Women lip plates and the ‘Donga’ (stick fighting) are the major features for both the surma and Mursi people of the Omo valley. The women of both people inserted clay or wooden plates on their lower lip perhaps as a symbol or expression of social status. In fact, there are several suggestions as to why lip plates were originally adopted. Some speculates that it was adopted to discourage slavers. Others have suggested that the plates were used to prevent evil things from entering the body through the mouth according to their belief. Others also considered it as an indication of the number of cattle required by the woman’s family for her husband in marriage. At present, the practical use of the lip plate is as the sign of beauty as the women do not remove the plate when Mursi men are around.
Body painting is also an important part of males and females of both people to make them more attractive to the opposite sex. The surma men paint themselves during their preparation for donga stick fights that take place at the end of the rainy season and continue for a three-month period. Painting is perhaps made in order to emphasize their physical beauty and to intimidate their opponents.