The most distinctive of all ethnic groups in the Omo Valley are the Mursi, famous for the huge Lip Plates the women are sporting. The bigger, the more beautiful… These disks made of wood or clay certainly are not comfortable to wear. So unless there is a special occasion women do without them. What is left then is a huge loop of shriveled lip dangling from the mouth, a rather irritating sight. Ear lobes are also stretched and scarification is highly desired, as with the Hamer.
We had heard the wildest stories about the Mursi. Tourists complained about their random behavior and aggressive way of extracting Birr from photographing Faranjis. Also the guides had their opinions. “They drink before they eat” was Matthew’s expertise. He even insisted on visiting them early in the morning, before they get drunk. So what do some of these people gulp down that knocks them out by midday? It is Arak, high proof alcohol made from corn. To buy this firewater, the Mursi walk two days into Jinka, where a liter of this liquid sells for 15 Birr, a true bargain.
It is a 1.5 hour drive into Mago National Park to get to the first Mursi villages. Not that they are allowed to live there! They are notorious for hunting the few remaining wild animals rather than eat one of their precious cattle. In Jinka, we picked up a local guide and half way into the park, a scout who was shouldering a large Kalashnikov joined us. So the four of us were now accompanied by three guides.
The first Mursi we encountered were a few stark naked men with body paintings, even their penis were decorated. They just sat along the road doing nothing in particular. Also our first stop in a village had nothing of the predicated turmoil. It seemed almost deserted. An old man told the guides that the villagers had walked to another village were tourists had stopped. That is not so bad, we wrongly assumed.