The most celebrated residents of South Omo are undoubtedly the Mursi, a distinctive group of pastoralists who number about 5, 000, the Mursi are best known for one admittedly very quirky item of decoration: the famous lip plates.
The custom is that when a Mursi woman reaches the age of 15 or 16, a slit is cut beneath her lower lip, creating a small hole between the lip and the tissue below. Over the next year, this gap is progressively stretched, forming a lip loop large enough for a small circular clay plate, indented like a pulley to be inserted between the lip and the mouth. As the lip stretches, so the plate is replaced with a larger one, a process that is repeated until eventually the gap is large enough to hold a clay plate of perhaps 15cm (6 inches) in diameter , and the woman can ideally pull her distended lip loop over her head. The larger the lip plate a woman can wear, the greater her value when she is married- a real whopper might fetch a price of 50 head of cattle.
Mind you the path to matrimony is no smoother for Mursi men. Traditionally, no Mursi man can marry unless he has won a donga, a stick fight in which two contestants painted in white chalk paste pummel each other violently with heavy 2 m long poles. In past times, fights to the death were commonplace, but these days it is more normal for one fighter to submit before things go that far. The victorious fighter is carried off by a group of eligible girls who then decide which one of them will marry him.
The Mursi language, also called Mursi, which is classified as one of the Surmic Languages; it is closely related (over 80% cognate) to Me’eb and Suri, as well as Kwegu .