Venture to the Gambela National Park of the Eastern Ethiopia where the rainforest intertwines with vast plains and valleys. It is an area of contradictions. Politically unstable. But naturally serene.
Powerful identity and culture fuel these incredible lives of the Suri people while farming and trading fuel their economy.
Region is Central Africa
Climate here is Tropical
The challenge here is Intense
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These agricultural people farm cabbage, beans, yams, tobacco, coffee and more. Not just to survive but also to drive their economy. They trade often with the Ethiopian highlanders, Amhara and Shangalla.
The Surma live in villages of simple grass-roofed and walled shelters deep within the natural wonders of Ethiopia. Each village can anything from 40 to 2,500 people living there.
The village as a whole is typically run by men who will make decisions in an assembly. Women may proffer their opinions but only in advance of debates, never during. Individual households, however, are run by women.
The sky god Tumu is the deity that the Surma people worship. Each Surma community has a priest, known as a komoru, who is their connection to Tumu and will lead religious rituals asking for his blessing.
There are many rich traditions among the Surma. The most noticable is how they adorn themselves; men and children typically don’t wear clothes; women wear large lip plates. They also engage in a spectacular form of stick-fighting, a tradition they still maintain. The size of the lip plate determines the bride's price with a large one in fifty heads of cattle.
The Surma speak their own language, although it has 80% lexical similarity to the nearby Mursi tribe's language with whom they also share a lot of other cultural similarities.
The Surma are renowned for their ornate self-decoration; painting, scarification and adornment with flowers and other natural objects.
Within this community, there is a diverse range of festivities which can include the slaughtering of animals, dueling competitions and religious rituals.
Never take a photo without first asking permission. The Surma believe foreigners to be rude for taking photos but are very accommodating if asked first.
Photo credit: Omo river canyon iStock.com/DavorLovincic