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In the Mursi culture, girls are deemed sexy only after they split their lower lips and wear 12cm lip plates. The lip plates are usually made of wood or clay. It’s a norm that affects the value of a girl ready for marriage. The culture dictates that without the lip plates, a woman can’t handle marriage.

Africa is the beauty that just won’t stop giving. As the civilization train noisily chugs by, lifting with it, dusty clouds of aspiration, there are cultures that remain unmoved. Tribes that deliberately remain in the shadows. Prudently clutching onto and preserving their cultures while keeping all their norms intact. They refuse to cave to the waves of what the world paints as living. As people tweet and talk the gallant cyber walk, these souls stay unmoved. The lower Oma Valley of South Sudan harbors once such tribe; the Mursi.

They are not famous people. But it is their way of life that sets them apart. It is their insistence to keep a virgin, unaltered choice of life. It is their definition of beauty that makes them a subject of discussion among other virgin cultures. Like many other tribes, they are feared to go extinct. Irene Nakakonge unravels the mystery that lays beneath their pristine lifestyles before they pass away.


The Mursi tribe is located at the border of South Sudan and Ethiopia. It’s one of the tribes found in the sedentary lower Oma Valley. It’s known as a tribe, but classified as an empire. But even with this uniqueness, it is feared to go extinct. Yet their deliberate darts to preserve their cultures are unsung. They have a reputation for being a tad dangerous if approached without knowledge of their culture. But the Mursi are surprisingly hospitable people if approached with respect and in accordance with their custom. They will offer you the best of their meals, their very vicious porridge made of sorghum flour. Their local coffee brewed from coffee bean peels. They will take you around and show you their indigenous activities and the archetypal ancient African way of life that is not ancient because they still live it.


The Mursi are Nomad herders. They live in the forests and feed on fish and fruits, like birds. In the dry season; the men and boys move to the Elma valley where they take cattle for dry season pasture and guard them against raids. They perceive civilized areas as danger or enemy zones, thus the heavy surveillance whenever they are moving. The women then stay back with girls and carry out farming in areas of Omo at the river banks which, of late, have been inundated by the floods before they are thoroughly dried away.


Just like the Baganda are known for their Bakisimba dance, and the Basoga (in Uganda, still) for their chapatti, the Mursi are known for their trade mark; the Saucer Lip Plate. Locally known as the dhebi a tugoin, the act involves wearing pottery/ large wooden sticks in their lips. How they carry that around, you wonder, is a mystery enshrouded in so much unbearable pain it hurts to prod. Yet it has become the chief distinguishing characteristic of the Mursi. Something that has made the Mursi a prime attraction of tourists from all over the world. They are among the last three groups in Africa where women still wear pottery/large wooden stick in their lips.


Lip cutting among the Mursi is not something that was/ is forced on the girls by their mother or husband. It is simply an identity among the Mursi that a girl can decide to abide with or leave. However most of the girls have joined the practice because they actually love seeing their mothers being respected and happily married plus the peer pressure among their friends makes them yearn to rich puberty so they can have their lips cut to accommodate the lip plates. Like how other children play Mummy and daddy in the modern homes? The Mursi girl will get a leave and put it in her mouth which means she is the mother in the game. Amazing isn’t it.


1 Comment

  1. Stuart August 1, 2019

    Wow, so terrifying beauty l


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