The Mursi Tribe

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Things to do


Date of travel

January, 2016

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Having spent the night at “Buska Lodge”: in Southern Ethiopia, we set off early to meet the Mursi tribe of the South Omo Valley. On the way we picked up a camouflage-dressed, gun-toting scout and not for the first time, I budged into the middle of our 4WD between Roy and our guide, Eskedar.

On arrival at the Mursi village of Milisha, we met the village elder and as this was the first tribe visit of our trip, had a briefing about photographs which would cost three birr (10p) for a child, five (16p) for an adult with shots of the houses free.

The Mursi are noted for their lip plate which were said to be inserted when they marry. One girl had large plates inserted in her ear lobes signifying she was engaged. However our guidebook suggests that the slit between the bottom lip and tissue below is cut when the girls are around 20. The gap is then stretched by inserting progressively larger plates until eventually it can take one 6 inches in diameter. Apparently the larger the lip plate, the more head of cattle her family can command

We were soon surrounded by lip-plated women all vying for attention and more importantly, five birr for a photograph. We handed a wodge of small denomination notes to the scout who did a fantastic job sorting out the money, arranging people into position and fending off the persistent women who were constantly touching us which we found a little unnerving at first. It would have been a nightmare without the scout.

The scout suggested a group photograph of five from the line up twenty plus women adorned with lip plates and various headdresses designed to make them more photogenic. We were asked to choose the five which was really difficult: did you pick the most attractive, the ones who were giving you least hassle or the ones you knew wouldn’t normally get picked?

Many of them had marked their bodies decoratively by using a thorn to create a split in their skin and then a hole which when healed created raised skin. Some were suckling small children and boobs hung out all over. One woman took a particular shine to Roy and kept tweaking his rugby-damaged nose. The women don’t wear the clay lip plate all the time and when it is out, their lip droops down. Two girls had decided to join their drooping bottom lip with a cord.

Photographs over, we toured the village houses where around 350 people live. Eskedar arranged for us to go into one, but having seen the height and width of the low door, we settled for peering into the round, thatched mud house.

Whilst there were a few men around, the majority of them (and the young boys) work in the fields with the cattle. As they’re nomadic, this means they can be away from the village for a number of months, but this doesn’t stop them from taking a number of wives if they’re rich.

I am not sure my writing skills are able to describe the sights we saw and so I do hope you will take a look at my photographs.

This was an experience of a lifetime and a fascinating insight into how the Mursi live although it’s one that some readers may not be comfortable with. If you want to know more there’s a great website at “”:

Helen Jackson

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