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The Mursi


*Displayed in First World Exhibition*

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The Omo valley, also known as the cradle of mankind and the source of the blue Nile, is one of the most remote corners of Africa. It is isolated from the rest of the world by 12,000 foot mountain ranges, the swamps of the Nile in Sudan and the desert along the Kenyan border. Mursi land is in southern Ethiopia.

Past Marxist regimes and terrible draughts have devastated the country. Despite these hardships, the Mursi have managed to survive and maintain their traditional way of life. The women wear large lip ornaments made of clay or wood. They share this unusual custom with the Kayapo natives of the Brazilian Amazon. Secluded tribes separated by thousands of miles, share this extremely rare tradition. The reason is still one of the many intriguing mysteries of the tribal world. At puberty, the girl's bottom lip is pierced and a small wooden or clay plate is inserted. They gradually increase the size of the plate, year by year, until it reaches a dramatic 10 inches in diameter. The size of the disk sets the price of the young woman's dowry. The larger the disk, the more cattle her family will receive from the groom's family. As many as 50 heads of cattle will be paid to marry the girl with the largest disk.

The men draw intricate designs on each other's bodies with a thin layer of clay from the river bank. They use their finger tips as brushes to create a variety of patterns. The Mursi view the human body as a living canvas.

Sorghum is a staple in their diet. They harvest the crop in 70 day cycles. The women stay close to their crop, the men close to their cattle. These ancient people define paradise as a patch of fertile soil and good pasture.

Mursi Calabash

Mursi Calabash

An abundant flow of milk, blood and honey brings harmony to their society. In other words, harmony among men comes from living in harmony with nature.

The Mursi have no central political authority or real chieftain, but they greatly value the opinions of some of the men, usually over 50. Their role is to maintain tribal traditions rather than to make decisions for the group.

The Mursi believe that maturity comes when the heart penetrates the eyes. A boy becomes a man when he can see with his heart.

The Mursi women continue to pierce their lips despite the fact that the practice has been outlawed by the Muslim dominated government of Ethiopia.

The Mursi insist on maintaining their ties with the past and with practices endowed with special powers of seduction.

Mursi Lip Plates

Mursai Big Lip Plate Mursai Lip Plate Mursai Small Lip Plate

Mursi Flask - Mursai Head Rest

Mursai Flask Mursai Headress