The Strange Culture of Lip Plates

The Mursi, Sara, and Suma tribes in Ethiopia use Lip plates the most. People know about these tribes because the women wear big clay plates on their lower lips.

Archaeologists have found evidence that women wore lip plates and labrets in Sudan (8,700 BC), South America (1,500 BC), and Ecuador (500BC).

When a girl is 15 or 16 years old, another girl from her tribe will cut her upper lip and put a wooden plate in it.

Over time, bigger sticks are added to lips that have already been stretched. As the lip gets bigger, different plates can be switched out.

Even though the lip plates aren’t required to be worn at all times, most women walk around with their lower lips hanging loose.

How Lip Plates Came to Be

There are a lot of theories about where lip plates came from, but one of the most common is that the men of some tribes in Ethiopia wanted their women to look boring to foreign slave masters. Because of this, it could be seen as a reaction to colonialism.

Even though most of the world has become more modern, the lip plate tradition has kept going.

From the outside, putting on a lip plate looks like cutting the skin, but traditional users don’t see it that way. They see it as a way to express themselves and create art.

What are they made out of?

Lip plates are also called lip plugs or discs. Most of the time, they are about 4–5 centimetres long and made of wood or clay. So that the lip plate fits right, two to four teeth are taken out.

After the lip is cut, a ceramic plate is put on it. When the lip has healed, a slightly bigger disc is put on it.

In places where the lip plate custom is followed, a girl’s lip is cut by a female member of her tribe when she hits puberty, and a small piece of wood is then attached to her lips.

When the lip plate needs to be cleaned or changed, it can be taken off.

What does the lip plate mean?

Most people think of lip plates or saucers as a “rite of passage” from being a teenager to becoming a woman.

Tradition says that a lip plate shows that a woman is fertile and that she is ready to get married. It shows that a girl is old enough to get married and is ready to be a wife.

Besides getting married, a woman’s beauty also depends on how big her lip is. People think that it’s a cultural ornament that shows how strong and confident she is. People also see it as a sign of bravery and determination.

Lip plate gives people a lot of self-worth because it is seen as a source of pride. Some women paint their lip plates to make them look prettier.

The lip plate is also a way for the tribes that use it to show how they are different. It makes them different from other tribes.

The lip plate is worn at weddings and dance competitions. It is a sign of fertility and of being able to get married.

Women who are married are also expected to put their plates on the table when they serve their husbands.

Do lip plates affect speech?

This changes how women speak because it changes the lower lip and lower incisors, which are used to make sounds. Women can’t make bilabial and dental consonants in their own language because of this practice.

What’s wrong with the lip plates tradition

Even though this is a strange tradition, it is clear that the women who wear lip plates are not comfortable. But they have to do it because it’s part of their culture.

Many women have had to go through a lot of pain during the piercing and cutting process right before the lip plates are put in place. Some women have been carrying the plates for so long that it has become hard for them.

There is also a chance of getting an infection if the lip plates are not put on in the best way possible.

It’s also hard for these women to eat, drink, and sleep because they have to constantly take out their lip plates.

Now, girls can choose whether or not to wear it. Any woman who doesn’t wear the lip plate is seen as lazy and not worth a big bride price. She will be seen as a disrespectful young lady who doesn’t care about tradition.

In some situations, if the bride doesn’t use it, the bride price may be below.

Even though lip plates are still used, not everyone thinks that they were made to make people look prettier. This is because there are always different ideas about how the practice of cutting and stretching the lower lips started as a way to make the women of the tribe look ugly on purpose so that slave traders wouldn’t want to buy them.

About the Author

Martha Alex

Our Technology and Business editor looks behind the headlines and tells you what is really going on in the field of Tech and Business. Read Interesting Articles from our writers on

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