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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Mursi Freak Show (Must See)

The Mursi Freak Show
The Mursis are one of the most famous tribes living in the South Omo region. Not only do they have fearsome reputation of their battle prowess and aggressiveness, they are renowned for the bizarre or even macabre body decorations – Upon puberty, their women poked holes into their lips and begin placing small clay discs in them. They massaged the holes daily, enlarging it and placing larger and larger discs into them. They see the discs as not only symbols of their tribal identity but also attractive fashion accessories. Mursi women must wear the discs when they serve meals to their husbands, brothers or guests. Only widows stop wearing the discs. Whenever the discs are removed, their artificially elongated lips stooped downwards.
According to anthropologists' studies (as noted in exhibits in the excellent South Omo Museum in Jinka), the Ethiopian state is not in favour of such drastic deformity of one's lips which often make Mursi women the laughing stock of other peoples. Within Mursi society, people are also debating on whether to continue such a tradition that turn their people into virtual human zoo exhibits.
The drive to the Mursi village in the Mago National Park is a bumpy 2 hour ride across hilly terrain and then an arid savannah plain. One has to be escorted by an armed national park ranger in case of problems that can emerge whenever the heavily armed Mursis get drunk (which is normally the case in the afternoon).
Once we reached the park, we were immediately mobbed by the Mursis who wanted their photos taken. One has to be calm and not rush into taking pictures, as advised by the guide, or the situation gets out of hand. Only after the guide had carefully done a tour of the village and had small talk with the village elders that one begins to select the photo "subjects". There is a standard rate for photos here – 2 birrs for an adult and 1 birr for a child. The Mursis are so used to tourists that they dress themselves in slightly different styles so that the tourists can take photos of more people. They even pose in ways the tourist prefers. No matter how much one tries to be calm and take it slowly, Mursis who were not selected would pester the tourist aggressively for their photos to be taken. It is such a freakshow!
My guide wanted to distribute some sweets but he was mobbed by the Mursis and even had a bleeding scratch as a result. The whole exercise was not cheap. Birr 180 for entrance to the park and various vehicle fees, plus Birr 65 for the park ranger and Birr 50 for the village.

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