The Great Rift valley in the remote plains of South Western Ethiopia is home to the SURI tribe.
The Suri people are an aggro-pastoral people with a population of about 32,000 according to 2016 census. The place of inhabitation of the Suri people within the southern Ethiopia, is relatively remote, located in the semi arid plains, valleys and foothills. Their major occupation is cattle rearing and farming. The number of cows a man keeps is important in defining his status in the society.
The more cattle a Suri man has, the more wealthy he is thought to be. The Cattle are also used for paying bride price in times of marriage.
The average married Suri man owns about 30-40 cows. These cows are not usually killed unless needed for ceremonial purposes. The cows are therefore held in high esteem, as an average Suri man is prepared to risk his life to protect his herd.
The Suri people are tenaciously particular about the beauty of their ladies and women, which is strongly rooted in and backed up by their age long culture. Beautification among the Suri women or ladies involves surgically piercing the lower lips and inserting a lip plate or disc.
As young women approach puberty, they begin to earnestly and joyfully anticipate this aesthetic transformation and milestone that will launch them into the next phase of life even when the process is associated with great pain.
At puberty, most young ladies will have their lower lip pierced, following the removal of their anterior lower teeth. Following the piercing of the lower lip, the lip would then be stretched to make it more elastic and lip plates of increasing and varied sizes are then inserted in the hole of the piercing. The lip plates are usually made of clay or wood. The bigger the lip plate or disc accommodated by the lower lip, the more attractive the woman is said to become.
Young ladies find it difficult getting a husband if they do not have a lip plate in place. The larger the lip plate, the more cattle her family will receive as bride price during marriage.
To you, an outsider, you may view a lip plate as disgusting, unattractive and a form of body mutilation rather than body art (please remember that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder), but to a Suri woman, it means a lot to her as an expression of female maturation and beauty and also a sign that she has attained a marriageable and child bearing age.
Tourists from all over the world flock to see them wearing their lip plate and pay to take photographs with them.
Yes the plate makes them attractive in their clime, but I have often wondered how a lady with a lip plate will be able to eat, drink, talk or even kiss her husband etc. However, because it is difficult to use the mouth with lip plate in-situ, women only wear it in the company of men, but remove it to eat and sleep or when in the company of women or children.
P.S: IMAGES NOT OURS UNLESS STATED.
Written by Samuel Agboma