Omo Valley Tribs

Tribes: The Lower Omo is home to a remarkable mix of small, contrasting ethnic groups not only the Ari and Konso, but also the Tsemai, the Darashi, the Mursi, the Bana, and the Hamer, to name but a few. Due to the various reality TV shows & the publication of art photography books, the representations of body painting amongst the tribes has been somewhat blown out of proportion. However body painting as a form of personal adornment, along with elaborate hairstyles, is a part of many of these people’s cultural practices both for wedding ceremonies and in their daily life.

For example Hamer women wear mud and clarified butter and topped off with a headdress featuring oblongs of extravagant shapes, with special ochre caps' of hair usually containing several ostrich feathers. Jewellery tends to be simple but striking colourful necklaces, chunky metal wrestlers and armlets, shiny nails appended to skirts, multiple earrings, and soon. The insertion of wooden and terra-cotta discs into the ear lobes is a widespread custom, and Mursi women also progressively split and stretch their lower lips to make room for similar discs there too. Though these 'lip plates' may appear bizarre to outsiders, the Mursi regard them as signifiers of their cultural self and as elements of beauty. At certain times, a visitor may be lucky to chance on a Hamer coming of age ‘bull-jumping ceremony’ made famous to the western world in Bruce Parry’s “Tribe” series.Lip Plates: The custom of wearing lip plates is one of the distinct features of the women of the Suri and Mursi tribes in southern Ethiopia. As a young teenager, a small incision is made into the girl’s bottom lip, using a small knife, the front teeth of the lower jaw are removed, and a disc of locally derived baked clay is inserted into the incision.

As the girl ages, and the bottom lip stretches with the weight of the plate, the smaller discs are removed and replaced with ever-larger discs, further stretching the lip. The discs are not worn all of the time. Various anthropological studies have been made to determine the cultural significance of the lip plates, and while several suggestions have been made, including the idea that the lip plate prevents the entry of evil spirits into the body via the mouth, and the idea that the practice was instituted to mar the appearance and hence put off slave traders looking for unblemished girls. However, the popular belief in tourist literature is that the size of the lip plate is representative of the wearer’s family’s wealth, and thus is indicative of her bride price; often those girls with particularly large plates bring in bride prices of over fifty head of cattle.

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