Mug and saucer

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Mursi Tribe / Omo National Park / Ethiopia
The ‘poderoso’ chief.

While we were – a bit nervous – in the immigration office in Omorate to get our car papers sorted and our passports stamped, a sticker of a local touroperator promoting visits to local tribes caught my eye. At that moment I had no idea that the south west of Ethiopia is famous for its primitive tribes, but I had seen the people depicted in the the sticker before. A long time ago I had seen them on one of my favourite TV channels, National Geographic. ‘So this is where they live’, I thought. I pointed at the sticker and said to Lucía that I wanted to visit these people. Fortunately she gave her permission, and so we traveled to Jinka. After we arrived there we found out that you can’t just drive to the tribe when you feel like it. They are heavily armed and the various families all want their piece of the action. Therefore you must, among other things, hire one of the guides with whom they work and who knows which family’s turn it is to entertain tourists.


Mursi Tribe / Omo National Park / Ethiopia
My car had never been guarded this heavily.

After we had hired one we went on our way to a Mursi tribe. They all live in the Omo National Park and about halfway you have to pass a rangers post. Armed rangers are waiting there by the side of the road, and you must hire one for protection. If there’s no room in the car – like in our case – you still have to hire him, but he’ll just stay behind where you found him. That way the next car that passes by can also hire him and leave him behind. What a fantastic business model! Once we arrived at the Mursi my car was immediately surrounded by armed men – who wanted to have a look at themselves in the rearview mirrors – and we by begging tribe members. According to our guide the Mursi are the most primitive tribe in the world. And after inspecting their huts etcetera I don’t think he was lying. The only modern stuff we saw were cellphones from the stone age and AK47’s. Both items are probably handed out for free in Africa because you see people everywhere with them.

Mug and saucer

Mursi woman / Omo National Park / Ethiopia
It will come as no surprise that this is the Mursi’s aesthetic ideal.

The main feature of this tribe however are the mugs with saucers. Like most women in the world the female Mursi also like to look pretty. And these women make themselves pretty by yanking out a couple of lower teeth and cut loose their lower lip. This gives them the possibility to clamp a beautifully decorated saucer between the remaining teeth and their lip. Simply stunning! Over time they can handle ever larger saucers and in their ears too they manage to install huge discs. Besides that, both men and women decorate their bodies by using a technique called scarification. Which means they create decorative scars all over their bodies. Well, I finally found out where the saying: ‘One must suffer to be beautiful’, originated. After about forty five minutes we left, quite confused. We had no idea what to think of all this.