Plate Lips - Beauty Must Suffer

The Mursi people live in the remote valleys of southern Ethiopia. The Mursi women decorate their bodies not only with body paint, but with painful decorative scars and lip plates.


The lower lips of the girls are cut horizontally at the age of puberty. They’ve never heard of anesthesia. The loose flesh of the lip is then stretched more and more until a plate measuring 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches) can be placed inside the skin.


To fix the plate into position, the incisors of the lower jaw are broken off with a piece of iron (they have no pliers) so the plate fits securely between the two eyeteeth of the lower jaw. These women are deformed for life. If they remove the plate, the loose lower lip hangs down below their chin. They'll never be able to talk, eat or drink normally again. Since they can no longer shut their mouth, the spittle runs constantly over their chin attracting flies. They can hardly keep the flies away from their mouth because they can no longer close it. When the plate is fixed in, the saliva flows onto the plate where the flies gather transmitting diseases.


The origin of this painful ritual is not exactly known. However, it is thought to be a symbol of reaching maturity. The size of the lip plate also has a not insignificant influence on the bride price which the bride's parents can claim from the future groom in the event of marriage: The larger the plate, the higher the bride price.

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