The Ethiopian Suri tribe with extremely painful rituals

  • The Suri tribe inhabit the mountains of the Great Rift Valley in the plains of south-western Ethiopia
  • Tribespeople undergo extremely painful rituals including lip plates, scarification and dangerous stickfighting 

In this remote Ethiopian tribe, members undergo extremely painful rituals including lip plates, scarification and dangerous stickfighting.

The Suri tribe inhabit the mountains of the Great Rift Valley in the plains of south-western Ethiopia and pride themselves on the scars they carry.

Photographer Mario Gerth, 40, visited the Suri people and captured intimate portraits of the self-sufficient tribe.

A member of the Suri tribe, of the Great Rift Valley, wears a mound of beads around her neck

A member of the Suri tribe, of the Great Rift Valley, wears a mound of beads around her neck (left), while another has her chest painted (right)

Suri villages, located in the plains of south-western Ethiopia, range between 40 and 2,500 people

Suri villages, located in the plains of south-western Ethiopia, range between 40 and 2,500 people

Young Suri girls use their skin as a surface to express themselves artistically, complete with elaborate headwear

Young Suri girls use their skin as a surface to express themselves artistically, complete with elaborate headwear

Once a girl reaches a certain age, her lower incisors are knocked out and her bottom lip is pierced and stretched until it can hold the clay plate

A member of the Suri tribe, in Ethiopia

Once a girl reaches a certain age, her lower incisors are knocked out and her bottom lip is pierced and stretched until it can hold the clay plate

In south western Ethiopia, where the Omo River snakes through the lush, green forests, the Suri tribe live in their timeless grass huts

In south western Ethiopia, where the Omo River snakes through the lush, green forests, the Suri tribe live in their timeless grass huts

In a bizarre ritual, female members of the tribe have distinctive clay discs inserted into holes in their bottom lip, which are considered signs of beauty.

To have the discs inserted, their bottom two teeth are removed before the hole is cut.

The larger the plate, the more cows the girl’s father can demand in dowry when his daughter marries.

Cattle are enormously important to the Suri and bring stutus. 

As well as being a source of milk and blood, cows are a store of wealth to be traded.   

The average man owns between 30 and 40 cows. In order to marry, he needs about 60 cows to give to his wife’s family. 

Suri Tribe members have their face and body painted with elaborate white designs and flowers and fruits covering their heads

Photographer Mario Gerth visited the Suri villages with a guide who had previously been accepted as a friend

Photographer Mario Gerth visited the Suri villages with a guide who had previously been accepted as a friend

A feather pokes out of one boy’s chin, while another has a flower protruding from below his bottom lip 

Suri tribeswomen, like the one above, often decorate themselves with the local flowers and clay pattern

Suri tribeswomen, like the one above, often decorate themselves with the local flowers and clay pattern

They are expert in a spectacular form of stick-fighting and pride themselves on the scars that they carry

They are expert in a spectacular form of stick-fighting and pride themselves on the scars that they carry

They are expert in a spectacular form of stick-fighting and pride themselves on the scars that they carry

This woman has an amazingly extravagant headpiece made from crops and flowers 

This woman has an amazingly extravagant headpiece made from crops and flowers 

A boy sports a spotted face paint design (left) while another (right) has a large earplate 

Mr Gerth said: ‘The young girl uses her skin as a surface on which she can express herself artistically, adorning and decorating herself suggestively.

‘Using her skin as art, she introduces herself as an individual in their society and emphasises her self-confidence.

‘The art on her body shows a wide range of African vibrancy.’ 

When girls hit puberty they have their bottom two teeth removed before a small hole is cut into their bottom lip.

A clay disc is then inserted into the hole, which is steadily increased, stretching the lip, much like flesh-tunnel piercings which have become popular with teenagers in the UK.

‘Having a lip plate is a sign of beauty and the bigger the plate, the more cattle the woman is worth…this is important when the women are ready to get married’, Mr Gerth said.

He added: ‘The Suri pride themselves on their scars and how many they carry.

‘Women perform 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 will eventually scar.’

The Suri exist at the margins of the Ethiopian state and the government in Addis Ababa regard them as trouble makers

The Suri exist at the margins of the Ethiopian state and the government in Addis Ababa regard them as trouble makers

The Suri exist at the margins of the Ethiopian state and the government in Addis Ababa regard them as trouble makers

Men in the tribe take part in a stick fighting, a combination of martial art, ritual and sport.

The ‘Donga’ – or stick fight – has traditionally been a way men impress women and find a wife.   

They fight with little or no clothing, and the violent clashes sometimes result in death. As well as providing an opportunity to attract a partner, the fights aim to get young men used to bloodshed – which leaders believe comes in handy if they clash with other tribes.

Battles usually take place between Suri villages, which can consist of between 40 and 2,500 people.  

As well as providing an opportunity to attract a partner, the fights aim to get young men used to bloodshed – which leaders believe comes in handy if they clash with other tribes.

Mr Gerth visited the Suri villages with a guide who had previously been accepted as a friend.

He said: ‘I felt extremely privileged to be able to visit their homes. You respect their rules, and bring presents and photos from recent trips. This brings trust.

‘They are very wary of new visitors at first, but once they know that you’re not a threat, they become very open and welcoming.’  

However the Suri exist on the margins of the Ethiopian state and for the last 20 years their traditional lives have been in disarray.  

The arrival of guns has created an increasingly volatile, unregulated situation in a very unstable region. 

The fierce fighting is traditionally seen as a way of attracting women, and is a combination of martial art, ritual and sport

The fierce fighting is traditionally seen as a way of attracting women, and is a combination of martial art, ritual and sport

Laws were passed by the Ethiopian government in 1994 banning stick fighting, but the tradition nevertheless lives on

Laws were passed by the Ethiopian government in 1994 banning stick fighting, but the tradition nevertheless lives on

An elderly woman from the tribe smokes a pipe in Ethiopia's southern Omo Valley region near Kibbish

An elderly woman from the tribe smokes a pipe in Ethiopia’s southern Omo Valley region near Kibbish

Men from the Suri tribe wait to take part in the traditional stick fight, which usually sees 20 to 30 members of rival villages face each other

Men from the Suri tribe wait to take part in the traditional stick fight, which usually sees 20 to 30 members of rival villages face each other






Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

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