While the outside world may view lip plating as body mutilation and something that should be of the past, the Mursi tribe view lip plating as a cultural and beautiful experience; no matter the controversy or cost.
Is Lip Plating morally unacceptable to the world? Cultural Relativism is defined as, accepting that all cultures are equal and that no culture is better than the other culture. It is up to each culture to decide what is best for them. Everyone should learn to be accepting of all cultures regardless of their beliefs.
Initially my view of lip plating was that it is a morally unacceptable act. This is because of the process itself. In the Mursi tribe, young women around the ages of 15 or 16 years old are exposed to this process, which is said to be painful; sometimes having to remove their bottom teeth. Although its a cultural tradition in Africa, my thoughts were that these young women should have been given the right to decide if they wanted a lip plate.
Lip Plating is considered to be a sign of beauty in the Mursi Tribe. The tribe is located in the Lower Omo Valley of Southwestern Ethiopia; with a population of less than 10,000. (Lip Plate, 2011) The Mursi women displayed a high interest in the lip plating process because they believed it to be very attractive to their future husbands. Usually, around puberty, young girls start the lip plating process, where the lower lip is pierced with a piece of wood to help it to expand every day.
(Lip Plate, 2011) As the days go on, the hole increases in size. When the hole is large enough, a plate made of wood or clay is inserted into the bottom lip. As the hole grows bigger, the plate size increases. It is said, the bigger the plate, the more attractive the woman. (Lip Plate, 2011)
Lip plating may be viewed as body mutilation from the outside world, but to the Mursi tribe, it symbolizes adulthood for a woman. It also shows that a woman is ready to bear children. The tradition usually takes place 6 months to one year before a young woman is ready to marry. The mother or another family member is responsible for making the incision in the young girls lip. A wooden stick or peg is inserted and remains there until the incision has healed. During this time, a larger disc is placed in the lip. An ointment from plants aids in the healing process. (Laura du Toit, 2009)
According to L. du Toit, It is the tradition of the Mursi men to pay the fathers of the future brides when preparing to marry their daughters. (Laura du Toit, 2009) Since most marriages are pre-arranged, the future bride usually has little to no say in the marriage plans. It is customary that 38 cattle and an AK-47 are given to the brides family. The larger the lip plate, the more cattle are given to the father. (Laura du Toit, 2009)
Mursi women wear their lip plates when in the company of men and during special celebrations. They also wear them during dancing and donga fights. The Donga competition is held annually. Some fighters drink the blood of their cattle before a fight. The men believe the blood is full of vitamins and will give them strength during the fight. Two men fight with a wooden stick for the right to marry their future bride. The fighter who wins has his choice of the woman he wants. (“Getting to Know The Mursi Tribe in Ethiopia,” 2018)
Men can be hurt badly, or even killed during the Donga competition. If a man is killed, his family receives compensation, however, if a man is hurt, he receives nothing. In 1994, the Ethiopian government banned stick fighting, however, the tribe has ignored the ban and continues to stick fight. (“Suri tribe in Ethiopia battle each other with sticks,” 2017)
I would describe the behavior of the Mursi women as Psychological Egoism. Psychological Egoism is defined as focusing primarily on what people do, versus what they ought to do. (Ethical Subjectivism, n.d.) The Mursi women are motivated by lip plating because they believe with the lip plating process, theyre showing proudness of their culture and braveness. (LaTosky, n.d.)
The Mursi women believe they are looked upon more favorably than a woman without a lip plate. The men from the tribe believe women without a lip plate, are weaker. If she does not wear her lip plate around men, she could be whipped by her husband as a form of punishment. According to S. LaTosky, a Mursi woman stated, if foreigners or government people come and talk to us, we will say: I wont cut my lip! No, we wont cut our lips! We wont put in lip plates. We will say this to them. We will say it like this, but when they leave, we will go on living the way we do. (LaTosky, n.d.)
When a woman has been married for a few years, or when her husband passes, she stops wearing her lip plate. (“Getting to Know the Mursi Tribe in Ethiopia,” 2018) Nowadays, the women in the tribe continue to wear lip plates for financial gain. Tourists are intrigued by the lip plating tradition and flock to visit the Mursi tribe. Men and women of the tribe get dressed up in body art, lip plates and face paint when tourists arrive. The Mursi tribe charges money to have pictures taken of them. They are known to buy alcohol with the money they receive. (“Picture story: how photographing the Omo Valley people changed their lives,” 2015)
The new generation of Mursi women has a different outlook on wearing the lip plate. Many of them do not want to be cut and prefer to live in the new world. Theyve learned from tourists and their government that lip plating is ancient thinking, and not what most people do today. However, there are many young women who still desire to have the lip plates because it is a part of their culture. They also look at the tradition as a form of income. (“Getting To Know The Mursi Tribe in Ethiopia,” 2018) The Mursi tribe displayed ethical egoism because they chose to continue doing what they believed. Even when society and their government frowned on Donga fighting and lip plating, they continued to show self-interest and continue with their tradition. (“Ethical Subjectivism,” n.d.)
As of today, the Mursi tribe has turned photo-taking into a business. Photo tours are arranged and the cost is .20 cents per photo. After research, I was more understanding of the Mursi tribes tradition. Ethical subjectivism is the belief that all ethical thought and, in particular, judgments about human conduct, are shaped by and in many ways limited to perception. (“Ethical Subjectivism,” n.d.) Initially, my opinion on lip plating was based on my very own perception. My first impression was that it was morally unacceptable. However, I learned that the Mursi tribe embraces lip plating. I learned that lip plating is a part of their culture and a tradition they wish to continue, in spite of what their government wants. The tribe has also become financially-dependent on photo-taking. According to C. Shei, Swapping cash for photos creates more profit than breeding cattle. Even agriculture is no longer attractive. (Sehi, 2018)
Although the tradition lives on, its good to know that women do have a choice in this matter and that its not forced upon them by men or their families. (“Pucker up: Lip Plating Still in Vogue in Remote Tribal Villages,” 2016)