Woman of Surma tribe incisions with lip plate.

Bizarre ‘Lip Stretching’ Culture of Surma Tribe 

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As technological advancement sweeps across the world, there are people of the Surma tribe who practice a weird custom of Lip Stretching in Sudan.

These people have not been moving one bit. Rather, they maintain their traditional way of life. Some of its kinds are found around the Lower Omo Valley in the southern parts of Ethiopia and Lake Turkana. 

Surma Tribe and their Lip Stretching Custom

The Surma people consist of three ethnic groups, namely The Mursi, the Suri and the Mekan; however, the Suri and the Mursi share a similar culture.

They believe their women’s beauty is recognised by how large their lip plate is. The Lip plate is also known as a lip plug or lip disc, which is a form of body modification.

These lip plates are basically made up of clay or wood and can range between 4 and 25 centimetres. About 6 to 12 months before the marriage, the woman’s lip is pierced by her mother or one of her kinswomen around the age of 15 to 18 years.

A woman spotted wearing a small lip plate. (Credits: Google)
A woman spotted wearing a small lip plate. (Credits: Google)

Notably, these large discs are inserted into a pierced hole, and for this purpose, the two or four teeth would have to be removed, and the lower lip is cut to fit the lip plate before the plate can be applied to the lip.

This process is more often done by a child’s mother when she attains puberty. A ceramic disc is placed after the cut, and it will remain there until the first cut has healed.

The process is repeated so the lip becomes large enough to take in the first lip plate, which is about 4 centimetres.

This weird practice follows the essence of Beauty as it determines the whole value of the attraction of a woman.

Significance of custom

The unique insight of the lip plate is boosting a girl’s self-esteem. They follow the pattern of “Larger the lip plate, the more she recognises as beautiful, the higher her value.”

Every woman crafts her plate by herself and takes pride in including some ornamentation.

A Surma girl without her lip plate. (Credits: Google)
A Surma girl without her lip plate. (Credits: Google)

Notably, the parents of this tribe take this tradition seriously as it indirectly means that the number of cows the father will get will increase when it’s time to pay her dowry. 

It is mandatory for a man to be wealthy to marry a Suri lady because her dowry usually falls between 40 cattle for the smaller plate and 60 for the large plate. 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, African women wearing lip plates were brought to Europe and North America for exhibit in sideshows and circuses.