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Mursi

Mursi
The nomadic Mursi tribe lives in the lower area of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Extreme drought has made it difficult to feed themselves by means of traditional cultivation and herding. The establishment of national parks has restricted their access and threatened their natural resources.
“It’s better to die than live without killing”
The Mursi are famous for their stick-fighting ceremony and Mursi women are known all over the world for wearing clay plates in their lower lips. Their economy concentrated on bartering and sharing possessions. This changed when tourists arrived, offering money in exchange for photographs.
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Mr. Sea

June 2011

The Mursi tribe lives in the lower Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley in south-west Ethiopia, not far from the Kenyan border. 
Extreme drought has made it more and more difficult for many Mursi families to feed themselves by means of their traditional activities such as
cultivation and cattle herding.
Furthermore, the establishment of national parks with their fences and roads
has seriously restricted the access of local tribes and threatened their natural 
resources. 

Hilao Moyizo Village

June 2011

The Mursi are considered to be a rather primitive tribe within the
Omo Valley, even though their way of living isn’t so different 
compared to other tribes. Mursi have always shown reluctant and
aggressive behaviour towards foreigners in general, but since 
tourists have found their way to their land, that attitude has become
even worse.
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Warriors

June 2011

Mursi warriors are marked with horseshoe- shaped scars on their bodies. Men are gashed on their right arms, whereas women are gashed on their left arms. Very successful warriors have their thighs marked. The Mursi are also very famous for their stick-fighting ceremony, the donga.

Mursi

June 2012

The Mursi number about 4,000 and have their own language,
known as Mursi, which is one of the Surmic languages. 

They are a nomadic tribe of herdsmen who, over the past few decades
have encountered growing threats to their livelihood. 

Bull-leaping ceremony

June 2011

In order for young tribesmen to qualify for marriage, own cattle and have children, they must face up to a unique dare, known as the bull-leaping ceremony. It is also a rite of passage to mark the boys’ coming of age. Cows are lined up in a row. Each boy, naked, has to make four clean runs
over the back of the cows, without falling. Success gains him the right to marry.
During this impressive display, the young man is accompanied by women of his
tribe, cheering for him, dancing and singing.

Polygamy is permitted: a man is allowed to have as many wives as he wants,
but must be able to afford them.

Hilao Moyizo Village, Omo Valley

July 2012

In the past, the Mursi economy concentrated on
bartering, and the tribes’ possessions were mostly shared.
This changed when tourists arrived, offering money in exchange for
photographs. Today the Mursi have a hard time dealing with this
new form of economy, resulting in many Mursi men consuming
more alcohol than they can handle.
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

A mixture of beliefs

July 2011

Even though the Mursi tribe has been in contact with Christian evangelist
missionaries and has been influenced by nearby Muslim tribes, their
main religion is classified as Animism.

Nowadays the tribe practises a mixture of monotheistic and traditional 
animist beliefs, resulting in what is actually polytheism.
In accordance with animist traditions, people believe that all natural objects,
like trees and even rocks, have spirits.
Muslim legend has also added the jinni, a spirit that can assume human
or animal form and influence people by means of supernatural powers.
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Herders

June 2011

The cattle-herding Mursi fear that they will be denied grazing rights in areas designated as game parks.

Mursi mainly live off their cattle, corn and honey.
In rare cases it is known they have hunted wildlife.
Unlike some other regional tribes, they do not fish.

The clay plate tradition

June 2011

Mursi women are known all over the world for wearing clay plates in their lower lips. At the age of 15, girls get pierced, after which their lips are stretched out to create enough space to place the lip plate. It is said that the lip plates were invented to make Mursi women less attractive to slave
traders. In the tribe today, the bigger the lip plate, the more cattle the girl
is worth by the time she is traded into marriage.

Living in the lower Omo Valley

June 2011

The Mursi, like the other tribes in the region, build huts using a range of materials such as thatch, river reed, branches and sticks. During migration, they sometimes leave the huts and sometimes bring them along.
It is the women’s job to build and dismantle the huts.

Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Hilao Moyizo Village

June 2011