Lip Stretching: A Culture Of The Surma Tribe….

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. – Margaret Wolfe Hungerford

A Surma woman with a large lip plate is perceived by her tribe to be attractive and valued

With the sweep of technological advancement across the world, there are people who have not been swayed one bit rather they maintain their traditional way of life. Some of these kinds of people are found around Lake Turkana and the Lower Omo Valley in Southern parts of Ethiopia.

The Surma people are made up of three ethnic groups: The Mursi, the Suri, and the Mekan people. The Suri and the Mursi share a similar culture. Their women’s beauty is determined by how large their lip plate is.

These lip plates are usually made of clay or wood and range between 4 and 25 centimeters. Before a lip plate can be applied on the lip, two or four teeth would have to be removed before the lower lip is cut to fit the lip plate. This lip plate process is usually done by a child’s mother when she attains 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.

A lip plate ritual for a beginner

This process is repeated so that the lip will become large enough to accommodate the first lip plate which is about 4 centimeters.
Can you guess the essence of all these? Beauty! This intriguing practice determines the whole value of the attraction of a woman.

The unique perception around the lip plate is the boosting of a girl’s self-esteem. Apart from designing their skin with incisions and patterns which are sometimes painted, the larger the lip plate, the more she is perceived as beautiful, the higher her value. The tradition is taken seriously especially by the parents because it indirectly means that the number of cows the father will get will increase when it’s time to pay 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 smaller plate and 60 for the large plate.

A small lip plate
A larger lip plate with incisions

The girls are allowed to design their own plates to their taste.

A Surma woman designs her lip plate to her taste
Another design of he lip plate
A Surma girl without her lip plate

What about the men? Naaaah. The men do not wear such, but they have body paintings or scars which tell a story, that he has fought and killed one or more enemies.

A Surma man with incisions
Surma men with paintings that tell stories
This tribe inspired the look of Michael B. Jordan in Blank Panther

With these Ethiopian tribes, a lip plate makes you more attractive. I dare ask. Do you want a lip plate?

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