The Lip Plate Tradition

The Lip Plate Tradition


Some tribes in Ethiopia are well known for the large clay plates that their women wear on their lower lips. It is believed that this tradition is a symbol of beauty and identity.


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Lip plates are predominantly used by the Mursi, Sara, and Suma tribes in Ethiopia. These tribes are well known for the large clay plates that their women wear on their lower lips. Apart from Ethiopia, there are other countries where the lip plate tradition is also prominent, as archaeologists have discovered evidence of women using lip plates and labrets in Sudan (8700 BC), South America (1500BC), and Ecuador (500BC).

Once a female reaches the age of 15–16 years, another woman of the same tribe will cut her upper lip and insert a wooden plate into it. As time passes, bigger sticks are added to the already stretched lips. Different plates can be exchanged as the lip stretches further.
While it’s not compulsory to wear the lip plates at all times, it is common to see women walking around with their loose lower lips dangling freely.

There are lots of speculations on how lip plates originated, but one common belief is that it started because the men of some tribes in Ethiopia wanted their women to look uninteresting to foreign men during the time of slavery. Hence, it could be perceived as a response to colonialism.

Despite civilization all over the world today, the lip plate tradition has continued to exist. To outsiders, the use of a lip plate looks like skin mutilation, but its traditional users view it differently. They see it as a form of expression and art.


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