Neighboured by the Surma to the west, the Ari and Mount Mago to the east, the Kwegu and Karo to the south and the Bodi to the north, the mursi are about 6000 in number.
The Mursi subsists on sorghum and maize cultivation and honey. Although not frequently, especially after the declaration of Mago national park, they also practice hunting. The Mursi territory is further divided in to five sections, each section extending east to west to include the Omo and Mago river thus each of them obtaining a natural habitat for their river bank cultivation, rain-fed agriculture and grazing lands for their cattle on which they mainly depend for their milk and blood.
The unique trait of the Mursi ,shared by other surmic groups, is the spectacular labial and lobular plates worn by the women and their ceremony. Tusk pendants worn by Mursi men is a sign of bravery and status. Also the deep horse-shoe shaped scarifications the Mursi warriors make on their upper arms whenever they succeed in killing their enemy group is typical. The scars are put on the right arm for a male victim and on the left for a female victim but the more successful warriors may proceed to put the incisions on thighs. A heavy piece of iron collection worn by the women is also intended to attract.
The lip plates of Surma and Mursi Women
A new sect of people from Europe and other parts of the world who pierce their lips and other parts of their body in aspiration to be like some tribes in the wilderness of Africa are coming in to the scene. Apart from this new trend in the modern society, there are very few groups of societies in the world whose women wear labial and lobular plates. The Mursi and the Surma, who live in the lower Omo valley region of Ethiopia, are the most typical ones.
The plates, made from red or black mud or wood, are produced into different sizes by the mursi/surma women themselves. The shape varies from circular to trapezoidal, some of them being hollow-centered, and with decorative incisions.
These plates are worn by a mursi or Surma young woman in her twenties. First, when a mursi or surma girl is contemplating of marriage, about six months prior to her engagement, the lower lip will be cut into which a small wooden or clay disk is inserted. Gradually the plates or disks will be progressively replaced until the required plate size is attained. The plates have a symbolic function. The bigger the lip plates the higher the bride price. These plates should be worn all the time except when sleeping and at private mealtime. It is also possible to remove the plates when there are no Mursi or Surma men around.
Concerning the tradition, there are a number of beliefs as to why the Mursi/Surma women ended up wearing plates. Some say it is a strategic measure taken by the Surma fore fathers to discourage the Arab slave traders who were looking for unblemished slave girls. The second suggestion is related to the belief of the Surma/Mursi people themselves. These people believe evil spirits possess a person entering by way of his mouth. So lip plates are taken as a preventive measure. The third and most likely theory is to declare social status of the girl's family by showing the number of cattle expected for her hand in marriage.
The Donga of Surma and Mursi people.
The Mursi are believed to have evolved in to a new group from the source Surmic people sharing some common culture like the ritual dueling of stick fight which is an art that allows young boys to win the honor among the community and hearts of young girls for marriage.
The duel is conducted with a purpose of showing strength and masculinity with out a serious risk of death as a result of the fight. In fact, if the duelist, either knowingly or by mistakes, happens to kill his competitor there will always be a serious consequences like property confiscation ,being banished from the village, and giving their daughters as compensation for the deceased family or close relatives.
On the day the duel is to be conducted , many people from the society including the relatives of the competitors will gather together in a specially prepared forest clearing. The duelists ,painting their faces with the intention of intimidating their opponent with their fierce look, approach the area chanting and covering their susceptible body parts meticulously with cotton clothing and holding ,high in the air, a six feet tall stick on their hands. Small hand and elbow protection shields will be worn by the combatants. The fighting stick, which is the only weapon used on the duel, will always have a kind of phallus carving at its tip signifying masculinity.
Holding the stick with their both hands at its base they begin kicking one another fiercely until on of the duelist is unable to continue the fight. It is possible that both of the fighters might sustain a sever injuries but killing one another is strongly forbidden-the only rule of the game .The referee might intervene if he believes an opponent might deliver a fatal blow.
On a single stick fight ceremony day as many as forty duelists might participate and each one of them should compete at least once. Winners will continue to fight with other winners until a final victor emerges. But losers are expected to accept their defeat gracefully and withdraw from the field. The final victor will be carried up on a platform of poles and taken to a group of unmarried young girls, one of whom will choose him as her future husband.
Donga stick fight is conducted every year at the end of a successful harvest. The ceremony begins at the end of the rainy season and continues for three months(November-January).
It is believed by some that the visit of the Mursi is the highlight of lower Omo valley tour.