The Mursi (or Mun as they refer to themselves) are semi-nomadic indigenous inhabitants of the Nile Valley in Ethiopia close to the border with South-Sudan. Surrounded by mountains between the Omo River and its tributary the Mago, the home of the Mursi is one of the most isolated regions of the country.
Language and Religion
The Mursi speak the Mursi Language which is a branch of the Nilo-Saharan language group. The Mursi believe in a God (Tumwi). He is believed to reside in the heavens although sometimes Tumwi manifests himself as a thing of the sky such as a rainbow or a bird. The principal religious and ritual office in the society is that of the Kômoru, the Priest or Shaman who acts as a means of communications between the community and Tumwi.
Culture and Livelihood
The Mursi depend heavily on cultivation and cattle herding for their livelihoods. Cattle are an essential part of transactions and social status especially in marriages. They have a rich oral tradition through which they preserve and transmit their history, philosophical knowledge and moral stories. In fact the Mursi reach much of their community decisions through public debates.
The Mursi are commonly known to the outside world for their lip plates and body paintings. The lip-plate is an expression of female social adulthood. The mud lip-plates are traditionally worn by marriageable girls and child-bearing women. For marriageable girls, lip-plates are often worn at dances. Married women most often wear them while milking the cattle and serving their husband meals, since the lip-plate creates a graceful and poised movement. A girl will have her lip pierced when she reaches the age of around fifteen.
Generally, the Mursi paint for pragmatic rather than aesthetic reasons. Aesthetic body painting is only practiced by older boys, seeking to attract the attention of the girls and of one another. Adult men belong to named ‘age sets‘ and pass through a series of ‘age grades’, while married women take their age status from their husbands.
As boys and girls approach their full height, they begin to cut small notches into their skin which heal as decorative scars, called kitchoga. Girls get kitchoga on their chest, in a single arc shape over the breasts, and an ‘m’ shaped double arc on the upper arm.
Photo Credit: Marc Veraart- Flickr, Rod Waddington – Flickr.