In a tiny village in southern Ethiopia, somewhere in the Lower Omo Valley’s Mago National Park, a group of Mursi women prepare for a day of visitors.
Though they’re cattle herders by tradition, tourism is now their main form of income.
They baste themselves with white body paint, designing lines with the scratch of a fingernail. Their arms are adorned with jingling brass bracelets, their mouths are wrapped around coaster-sized lip plates.
Worn in the lower lip, the clay plate has become the defining image of the Mursi woman. The process involves piercing a hole in the bottom lip, stretching it out and gradually increasing the size of the lip plate.
The Mursi see it as a symbol of a woman’s beauty, pride and sexual maturity.
When the lip isn’t spooled around the plate, it dangles below the chin like Buddha’s ear lobes. For the foreigner who’s just been introduced to this unusual cultural practice, it’s hard to imagine how the women can comfortably eat, drink or speak.