Journeys staff member, Katina Nichols, discusses the Mursi and their long-time tradition of body modification.

Photographs courtesy of Dick Seibel, a long-time Journeys traveler and avid photographer.

When Dick Seibel and Marge Poyatt, clients from Journeys 2012 Ethiopia Timkat Festival, sent the photos of the people of the Omo Valley I was especially intrigued by the Mursi tribe. The Mursi are recognized by their exotic body modification. When a girl reaches her mid-teens, her lip is slit, usually by her mother, and a wooden peg is inserted to stretch the skin. Over time, the lip gets so enlarged that a ceramic disk is placed in it to stretch it even further.

I’ve learned that there are many theories as to why the Mursi perpetuate this tradition. Originally, the piercing signified coming of age and preparedness to marry. The disk was symbolic of womanhood, loyalty to one’s tribe, discipline, and dedication. A good Mursi woman and wife would wear her disk with pride. More or less, this all appears to remain true to this day.