Re: Kayapo Chief

Caroline Brettell (cbrettel@SUN.CIS.SMU.EDU)
Wed, 11 May 1994 15:10:50 -0500

I believe the expression is Lip plate rather than lip plug. It is indeed
the case that among some groups in Africa, particularly the Surma, women
wear lip plates. I have seen several explanations for the latter although
I cannot give you the references at this point. Some say that it is
related to brideprice--the larger the plate the more brideprice can be
asked for a Surma woman. Alternatively some have offered a slavery
argument; that the Surma figured out that the "white man" thought women
with lip plates or hanging lower lips were ugly and would not command much
as slaves--so it was a way to protect their women.

i do not know about diffusion, but if one accepts the slavery argument
(and I do not know what the proof of that is) then possibly some women got
to Brazil on slave ships. But then why would it be Kayapo men rather than
the women.

I think the Suya also have lip plates and as I recall (again I cannot give
you the exact reference, sorry) it is closely linked to religious
beliefs--orifices and where the spirits can enter the body. A plate
protects the mouth. In fact I think that is another explanation offered
for the Surma as well.

I hope this helps. Perhaps it will spark other peoples' memories.

Caroline Brettell
anthropology, SMu