The Suri or Shuri are  sedentary pastoral  people that belong to the larger Surma group of people with a panethnicity residing in South Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia,on the western bank of the Omo river. It includes the Nilo-Saharan-speaking Mursi and Me'en. They are numbering about 30,000 and live in the Boma plateau of south-eastern Upper Nile bordering the Murle, the Giye and the Anyuak.
                      Suri people engaged in their traditional ritual stick fighting (Donga). By Dietmar Temps

They extend into Ethiopia, where their tribal headquarters is at Koma. They inhabit the Bench Maji Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region (SNNPR) in Ethiopia. Some are also found west of Mizan Teferi.
                            Surma, Suri people Suri girl and boy at a traditional dance in Anjo village, 
                   Kibish. Blog: Dietmar Temps, travel photography Website: Dietmar Temps, photography

Demography and Geography

Administratively, they occupy Meoun Payam of Pibor County. The Suri relate linguistically, culturally and in appearance to the Tirma (Ethiopia). They however acknowledge no blood affinity with any other tribe in the area.
    Suri family from Anjo village,Omo Valley,Ethiopia happily enjoying their meal. Daily authentic life in Anjo village: This is lunch time food. Corn porridge and cabbage and coffee made from the peel of the coffee bean are for their breakfast. By Dietmar Temps

Environment, Economy and Natural Resources
The Suri country is hilly with deep valleys. The climate is mild with heavy rainfall. The Suri are predominantly sedentary, agrarian community with the economy built on agriculture. The rich fertile soil results in a remarkable size and quantity of crops. Crops planted are millet, maize, cabbage, marrow, beans, yams, tobacco and coffee.

                Suri women doing household chores

 They keep goats and sheep. They also hunt large game and collect honey during the dry season. They pan gold in the streams and make pots. They engage in trade with the Jiye, the Murle and the Ethiopian highlanders in tobacco and pots (Jiye and Murle), lion and leopard skins, giraffe tails, honey and ivory, rifles and ammunition (Amhara and Shangalla)

                                                        Suri herdsmen with their cattle

They breed their cattle, mostly cows, on their traditional lands, located in the Omo Valley.
Cattle are enormously important to the Suri. They do not see cattle simply as a material asset but as a life-sustaining and meaningful companion. Suri even sing songs in praise of their cattle and make fires to warm them. They even mourn their cattle when they die.
             Suri Singer, Kibish, Ethiopia.He is the local Justin Beiber. Most of the necklaces are given by girls

Cows also have a social and symbolic meaning in Suri’s society. Suri men are judged on how much cattle they own. In desperate times, Suri men can risk their lives to steal cattle from other tribes. Cattle ownership bring status; when two Suri meet they'll ask each other how many cows they have. Cows are a store of wealth to be traded, and a source of milk and blood. Bleeding a cow is more efficient than slaughtering it for meat, and blood can be drawn during the dry season when there's less milk. An animal can be bled once a month, from the jugular.

Suri Tribe Shephers With Body Paintings As Camouflage Before Leaving Their Village, Tulgit, Omo Valley, Ethiopia.When the Surma shepherds leave their village, they paint their bodies like for a camouflage;
Like their neighbours, the Surma, living in Omo valley, Ethiopia, paint their bodies; They create a variety of designs on their naked bodies using their fingertips, which helps exposing their dark skins and aims at beautifying themselves and frightenning their opponents; Surma men, generally believed to be expert artists, also paint the girls;

The animals aren't generally sold or killed for meat, though they are slaughtered for certain ceremonies. They are treated with reverence. Fires are lit to keep them warm and to protect against insect bites, they are covered with ash. Every boy is given a young bull to look after when he reaches the age of 8, and his friends call him the name of his bull.

                       Suri warrior drinking cow blood

Blood gaining and drinking ritual at the Surma tribe in Ethiopia part 1

Surma people - when in Rome do as the Romans do, andere Länder, andere Sitten.

The average male in the Suri tribe owns from 30 to 40 cows. Men are not allowed to marry until they own 60 cows. Cows are given to the bride’s family after the wedding ceremony.
This central role of the cow in their way of life accounts for the fierce independance they want to preserve and explains their warlike culture. Indeed, it’s quite common to see men and even women carrying weapons which are part of the daily life.
                                    Suri warrior with his body panted

Their remote homeland has always been a place of traditional rivalries with the neighbouring tribes such as the Bume (Nyangatom) or the Toposa. who regurlarly team up to raid the Suri’s cattle. These fights, and even sometimes battles, have become quite bloody since automatic firearms like AK-47 have become available from the parties in the Sudanese Civil War. This conflict has pushed neighboring tribes into Suri’s land and is a constant competition to keep and protect their territory and their cattle.

                            Suri warrior with a gun

Mythology and History
The Suri believe that they originally lived on the banks of the Nile, in the country now inhabited by the Bor Dinka. It is said that they then migrated eastwards towards the Akobo. From here, the Meyun clan broke off from the main body of the tribe, coming south to Boma, and subsequently taking up their abode at Meyun.
                                        Suri boy carrying a chicken

The rest of the tribe crossed the border, making their way southwards, and finally settling at Koma. The Suri have been continually harassed at Koma by the Amhara, Ghimira, Tirma, and other tribes. This forced large numbers of Suri to join the Meoun clan at Meyun in about 1890. They were shortly afterwards settled on Boma plateau in about 1925.

The Suri speak a language that is close to Tirma in Ethiopia.
                                    Masuli, Suri teenager girl, Kibish, Omo valley, Ethiopia

.Suri Society: Social Events, Attitudes, Customs, etc.

                                                     Suri people

The Suri society is made up of six exogamous clans namely: Jufa; Meyun; Beela; Kembo; Durugan and Baale, with the Jufa being most dominant.

                                 Two Suri girls in water

                                                    Beautiful Suri woman

Marriage among the Suri is performed, like in many other groups, among people who have no blood relations. The bridegroom collects and pays dowry in form of gold dusts and nuggets, tobacco, goats and sheep. Cow is very important to this tribe and men are not allowed to marry unless they owe 60 cows. Divorce among the Suri is said to be difficult.
Omo River People, Ethiopia
                          Suri young women

Cicatrisation is common but is not universal. It is performed according to taste, but is usually not extensive. The deliberate creation of keloids is not practised. Both sexes practise the boring and stretching of the ear-lobes. The result does not usually exceed three inches in length.
                                      Suri tribe girls,kibish,Omo Valley,Ethiopia

Initiation into Adulthood
The practice of piercing and stretching the lower lip is universal amongst the women, and is performed at puberty or a little before or after. It is considered a sign of beauty, and the bride price payable is proportionately greater. The practice is said to have been learned from the south – may be from the Kikuyu – or the Maasai.
Suri girl with big earring. Young girls in Surmas tribes all wear the earrings. I saw some wearing all kind of things in the ears holes. Some had some films boxes in plastic. Once she will be ready for wedding, the girl will make a hole in her lower lip to start to put a lip plate inside. By Eric Lafforgue

The Suri have some other rituals, including scarification and dangerous stick-fighting called Dongas. Some anthropologists see these as a kind of controlled violence to get young Suris used to feeling pain and seeing blood. These are, after all, people who live in a volatile, hostile world, under constant threat from their enemies around them.
                                     Little Suri Girl with traditional skirt, Kibish, Ethiopia.

No one knows why lip plates were first used. One theory goes that it was meant to discourage slavers from taking the women. It's undoubtedly painful. Suri women wear giant lip plates as a sign of beauty, like in mursi tribe, and also an attraction for tourists; maintaining their image of an untouched people, living in one of the last wildernesses of Africa.

When they are ready to marry, teenagers start to make a hole in the lower lip with a wooden stick; it is to be removed the day after to put a bigger one; and then by a lip plate; few months after, it reaches its final size, and girls are seen as beautiful; the lip plate is made of wood or terracotta; the pressure of the plate breaks the lip, the girl will be considered as ugly and won't be able to marry anyone apart from old men or sick people.

'We get a stick and make a hole', they will aver. 'Then we gradually make the hole bigger.... My lip was cut a long time ago. My brothers and father made me get it done. Without a lip plate I wouldn't get married, and they'd get no cattle. My lip is big, Dongaley's is smaller. My lip plate is worth 60 cattle. Hers is worth 40.' A few girls are beginning to refuse to have a lip plate.
                                    Suri girl with facial tribal mark

As well as lip plates, the girls of the village mark their bodies permanently by scarification. The skin is lifted with a thorn then sliced with a razor blade, leaving a flap of skin which will eventually scar. The men, meanwhile, scar their bodies to show they've killed someone from an enemy tribe. There are particular meanings assigned to these scars. One group, for instance, cuts a horseshoe shape on their right arm to indicate they've killed a man, and on their left if for a woman.
                                     Old Suri woman with mouth plate, Tulgit Omo Ethiopia

Suri Stick fighting (Donga/Sagenai)
Stick fighting is part martial art, part ritual, part sport. It's seriously dangerous. If you get hit in the stomach it can kill you. This ritual and sport is called Donga or Sagenai (Saginay). Donga is both the name of the sport and the stick, whereas sagenai is the name of the stick-fighting session. Stick fighting is central in Suri culture. In most cases, stick fighting is a way for warriors to find girlfriends, it can also be a way to settle conflicts. On this occasion men show their courage, their virility and their resistance to pain, to the young women. The fights are held between Suri villages, and begin with 20 to 30 people on each side, and can end up with hundreds of warriors involved. Suri are famous for stick fighting, but they are not the only ones to respect such a custom, as the neighbor tribe, the Mursi, also practice these traditional fights
            Suri men singing and dancing in a circular form before the start of stick-fighting. By Dietmar Temps

The day before the sagenai, fighters have to purge themselves. They do it by drinking a special preparation, called dokai, which is made of the bark of a special tree, which is mixed with water. After taking it, warriors make themselves vomiting the drink. The water is supposed to bring with it many of the body’s impurities. After this ritual they don’t eat until the following morning. Warriors walk kilometers to come fighting at Sagenai, which takes place in a clearing. They stop when crossing a river in order to wash themselves, before decorating their bodies for the fight. They decorate themselves by sliding the fingers full of clay on the warrior’s bodies. This dressing up and decoration is meant to show their beauty and virility and thus catch the women’s attention. The phallic shape ending the sticks contributes to that virile demonstration.
                        Suri warriors engaged in stick fighting. By Dietmar Temps

Fighters arrive on the Donga field all together, carrying the strongest man,dancing and singing. Some fighters wear colourful headdresses sometimes with feathers on it, and also knee-protectors. But most of them use no protection at all and fight completely naked in order to show their bravery. They also wear strings of decorative coloured beads around their necks given by the girls and waist, but their genitals are most of the time uncovered and they are barefoot.
                                            Suri Warriors in a big fight. By Dietmar Temps

All of them get a chance to fight one on one, against someone from the other side. In the beginning each fighter looks for an opponent of the same stature, and exchanges a few held back blows with him in order to test him. If both fighters feel they have found a match, they suddendly throw themselves into the fight, hitting ferocious fast strokes with their sticks. If one of the warriors knocked out or puts paid to his opponent, he immediately declares himself the winner. Sagenai consists in qualifying rounds, each winner fighting the winner of a previous fight, until two finalists are left.
                                    Suri warriors with their Donga sticks at a dance in Tulgit. By Dietmar Temps

It is strictly forbidden to hit a man when he is down on the ground. During these fights there are referees present to make sure all rules are being followed. Many stick fights end within the first couple of hits. Nevertheless the fights are really violent, and it is quite usual to see men bleeding.

Suri / Surma of - Ethiopia Amazing Stick fighting - Part 1

The Suri

Watch rest of the Suri stick-fighting here:

Stick fighting has proven to be dangerous because people have died from being hit in the stomach. Loosing an eye or a leg during the fight is quite common, although it is strictly forbidden for a fighter to kill his opponent, and if a fighter gets killed during the fight, his opponent and all his family are banned from the village for life.

                                                             Donga stick fighting

For the other locals, especially teenagers, sagenai is a great outing. Girls watch the fights, but it is also the occasion to check out the men, and to meet in order to chat or even gossip.
At the end of the fights, the winners point their phallic sticks in direction of the girls they want to date with, if the girl put a necklace around the stick, it means she is willing to d ate the champion. Sometimes a group of girls is presented to the champion, who previously which one of them would date the him.
 Suri kids practising stick fight.Kids come and do like the adults: they fight with each others!  

The Suri practice age-set system, which are fighting sets. The men of the village are divided by 'age-set': children, young men (tegay), junior elders (rora) and senior elders (bara). Each set has its role. Each of the fighting sets is held in considerable respect by those junior to it. Children start helping with the cattle when they're about eight years old.
                                      Two Suri boys participating a dance in Tulgit. By Dietmar Temps

 The tegay age-set are unmarried and not yet known as warriors.If the children or juniors do not show respect to their elders or seniors, the offending set is severely beaten by their seniors.

They do the herding and earn the right to become young elders by their stick fighting and care of the cattle. Initiation ceremonies for those moving into the next age-set only happen every 10 or 20 years. They are held on village basis but all ceremonies take place on one day. In each village a sheep is suffocated to death, and its dung is smeared on the bodies of the initiates. The initiation ritual for the group becoming rora is particularly violent; the candidates are insulted by the elders, given menial tasks, starved and sometimes even whipped until they bleed.
                                                             Suri young man

Suri Political Organisation and Traditional Authority
Suri villages range between 40 and 2,500 people. Village decisions are made by an assembly of the men, though women make their views known in advance of the debates.Village discussions are led by elders and the komoru - a ritual chief. The korumus all come from the same clan and are chosen by consensus.

                                  Suri warrior at Donga stick fight

The ‘Gonarabi’, the spiritual head of the Jufa clan and recognized as temporal head of the Suri, lives at Koma. The clans have sub-chiefs whose realm is not administrative but spiritual. The clan chiefs are recognised through symbols or emblems namely an ivory horn, blown in times of sickness; a drum beaten to announce death; and a set of fire-sticks for producing fire on certain occasions e.g. beginning of the hunting season. The duties of the temporal chiefs consist of leading their villages in times of war and peace, judging cases, etc.
Each household is run by a woman. The women have their own fields and dispose of the proceeds as they wish. Money they make from selling beer and grain can be used to buy goats, which they then trade for cattle.

                               Suri women performing their household duties

Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs
The Suri believe in the existence of a supreme being – God. They also believe in the existence of spirits and undertake prayers and sacrifices to God and spirits either directly through a medium in times of personal and community calamity. The Suri have only one rainmaker, and the office is hereditary. Should his services be required, chips from a certain tree are masticated, and the resulting juice is mixed with clay and smeared over a man’s body. Rain may be expected to fall. The same effect may be obtained locally by dipping a stick of the same tree in water and throwing the latter upwards.
Suri boy painting his body before donga fight

Suri Culture: Arts, Music, Literature and Handicraft
                            Suri woman from Kibish,Omo Valley,Ethiopia using her small mirror to watch her beauty 

The Suri dance is performed by separately by each sex ,with the other forming a ring round the dancers. The men dance to the tune of the drums. The women on the other hand, dance to their own singing and the sound made by their hand slapping their skin ‘skirts’ with the palms of their hands.

                       Suri men showing their tribal beautification marks. By Eric Lafforgue

Suri people have developed and created new body paintings as well as new dress codes in order to attract tourists. They have understood that tourists would be more eager to take pictures from them with such decoratives paintings and ornaments, and to pay for it.
                                Suri sheperds with white body painting ,Tulgit, Ethiopia

A few years ago, Suri boys started to disguise by wearing flower headdresses, while Mursi girls started to wear small metallic rollers in their hair, that were formerly worn during menstruation periods.

These dress codes, invented for some of them, have lost their social and cultural meaning.
                                Suri Tribe Girl Looking At Her Hair, Kibish, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

                                             Beautiful Suri woman

Neighbours and Foreigners
                                                        Suri girl

The Suri neighbour Murle to the west; the Anyuak to the north; the Toposa and Jiye to the south; the Amhara, Ghimira, Tirma and other Ethiopian groups to the east. The Suri have had bad relations with their neighbours who continuously harassed and raided them until 1936 when the Boma plateau was militarily occupied. The Suri, however, have had good relations with the Jiye and the Shangalla.
                                            Suri woman preparing a meal

Latest Developments
The Suri have been completely neglected and marginalised. Their participation in the social, economic and political life in South Sudan has been nil.

Portrait Of Welebiko, A Suri Rebel, Tulgit, Omo Valley, Ethiopia. The army is looking for Welebiko, who is the main leader of the Suri tribe, the most famous rebel in the Omo valley. He lives in the bush, and is being pursued by the police. He is educated and is one of the few who claims that the sale of the lands is a part of a massive corruption system in Ethiopia.

«The government sees us as foreigners; they do not see us as human beings. But we are not beggars: we need our cows, we drink the milk and the blood; it is enough for us to feed ourselves.»
Elite shooters were sent by Ethiopian government at the end of July to catch him.
“They do not want to catch me, they just want to kill me”.
In August, the army catched her wife ans sent her in jail.
© Eric Lafforgue

 The war could have been a blessing in disguise, as the Suri got connected to the rest of South Sudan and their children now go to a school run by the Diocese of Torit in upper Boma. Many of them have also converted to Christianity and modernity is slowly influencing the Suri.
                                Suri teenage smoking a cigarette,Kibish,Ethiopia

There is no information whether or not a Suri Diaspora exists.

                                  Three Suris ladies with shaved head, Kibish, Omo Ethiopia

                 Suri people dancing at a wedding
   Eric Lafforgue)


                        Suri Girl with a chewing stick in her mouth

                                                 Suri warriors holding donga sticks and dancing

                             black and white photo of three Suri ladies

                                                                Suri warrior

                                 Suri girl

                                                       Suri man

                                     Suri boy
                                   Suri tribe girls

                                                             Suri man

                       Suri girl with an elaborate tribal beautification marks

                              Suri people

                                                        Suri girl

                                                           Suri kid

                         Suri girls with their faces painted

                                       Suri woman with a lip plate

                                                        Suri kid

                Suri woman with lip plate and tribal beautification marks on her body

                                     Suri Donga stick fight competition

                                          laughing Suri beauty

                        Suri boy

                              Portrait of a Surma girl. Omo Valley, Ethiopia | © Thomas Miller.

                                            Suri people

                                                    suri boy

                                         Suri woman with triangular lip plate

                                                      Suri beautification marks

Africa | Suri decoration © Pavel Wolberg

Africa | Portrait of a Suri woman.  Omo Valley, Ethiopia | © Alessia De Marco

Africa | Suri woman with big ear rings, Kibish, Ethiopia | © Eric Lafforgue


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