Lip plates, traditionally known as dhebi a tugoin, are a form of body modification practised by the Mursi community in Ethiopia. Lip plates have become a distinguishing characteristic of the tribe and have made them a great tourist attraction. The plates are normally worn by unmarried girls and newlywed women and are a great source of pride.
The Mursi are perhaps one of the few ethnic groups in Africa where women are still expected to wear plates on their lower lips. Wooden lip plates are a trademark of their women since they represent identity and attractiveness.
African lip plates
Which tribe is famous for wearing lip plates? Members of various tribes commonly wear African lip rings or plates. Ethiopian Mursi and Surma women are the most famous tribe.
Some tribes, such as the Nuba in Sudan and the Lobi in West Africa, wear tembetá, which are stretched-lip ornaments that are plug- or rod-shaped rather than plate-shaped.
What is the purpose of a lip plate?
When young girls come of age, their lower lip is cut by their mother or another woman in the community. The cut is held open by a wooden plug until it heals. This process generally takes three months.
The lip is then stretched by inserting bigger plugs progressively. The decision about how far to stretch the lip is up to the individual getting their lip stretched. Getting the plate in the mouth is also up to the girls.
It is alleged that the practice first began when the women of the tribe sought to make themselves look ugly to Arab merchants. The merchants regularly raided the villages looking for slaves.
Since the Arabs thought lip plates were disgusting, this strategy worked, and the Arabs did not pick the Mursi women. However, this claim has been debunked, and studies have revealed that the piercing has been a symbol of beauty and social status since it was invented.
Why do African tribes stretch their lips?
Why does Mursi wear lip plates? The lip plates signify beauty and bravery in the Mursi tribe. It is said that a woman who does not have a lip plate is considered lazy.
Getting such a reputation will reduce the bride price that the girl in question is offered. Growing the incision on the lower lip until it can hold a lip plate is an experience that proves the perseverance and bravery of any woman who has it.
Apart from that, the African lip plate is a powerful visual marker, and anyone who wears it is automatically known as a member of the tribe. Therefore, the Mursi women wear it, so they are not mistaken for members of another tribe.
It is also a sign of commitment to the husband of the wearer. The women wear lip plates when serving their husbands food. If the woman's husband dies, she has to remove her lip plate since her beauty fades after her husband dies.
Why are lip plates considered beautiful?
Every tribe has its own traditions, and in each of them, there is a specific way to show beauty. The lip discs are the chosen method for the Mursi tribe located in Ethiopia. The women of the tribe start getting their piercings at around fifteen or sixteen so that by the time they are about to get married, they can rock any plate they want.
Lip plates play a pivotal part in the process of being chosen as a wife. Apart from showing your bravery and perseverance, a lip plate can also physically make you more appealing.
When wearing a lip plate, one has to be very careful where they step to avoid hurting themselves by taking an uncalculated step. This results in a calculated gait that has the potential to make you appear more appealing.
Are lip plates painful?
Yes, the process of piercing the lip is a harrowing one. This is why the process shows how much perseverance a woman has. The pain goes down gradually as the lip gains elasticity and expands. The process of putting in a bigger lip plate is painful, but it goes down again as the lip adjusts o the plate.
The biggest lip plate recorded had a diameter of over 20 centimetres. Having a bigger lip plate than your peers shows that you are braver. It is, therefore, understandable that females with large lip plates get bigger dowries than those with smaller ones.
There is no pain at all once the lips are stretched to the satisfaction of the individual. In fact, it is common to see women massaging their lips or even letting children play with their lips while on their laps.
How do they eat with lip plates?
After seeing pictures of the Mursi tribe with lip plates, one of the most common questions people have is how they eat. Eating involves using the lips a lot, so understandably, people wonder how this basic function is possible with a lip plate in the way.
Are lip plates permanent? Lip plates are not permanent. They can be taken out at any time. Therefore, when Mursi women want to eat, they take the lip plate out and then put the plate back in after they are done.
The lip plates make certain activities like eating, drinking, and even sleeping very uncomfortable; therefore, women wear the plates when in the company of their husbands or other men. They take them off when they eat and sleep in their homes.
Are lip plates dangerous?
Another common concern is wondering whether the lip plate in Africa is safe. It is normal for someone who has never thought such a body modification was possible to wonder if it is safe.
The process of getting a lip plate is a very safe one. However, like getting an ear piercing, getting a lip disc is a process where you could easily get an infection.
When a tradition has been taking place for years, the people doing it obviously know the risks involved and have ways to curb them. You only have to keep the piercing clean, and the Mursi people came up with herbs to disinfect their lip gauge piercing.
Why do Africans do lip plates?
Wearing a lip plate is associated with female fertility and marriageability. According to numerous reports, the size of the plate was also a symbol of social or economic prominence in some cultures.
Do lip plates affect speech?
Yes, it affects women's speech because it changes the articulators needed for speech production.
The lip gauge piercing has been embraced by other cultures all over the world. However, none of them can compare to the grace and pride with which Mursi women wear them. The lip piercings used elsewhere in the world most likely originate from the lip plates worn by women in the Mursi tribe.
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