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Mursi Tribe

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The Mursi are a Nilotic pastoralist tribe who live in the Omo River Valley near the Mago National Park.

Cattle are the centre of Mursi life and the people migrate seasonally between pastures. They also grow crops of maize and sorghum along the banks of the Omo River.

Both men and women paint their faces and bodies. Mursi women wear distinctive lip and ear plates usually made from clay or wood. The precise reason for the use of lip plates are unknown but slavers are known to have avoided women with lip plates and this may have originated or extended the use of them.

A girl will cut her lip and start to stretch it at around 15 or 16. Women bearing a large lip plate are prized as wives in Mursi society. The lip plate is not worn at all times as it is heavy and uncomfortable.

Historically a combative and extremely tough tribe, the Mursi’s coming of age rituals involve stick fighting and whipping ceremonies.

The Mursi’s traditional way of life is threatened by the modernization of their regional homeland and is unlikely to remain in its current form for very much longer.

These photographs are part of The End of Days – The Last of the Omo Valley Tribes series.