Lip Plate

Today’s labret piercing has nothing on the traditional lip plate customs of African tribes and cultures.

Depending on the custom, the meaning behind the process may vary, but for the most part, it signifies beauty among women. The women in the Mursi tribe of Ethiopia, Africa, use lip plates to signify they are ready to marry; they pierce the bottom lip with a wood stick and expand it daily. Eventually, when the hole is big enough, a plate is used to increase the size. The process is very painful and takes many months to achieve full size. In some cases, the bottom two or four teeth may have to be pulled in order to insert the plate.

In the end, the bigger the plate, the more beautiful the woman. The larger the lip plate, the larger the dowry the woman’s family will receive from the potential suitor.

The plate is generally a sacred object that is dyed and decorated according to the woman’s preferences.

Because the lip plates are large, it becomes are to talk, so the women tend to only wear them when in front of men. They will remove the plate when eating, sleeping, and when in the company of only women.

Other tribes practice the custom of lip plates.

  • The Mursi and Surma women of Ethiopia
  • The Suya men of Brazil
  • The Sara women of Chad stopped wearing plates in the 1920s
  • The Makonde of Tanzania and Mozambique stopped wearing plates several decades ago
  • The Botocudo men and women of coastal Brazil
  • Aleut, Inuit, and other indigenous people of northern Canada, Alaska and the surrounding regions wore large labrets and lip plates, but the custom has mostly stopped in the 20th century
  • ¬†Some tribes Zo’e in Brazil, Nuba in Sudan, Lobi in west Africa, wear lip plates

Suya Tribe

Mursi Tribe