Suri or Surma Tribe

Suri or Surma Tribe

Suri, also known as the Surma people live in the southwestern plains of Ethiopia.  They raise cattle and farm when the land is fertile.  Cattle are important to the Suri, giving them status.  The more cattle a tribesman has, the wealthier they are. In order for a man to marry a woman in the Suri tribe, he must own at least 60 cattle.  Cattle are given to the family of the woman in exchange for marriage.  Like the other tribes, the Suri will use the milk and blood from the cow.  During the dry season, the people will drink blood instead of milk.  Blood can be drained from a cow once a month.  This is done by making a small incision in its neck.

The enigmatic peoples of the Surma life in the south of Ethiopia, due to their geographical isolation, they are able to maintain a unique and rich culture, living in a half nomadic existence in an almost terrestrial paradise. This proud people have a great sense for beauty and expression, their creativity shows itself in the intricate designs with which they – especially the men – decorate their own bodies to attract the other sex, for ceremonies and especially for the stick fighting donga, the foundation for complex and competitive social structure where the aim is to establish a champion or the encouragement of a collective hostility before attacking an enemy tribe. Married woman wear impressive big lip plates where the size is related to wealth.

The Surma have a macho culture, with an obsession for stick fighting called donga bringing great prestige to men – it is especially important when seeking a bride – and they are very competitive, at the risk of serious injury and occasional death. The males are often shaved bald, and frequently wear little or no clothes, even during stick fights.

At a young age, to beautify them for marriage, most women have their bottom teeth removed and their bottom lips pierced, then stretched, so as to allow insertion of a clay lip plate. Some women have stretched their lips so as to allow plates up to five inches in diameter. Their children are sometimes painted with white clay paint, which may be dotted on the face or body.

Village life is largely communal, sharing the produce of the cattle (milk and blood, as do the Maasai). Though their chief (styled komaro) wears the fur crown of a pagan priest-king, he is merely the most respected elder and can be removed. Few are familiar with Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, and their literacy level is very low, the Surma are very peaceful, serene people who are in love with their own lifestyle. They believe that god has given them everything, and the cattle they own are probably the best in the world.

Every year after the harvest, Surma men and women enjoy a leisurely courtship period, spending days by the river, painting their bodies with beautiful designs to make themselves attractive to each other.