Definition of beauty differs from person to person and country to country. From time unknown, men and women instinctively try to present themselves in a more attractive way before others, especially before the opposite sex. Some tribes living in the remote areas often willingly undergo many painful processes to make them look more beautiful.
Very close to the Sudanese border in the Lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia, live a primitive nomadic tribe, in the most isolated area surrounded on three sides by rivers, known as the Mursi. The labial plates are considered by them as a sign of beauty. Though the plates were also traditionally worn by Suya men of Brazil, Sara women of Chad, the Makonde of Mozambique and the Botocudo of coastal Brazil, the only tribes that still follow this strange tradition are the Mursi and Suri tribes of Ethiopia.
The painful process of lip plating begins just six months or a year before a girl attains her age for marriage and the ritual is usually performed by her mother or another kinswoman. At first, a small incision is made in the lower lip of the girl with a wooden peg, which is kept there, till the wound is healed. The peg is then replaced with a slightly larger one to make the lip stretched and the process is continued till the hole is big enough to insert the first clay lip plate in it.
From time to time, the smaller plates are replaced by bigger plates, until it has reached its full size. During the painful process, the poor girl has to suffer a lot, as at least two and sometimes four lower front teeth are required to be broken to accommodate the lip plate. The entire stretching process usually takes several months to complete and once the process is completed, the lip plate is looked upon as the epitome of beauty, which the girls dye and decorate with pride. However, the women remove their lip plates, while they eat or sleep or when they are not in the company of men.
It is suggested by many that, lip plating was originated as a deliberate disfigurement designed to make girls and women less attractive to the slave traders. But, others negated the theory and maintain that it is simply an ornamentation meant to symbolize a woman’s beauty, strength and self-esteem and also indicates a girl’s eligibility to become a wife. However, it is also said that the lip plate determines the amount of the bride wealth and the number of cattle given as bride wealth increases with the bigger size of the plate.