Land of Culture
The extraordinarily diverse country of Ethiopia is home to some of the last true tribal people of Africa with their own unique culture, rituals, dressing and way of life. . In the south west of Ethiopia lies the Omo Valley, a living anthropological treasure of spectacular people including the Hamer, Suri, Dassanech, Karo, Nyangatom and Mursi tribes.
Unique to Africa
A world of beauty, diversity and strength that that is fast disappearing
To the east of the Rift Valley are the lands of the elaborately painted and scarred Karo People. The Karo excel in face and body painting practiced daily in preparation of their dances and ceremonies. They pulverize locally found white chalk, yellow mineral rock, red iron ore, and black charcoal to decorate their bodies, often mimicking the spotted plumage of a guinea fowl. The men create highly decorated clay hair buns, which can take up to three days to complete. Their ornate body scarring, where a cut is made with a knife and ash is rubbed into the wound to produce a raised welt, is also a known characteristic of the Karo.
The Mursi adorn themselves with elaborate ‘lip disks’ they are a Nilotic, pastoralist tribe of people who undergo various rites of passage, educational or disciplinary processes. Lip plates are a well-known aspect of the Mursi and Surma, who are probably the last groups in Africa amongst whom it is still the norm for women to wear large pottery, wooden discs, or ‘plates,’ in their lower lips. Girls’ lips are pierced at the age of 15 or 16. Occasionally lip plates are worn to a dance by unmarried women.
The spectacular Suri tribe has two very distinct personalities. The first is a newer tradition of body painting and decoration with wild flowers, skins, metal and ceramic pots. While this traditionally formed a very small part of Suri. The strength of the Suri, focus on their ability to retain traditional body adornment in the form of scarring, piercing and shaving. Piercing lips and lobes and inserting lip plates are a strong part of the Suri culture. At puberty most young women have their lower teeth removed in order to get their lower lip pierced. Once the lip is pierced, it is then stretched and lip plates of increasing size are then placed in the hole of the piercing. Having a lip plate is a sign of female beauty and appropriateness; a common thought is that the bigger the plate, the more cattle the woman is ‘worth’ for her bride price, though this is questioned by anthropologists.
The Suri pride themselves on their scars and how many they carry. Women perform decorative scarification by slicing their skin with a razor blade after lifting it with a thorn. After the skin is sliced the piece of skin left over is left to eventually scar. On the other hand, the men traditionally scarred their bodies after they killed someone from an enemy group.
A sport and ritual the Suri take very seriously is stick fighting, or Donga. In most cases, this stick fighting is done so young men can find wives. It is a way for young men to prove themselves to the young women. The fights are held between Suri clans, and they begin with 20 to 30 people on each side. Of these 20 to 30 people, all get a chance to fight one on one against someone from the other side. During these fights there are referees present to make sure the rules are being followed.
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