The Mursi are a nomadic tribe in Ethiopia, who live in the Omo Valley. There are about 7.500 Mursi, of whom the most live in South Sudan. The Mursi’s territory is approximately 2.000 km2 and it is a mountainous area. The Mursi population is divided into five local groups, or so-called bhurans: Baruba, Mugjo, Biogolokare, Ariholi and Gongulobibi.
The Mursi are mostly shepherds. Their cattle have the most value and indicate what social status a person has. Mursi men explore the grounds every year, in order to find the
most nutritious soil, and a place to spend the season. Mursi men have to keep their property and their cattle safe from neighboring tribes around the Omo Valley. The number of attacks from these tribes increases during dry seasons, when livestock is scarce. State authorities have been trying to create awareness for legal ways of conflict resolution for a long period of time.
Most of the time, the Mursi wear nothing. Instead of wearing clothes they paint themselves with white clay. The purpose of the white clay is decoration, but the clay also protects the Mursi against the burning sun and insects. Decorating the body is a social activity and the Mursi take plenty of time for it. It often happens near the Omo river, because they use the wet clay from the soil. Before the clay dries, the Mursi draw patterns with their hands on their skins. When the clay eventually dries, it changes into the white color.
The Mursi are famous for their lip-plates, large pottery or wooden discs in the lower lips, worn by girls and women from the age of 15. The lip-plates are a sign of social or economic importance in some tribes, and they also symbolize social maturity. Mursi women can decide for themselves how far they want to stretch their lips, by inserting progressively larger plugs over a period of several months. It may sound painful, but according to Mursi women it’s something like walking on high heels, and you’ll get used to it in time. The lip-plates and the high heels are both a form of expression. People dress to express our personality, to create an impression and to make themselves feel at their best.
In the end, we are not that different from the Mursi. They make us think about how we present ourselves to the world, and that’s also an important theme for the 35th Tribe. We all think about the first impression we leave behind after an important meeting, job interview or even a date. The Mursi teach us that we all have unique personalities, and that we can decide for ourselves how we would like to present ourselves to the world. Why should we all want to look the same? Don’t be afraid to dress different: your style is unique, just like you.