Woman’s Wooden Lip Plate Kichepo People, Sudan, & Surma People, Sudan/Ethiopia 19th-early 20th century
width: 13.3cm, height: 9.6cm
This fine lip plate or plug has been carved from a single piece of light, blonde wood. It is of semi-oval form with a curved groove all around the sides which allowed the plate to be kept in place, with the pierced lip stretching right around the plate and in the groove. A convex dimple is in the centre of either side.
According to Ginzberg (2000, p. 249) 'of all lip and ear plugs used in Africa, thios wood plate, woern in their vastly stretched lower lips by Kichepo women in Sudan, resulted in the most shocking distotion.'
The size of a Surma or Kichepo girl's lip plate suggested the number of cattle her family required for her as a bride price. Young women had their lips pierced and fitted with a plate. These were worn in the presence of men and only taken out when the woman was eating or sleeping. When the plate was not being worn, the stretched lip would hand as a loop, distended from the mouth.
An almost identical example comprised lot 45 of Sotheby's Paris sale: 'Collection Marc et Denyse Ginzberg', September 10, 2007. Click here to see that example. Another is illustrated in Borel (1994, p. 60).
The plate is in fine condition with a smooth, worn feel. A corner on one side is shortened. Possibly it was broken off during use, but in any even, the corner is now as smooth as the rest of the groove - or possibly, this plate was simply made this way in the first place.
References: Borel, F., The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry: From the Colette and Jean-Pierre Ghysels Collection, Thames & Hudson, 1994. Ginzberg, M., African Forms, Skira, 2000.