The Ethiopian Tribe Where A Woman's Beauty Is Judged By Her Lip Plate - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE

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Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Ethiopian Tribe Where A Woman's Beauty Is Judged By Her Lip Plate

-The Daily Crucible 

Despite the passage of time and steady inroad of Western civilization, technology and modernity, some tribes living around Lake Turkana and the Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia are not in a hurry to drop their culture and traditional way of life.

 These groups are called Surma people and made up of three ethnic groups: The Mursi, the Suri, and the Mekan people. The Suri and the Mursi share  cultural affinity. Their women’s beauty is assessed by the size of their lip plate. The larger the plate, the better and more beautiful a woman is perceived.

According to medicalbag  in its 2014 report,  it is not yet clear how this bizarre tradition  came into being. One school of thought says that lip plating originated as a deliberate disfigurement designed to make women and young girls less attractive to slave traders and thus, spared the tribes of the horror of being raided by the agents of slave dealers as was the case with their less fortunate neighbours at the time. 

However, some researchers claim that the size of the lip plate, the bigger the better, was a sign of social standing or wealth within the tribe. Another analysis suggested that the bigger the size of the lip plate, the bigger the dowry a bride would receive on her wedding day. For example, the larger the lip plate, the greater number of cows the bride’s father can demand in his daughter’s dowry. But some researchers dispute this theory, arguing that marriage of most tribal girls, as well as the size of their dowries, is prearranged long before their lips are cut.

 Others suggest that lip plating is simply an ornamentation meant to symbolize a woman’s strength and self-esteem. The practice is also described as being a sign of social maturity and reaching reproductive age, thus indicating a girl’s eligibility to become a wife.

A Suri Girl. Photo credit: Igor Kruglikov/ Barcroft India

Lip plates are usually made of clay or wood and range between 4 and 25 centimeters. To be placed on the lip, two or four teeth are removed before the lower lip is cut to fit the lip plate. This lip plate process is usually done by their mother when they attain puberty. To stretch the lip, a ceramic disc is placed after the cut and will remain until the initial cut has healed before it is placed with another slightly larger disc. The process is repeated so that the lip will become large enough to accommodate the first lip plate which is about 4 centimeters.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Apart from designing their skin with incisions and patterns which are sometimes painted, the lip plate is seen as a boost of one’s self-esteem. The lip plate tradition is valued by both parents because it indirectly means that the father’s number of cows will increase when he is paid her dowry. Any man who must marry a Suri or Mursi lady has to be wealthy because her dowry usually falls between 40 cattle (for the small plate) and 60 (for the large plate).

20-year-old Ataye Eligidagne has the largest lip plate in the world. It weighs 19.5cm. Photo credit: Daily Mail

Because of the self-worth and importance attached to it, some girls increase their lip plate. To their delight, they are often allowed to design her lip plate.

Most times, the women don the lip plate when their intention is to look more appealing. An example is when they want to serve the meal of their male counterpart; as part of their beauty regime or during special ceremonies.

However, their men only have to undergo body painting as their form of ritual. Each scar on the man tells a story: He has fought and killed an enemy. What a proud people!

 From Ayobami Ife(The Daily Crucible) with additional report from The Guardian

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