The World’s Largest Lip Plates

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Mursi woman with small lip platePhoto: Dietmar

When the hole is large enough, the first clay or wooden plate, measuring around 4 cm across, is inserted. Over the period of a year, plates are replaced with progressively larger ones as the lip stretches. Women choose how far they wish to stretch their lips, some feeling more discomfort than others. Final plates can measure from 8 centimetres to more than 20, and women may have to remove some of their lower teeth to accommodate them.

Teenage Mursi female with wooden pegPhoto: 10b travelling

Clay plates, referred to as ‘dhebinya’ by the Mursi tribe, are made by the individual wearer, each of whom decorates their art with ornate patterns. Finished plates may be white if left natural; red if coloured with gongui bark; or black if rubbed with grass or burned plants. In the Mursi tribe, it’s traditional for the men to make the older-style wooden plates (kiyo), which tend to be worn by unmarried girls.

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Three Mursi womenPhoto: Marc Veraart

It’s not necessary to wear your plate at all times, and it’s common to see women with their loose lower lips dangling free. Married women are expected to insert their plates when serving their husbands food, and during important ritual events such as weddings and stick fighting competitions. Unmarried girls, especially those with large lip plates, might wear them whenever they are in public, and those that don’t are considered lazy.

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