lips. The reason of this "ornament" is for avoiding to be catched as slaves. These lip discs are made of clay. Girls are pierced in the age of 15 or 16. They remove the plate when eating. Similar body ornaments are worn by the Suyá people, a Brazilian tribe.


The women of the Mursi and Surma tribes practice a custom of extending their lower lips by making a cut into the lip and stretching it by means of an inserted wooden peg and later on by a clay lip plate. As the space between the upper and lower lip is created bigger and bigger lip plates can be worn producing a unique appearance.


Only the girls and women of the tribe wear lip plates and the practise is started six to 12 months before a teenage girl is due to get married. The lower front teeth are removed too