The Mysterious Suri People of Surma, Ethiopia

Apart from Harar, The Danakil Badlands, the Afar Triangle, Lalibela and Erta Ale and Dallol Volcanoes in the North, a major destination for our PhotoSafari to Ethiopia in 2014, was to visit and explore the mysterious Surma lands, deep in the south-western belly of Ethiopia, where soggy and often impassable tracks, disease, tsetse flies, and the absence of civilized facilities, will deter most normal tourists from ever going there. The land and the tribal people that live here are rough and tough, and they do not always welcome visitors. Often rival tribes clash violently among themselves, and usually the root cause will be cattle stealing. In fact the first time the Suris allowed any outsiders to come into their villages was only about 30 years ago when a German explorer discovered them. We were fortunate to be able to enter their cattle camps and villages, only because my good Ethiopian friend knows a senior Suri tribesman who actually spoke reasonable English, which he learned from some missionaries working and living with the Suris.

Young men and boys are usually tasked with looking after  the cattle herds of their families. The take the  cattle to  grazing areas often very  far from their villages and they stay at cattle camps for long periods. They are usually stark naked.

Young Suri boys who look after  the  cattle herds of their families.

Young Suri boys who look after the cattle herds of their families.

Surma is the Ethiopian umbrella term for the Suri, the Mursi, and the Mekan people who live in the Omo National Park on the west side of the Omo River. They are semi-nomadic cattle herders whose lives revolve around their cattle. Their second most valuable possession is the Kalashnikov, or AK-47 often known as the widow-maker, and the favourite weapon of modern terrorists. Almost every adult male, and some females, all own and carry a Kalashnikov, which they use to defend their cattle herds from cattle thieves from other tribes. Usually the cattle are not eaten, except when they have a big ceremony or celebration. The cattle are used for milk and blood which they drink.

It was fascinating watching  the  process of bleeding  a cow, collecting the blood, mixing  it with milk, and drinking it. A major blood vessel of the cow is first punctured with an arrow fired from a small bow.

A blood vessel in the neck of the cow is  punctured with a small arrow fired by a  bow.

A blood vessel in the neck of the cow is punctured with a small arrow fired by a bow.

The blood is then collected in a bowl  made from the dried skin of a pumpkin.

The blood is then collected in a bowl  made from the dried skin of a pumpkin.

The blood is then collected in a bowl made from the dried skin of a pumpkin.

Then the wound on the cow’s neck is closed by rubbing  something on it, and the blood is either mixed with milk or consumed  direct from the bowl.

The blood is often mixed with milk, although some prefer drinking them  unmixed .

The blood is often mixed with milk, although some prefer drinking them unmixed .

Like the Mursi, Suri women wear plates in their lips. At age 15 or 16, the girl’s lower lip is pierced by her mother or another woman and a simple wooden plug is inserted to keep the cut open until the wound heals.  After that the plug is replaced with progressively larger plugs over a period of several months. The first clay plate is inserted when the diameter of the orifice is about 4 cm. It is a cruel and painful custom, because  as bigger and  bigger plates are inserted, often the  four lower front teeth  has to be  broken to accommodate the plates. Thankfully, these days, the government is stepping in to discourage the Suris and Mursis from piercing their lips to wear lip plates, which demonically are regarded as an expression of social adulthood and self-esteem for a Suri woman.

The government is trying to persuade the Suris and Mursis to stop the practice of wearing plates in their lower lips.

The government is trying to persuade the Suris and Mursis to stop the practice of wearing plates in their lower lips.

Lest all the feminists out  there cry foul, you’ll be pleased to know that Suri men also subject themselves to body piercing. They pierce their ear lobes and  insert plates into the openings too.

Suri Men pierce their ear lobes and also insert progressively larger clay plates into the opening in their ear lobes.

Suri Men pierce their ear lobes and also insert progressively larger clay plates into the opening in their ear lobes.

And both Suri men and women endure  scarification in a demonic belief that  a scarified body is beautiful.

Scarification to decorate their bodies is common among Suri men and women.

Scarification to decorate their bodies is common among Suri men and women.

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *