Ethnical groups - Mursi Tribe

Mursi Tribe - Ethiopia

Mursi tribe inhibits an inaccessible area between the rivers Mago and Omo. Its language belongs to the Nilo-Saharian languages. The population of this tribe is estimated at 10.000. It is divided into 18 clans. The most valuable treasure of every Mursi is cattle. Even the names are given according to the color of your favorite cow. Mursi people boast among local tribes with the largest number of cattle, therefore they are considered to be the richest. All social relationships are approved by the exchange of cattle. The dowry is usually constituted by 30-40 cows, although today it is more often also a rifle. This wealth goes from a groom's family to a bride's family. Therefore, the birth of a girl is treated as a blessing - it contributes to the growth of a father's wealth. This does not mean that male descendants are less important; they will look after the flocks.


Although Mursi people traditionally make money on pastoralism, in recent years they have been increasingly specialized in agriculture. They grow sorghum, corn, beans, chickpeas and tobacco. They also deal with beekeeping.

Woman of the Mursi tribe
Woman of the Mursi tribe ©Zarzecki

The basis of their diet is a kind of porridge, prepared from sorghum and corn. It is mixed with milk and blood, taken directly from a wound on the neck of a cow. They rarely eat meat, usually only during festive events or during a drought.

Known for their aggressive reputation, Mursi people are tall and thin. Until recently, men went completely naked. Today, their most common dress is a blanket flipped over a shoulder. Women tie goat skin at the hips, or more recently, a blanket. Both men and women shave their heads and cut patterns on their hair. Women from the Mursi tribe are famous for clay plates placed in the lower lip. When a girl is 14, she is deprived of 4 lower teeth, and when she turns 15, she has the lower lip incised. (A boy is deprived of 2 lower teeth). The reason they do it, stirs a lot of controversy. One of the theories propagated by the magazine National Geographic is the desire to uglify oneself in order to discourage slave hunters. Today, it is believed that it is not true, but rather the need to beautify oneself. The plate placed in the lip means entering a woman in the age of sexual maturity. It is suggested that the size of the plate affects a woman's value and thus the number of cows to be paid for her to her father. The Ethiopian government seeks to limit this practice, suggesting placing the plates in the earlobes.

Woman of the Mursi tribe
Woman from Mursi tribe ©Zarzecki

People of the Ethiopian Mursi tribe also practice scarification. Cut skin is rubbed with ash, so the scars need long time to heal and are more visible. Women of the Mursi tribe have on their stomach a symbol of the clan from which they originate, and on the shoulder a pattern identical to the one fired on cows owned by their husbands. They do not wear a lot of jewelry, but mostly metal bands, bracelets and anklets. During the ceremony, women adorn themselves in animal skins and headgears made from the tusks of animals, etc.

Sometimes men wear bracelets made from bones and hair of elephants. A large stick (dongen) worn by men is used for defense and fight. It is more often replaced by the rifle AK47, being ubiquitous in this part of the world.

In terms of language and culture, Mursi people resemble the Suri tribe, and believe that they are one nation. There are mixed marriages.

Mursi people are considered to be an extremely aggressive tribe and therefore do not have the best reputation among tourists. This is a bit false image caused by the shallowness of mutual contacts. When you devote more time, they turn out to be inquisitive and friendly people. Their though stance stems from the need to survive in a very harsh environment.

You'll visit the villages of the Mursi tribe on our trips to southern Ethiopia.

Book a trip to the Ethiopian Omo Valley. You will see the Mursi tribes, the Hamer, the Dssanech and many others.

See photo gallery about Mursi tribe