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Photos of rarely-seen Ethiopian tribe show ancient body modifications

Omi, oh my! Rare glimpse of remote Ethiopian tribe who practice extreme body modification with lip plates and flesh tunnel earrings

  • Portraits of rarely-photographed Ethiopian tribe offer a rare glimpse of ancient body modification traditions 
  • Photographer Dale Morris visited the Omi tribe in southern Ethiopia multiple times over an eight year period
  • He photographed the group’s tribal war paint, dazzling make-up and lip piercings the size of dinner plates
  • The Omi tribe are known for expressing their emotions through facial expressions and do not hide their mood 

These striking portraits of a rarely-photographed Ethiopian tribe give a rare glimpse into the ancient body modification traditions.

The Omi tribe who live in the Omo Valley of southern Ethiopia, have some of the world’s most unique and radical body modifications.  

With everything from tribal war paint to lip piercings the size of dinner plates, his stunning gallery shows some of the world’s most unique and radical body modifications.

Photographer Dale Morris, who is originally from the UK but now lives in South Africa, took the most recent photos last month, after visiting the reclusive group multiple times over an eight year period.

Other images feature body and face paints sourced from local soils and coloured with natural dyes found in plants and minerals.

This body paint is commonly worn like make-up among women, with more ornate painting done for special events like weddings and parties.

Some Omi women choose to wear a saucer lip plate, called a dhebi a tugoin. The procedure involves girl’s lower lip being cut when she reaches the age of 15 or 16, then the wound is stretched over time but inserting slightly bigger discs to eventually fit a large clay plate. When the lip is stretchy enough for a big plate the two bottom teeth are removed

The Omi tribe are known for expressing their emotions through facial expressions and do not hide their mood and often use dancing and singing to express themselves. Not all women get lip piercing and the process can be very painful. Mr Morris added: ‘The process starts when the girl is a teenager. It is a strange practice that looks extremely painful and uncomfortable’

The isolated tribes of the Omo valley in Ethiopia. These dazzling lip piercings, flesh tunnel earrings and make-up are part of the tribe’s distinctive identity. Photographer Dale Morris said: ‘The Omo’s culture has remained untouched for hundreds of years, but the modern world is invading and soon these costumes and body modifications will be a thing of the past’

Many different tribes live in the Omo Valley but their way of life has been threatened by a massive hydroelectric dam and accompanying land grabs for plantations. The 46-year-old photographer added: ‘I feel I am capturing these images on the cusp of change. ‘Soon these people will have changed, and their ancient customs and fashions will disappear’

Archaeological evidence shows that lip piercing was invented independently six times in Sudan and Ethiopia in around 8700 BC, Mesoamerica or Central America in 1500 BC and Ecuador in 500 BC. Mr Morris said: ‘Literally, the thinking is ‘the bigger the plate, the hotter the girl’

The Omi take tattoos very seriously as inkings show their accomplishments throughout their lives to help remember everything that has happened and remind them of the way their lives changed over the years. By the end of their life, they are normally covered with different tattoos. If a member of the Omi passes away they often their relatives and friends will get a tattoo to memorialise that person

An Omi woman who has had a lip piercing but without a plate in place (left) and an Omi child (right). Children cannot become a member of the Omi tribe until they have gone into the mountains and returned in order to join eight different casts, including leader, healers, workers, hunters, builders, planters, military, and teachers

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