Extreme body art: Ethiopia Suri tribe, Labret Lip Piercing

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A Labret lip piercing refers to a piercing done through the labrum(lower lip) just above the chin. There are several different labret variations: a vertical Labret piercing begins near the top of the lower lip, goes through the lip and emerges down just above the chin. This is said to be the most common type and other types are considered a variation of it.

Lip piercings are practiced through out the world, and it’s history is richest in tribal cultures.

In Ethiopia, the Surma people, is the collective name for the Suri, Mursi and Me’en groups that occupy the southwestern part of the country.

 Piercings and lip plates are a strong part of the Suri culture. Most women in this tribe when they reach puberty, they have their bottom teeth removed in order to get their lower lip pierced.

The initial piercing is done as an incision of the lower lip of 1 to 2 cm length, and a simple wooden peg is inserted. After the wound has healed, which usually takes between two and three weeks, the peg is replaced with a slightly bigger one. At a diameter of about 4 cm, the first lip plate made of clay is inserted. Every woman crafts her own plate and takes pride in including some ornamentation. The final diameter ranges from about 8 cm to over 20 cm.

Many older sources report that the plate’s size was a sign of social or economical importance. Having a lip plate in the Suri tribe, is a sign of beauty and the bigger the plate, the more cows(bride price) a woman is worth. This plays an important role when the women are ready to get married.

Currently though it is reported that some young women from tribes are refusing to have their lips pierced, and the teeth extracted in order to place the lip plate  can be a violent and sometimes traumatizing task.

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