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Mursi woman with tusks, Omo Ethiopia | by Eric Lafforgue
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Mursi woman with tusks, Omo Ethiopia

The Mursi (also called Murzu) is the most popular tribe in the southwestern Ethiopia lower Omo Valley, 100 km north of Kenyan. They are estimated to 10 000 people and live in the Mago National Park, established in 1979. Due to the climate, they move twice a year between the winter and summer months. They herd cattle and grow crops along the banks of the Omo River. The Mursi are sedentary rather than nomadic. Their language belongs to the Nilo-Saharan linguistic family. Very few Mursi people speak Amharic, the official Ethiopian language. Although a small percentage of the Mursi tribe are Christians, most still practice animism. Mursi women wear giant lip plate, a sign of beauty, like in Suri tribe, and also a prime attraction for tourists which help to sustain a view of them, in guidebooks and travel articles, as an untouched people, living in one of the last wildernesses of Africa. When they are ready to marry, teenagers start to make a hole in the lower lip with a wood stick. It will be kept for one night, and is removed to put a bigger one. This is very painful at this time. Few months after, the lip plate has its full size, and the men see the girl as beautiful. The lip plate is made of wood or terracotta. They have to remove the lower incisors to let some space for the disc. Sometimes the pressure of the plate breaks the lip. This is a big problem for the girl because men will consider her as ugly, she won't be able to marry anyone in the tribe apart the old men or the sick people. Women and men are shaved because they hate hairiness. Both like to make scarification on their bodies. Women as a beauty sign, men after killing animals or enemies as competition for grazing land has led to tribal conflicts.

The Mursi men have a reputation for being aggressive and are famous for their stick fighting ceremony called donga. The winner of the donga will be able to select the girl of his choice to have relations with if she agrees. Similar to the Surma tribe, the Mursi tribe commonly drink a mixture of blood and milk. Over the past few decades they and their neighbours have faced growing threats to their livelihoods because the Ethiopian government officials have been actively evicting Mursi people from the Omo National Park, without any compensation, to rent their land to foreign investors. Drought has made it difficult for many families to feed themselves by means of their traditional mix of subsistence activities. The establishment of hunting concessions has added to the pressure on scarce resources.


© Eric Lafforgue

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Taken on July 8, 2012