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THE MURSI PEOPLE

Nilo-Saharan linguistic Group, agro-pastoralist, originally from the larger Surma group, the Mursi are people who moved east from the surmic nucleus and occupied the land between the Omo and Mago rivers. Neighbored by the Surma to the west, the Ari and Mount Mago to the east, the Kwegu and Karo to the south and the Bodi to the north, the Mursi are about 6000 in number.

The Mursi subsist on sorghum and maize cultivation and honey. Although not frequently, especially after the declaration of Mago national park, they also practice hunting. The Mursi territory is further divided in to five sections, each section extending east to west to include the Omo and Mago River thus each of them obtaining a natural habitat for their river bank cultivation, rain-fed agriculture and grazing lands for their cattle’s on which they mainly depend for their milk and blood. The unique trait of the Mursi, shared by other surmic groups, is the spectacular labial and lobular plates worn by the women and their ceremony. Tusk pendants worn by Mursi men are a sign of bravery and status. Also the deep horse-shoe shaped scarifications the Mursi warriors make on their upper arms whenever they succeed in killing their enemy group is typical. The scars are put on the right arm for a male victim and on the left for a female victim but the more successful warriors may proceed to put the incisions on thighs. A heavy pieces of iron collection worn by the women is also intended to attract.


The lip plates of Surma and Mursi Women
A new sect of people from Europe and other parts of the world who pierce their lips and other parts of their boy in aspiration to be like some tribes in the wilderness of Africa and increased sexual stimulation are coming in to the scene. Apart from this new trend in the modern society, there are very few groups of societies in the world whose women wear labial and lobular plates. The Mursi and the Surma, who live in the lower Omo valley region of Ethiopia, are the most typical ones.

The plates, made from red or black mud or wood, are produced into different sizes by the Mursi/Surma women themselves. The shape varies from circular to trapezoidal, some of them being hollow-centered, and with decorative incisions.

These plates are worn by a Mursi or Surma young woman in her twenties. First, when a Mursi or Surma girl is contemplating of marriage, about six months prior to her engagement, the lower lip will be cut into which a small wooden or clay disk is inserted. Gradually the plates or disks will be progressively replaced until the required plate size is attained. The plates have a symbolic function. The bigger the lip plates the higher the bride price. These plates should be worn all the time except when sleeping and at private mealtime. It is also possible to remove the plates when there are no Mursi or Surma men around.

Concerning the tradition, there are a number of beliefs as to why the Mursi/Surma women ended up wearing plates. Some say it is a strategic measure taken by the Surma fore fathers to discourage the Arab slave traders who were looking for unblemished slave girls. The second suggestion is related to the belief of the Surma/Mursi people themselves. These people believe evil spirits possess a person entering by way of his mouth. So lip plates are taken as a preventive measure. The third and most likely theory is to declare social status of the girl's family by showing the number of cattle expected for her hand in marriage.

 

 

 


 

 

 
 
 
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