The Suri Tribe of Ethiopia

The Suri Tribe of Ethiopia

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Suri people of south west Ethiopia is a cattle-centered culture where the riches and status of a family is determine by the amount of cattle they have. The cattle are used for milk and blood which is consumed by the people, as a wedding gift and not to be eaten unless there is big ceremony is in place. Suri villages range between 40 until 2500 people. Suri are famous for their stick-fighting skills, a sport, martial arts and highly dangerous activities done by the Suri men. They believe that engaging this activity will let them used to the pain as the Suri are always under threat from neighboring tribes for land. Suri woman are one of the tribes who uses lip plates, a clay plate that are inserted into the bottom lips. Suri has no written history, only verbal history references pass down from generations to generations. It is said that their former name was ‘Nagos’ instead of Suri, Suri also have similarity in term of culture with the Mursi tribes.

This one hour documentary follows Bruce Parry on his journey to know more about the life of Suri People in South West Ethiopia. Here Parry lives with his host’s family where he lives the way the Suri people lives, learns how to stick-fight, knows more about the hardships the Suri people faced and how they try to go on their daily lives amid the threats surrounding them.

Suri villages are lead by Komoru or a ritual chief, ever decision is made in an ensemble where all the men and sometimes women give their point of view regarding the matter. All the men in the village are categorize by their age, the youngest to elder. Every villagers in the village has their own roles, the children helps their parents with the cattle while the men with food gathering or hunting. By stick fighting, they earn the right to be a young elder. Cattle means status in the Suri lives, the higher number of cattle own the richer you get. The Suri is protective of their herd of cattle; they are willing to fight and some, willing to steal from the neighboring village.

Marriage & family
In a household, woman are the one who runs it, they have their own fields, used the money earn from selling beer and grain to used to buy goats which is then traded for cattle.

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Find a wife for the Suri men involves of showing their strength. This is done through the stick-fighting, but to seek a woman’s hand in marriage comes with a price, the future groom would have to give certain amount of cattle to the girl’s family. The number can be seen usually by the size of the clay lip plates the girl wears. Simply, the bigger the size, the more cattle are needed. Nowadays it is almost common for a rifle to be part of the wedding present since of the conflict the tribe has with the neighboring tribes. All the family members live in a small hut that they all sleep closely next to each other. Suri also named their child for the first thing they saw during the birth of the child.

The usage of lip plug among Suri women
No one knows when or why lip plates are first used, it is said that by wearing the lip plates, the slaves’ hunter will be discouraged to kidnap or take a Suri woman to be slaves. Suri woman starts wearing plates at a young age when her bottom lips is cut and stretch. Gradually the hole will get bigger until it can hold a clay plate. The Suri’s custom dictate that the bigger the plates, her wedding present is bigger. Many cattle will be given to her parents. But now, many of the young girls are starting to refuse wearing the lip plate.

The stick-fight among Suri men
The fight is done among Suri Villages; each village will send their own fighters to join the fight. It is done after the rains, when the food is plentiful, enough time and energy for fighting. The stick-fighting is a dangerous sport where sometimes the participant could get a fatal blow that led to their death. Not also dangerous to the participant but also to the spectators if someone decides to use their guns. There are referees to ensure each fighter obey the rules. Some of the rules are that the fighters must not hit anyone on the ground. Stick-fight is used as a place for the young men to prove them self in order for them to find a wifeband also to train them for pain and bloodshed since stick-fighting are learned from the young age. Before fighting, they would cleanse their body with a drink made of a special bark mixed with river water. They are considered purged from all impurity after vomiting thus ensures that they will win for the stick-fighting.

The habit of drinking cattle’s blood
Cattle are regarded highly in the Suri community as it symbols status. So cow is rarely be slaughtered and eaten unless there is some major event happening. Bleeding of a cow is done once a month by puncturing a hole in the cattle’s jugular. The blood is then saved into a container before being drink. Suri believes that the nutrient is not only on the meat itself but also on the blood. This also acts as a way of alternative food when milk is scarce during dry season.

Fight for land among tribes
A few tribes in the southern Ethiopia are engage in a mutual hostility, the Suri are constantly under threat. Cattle raiding and grazing land are the main reason for the hostility. Driven by the war, the neighboring tribes are getting push into the Suri territories and therefore lead to dispute for the land. Suri main enemy is the Nyangatom tribe with Toposa.

Usage of guns
War in Sudan brought rifles to the tribes and hostility between neighboring tribes, guns are used widely and freely. It is used as some kind of protection against the enemy. Now it is also used in the stick fighting to scare the opponent.

Scar as a beauty sign or triumph.
Scars are seen as a beauty mark by the Suri women, instead of using just accessory from beads or other. For the men, it counted as a sign of their bravery, for instance if they have killed an enemy they would scar a horseshoe shape on their arm. Right arm for men and left arm for woman.

The documentary affects my perspective of other human races in the world. Although there are many races in the face of the earth, only some of the races are known worldwide or even popular. The name Suri Tribe are only known to me after the documentary. By seeing the documentary, some insights the life of the other races can be seen. Though their customs is different by what we have used to but is fun to see a whole new perspective of other customs.

Works Cited

BBC. (n.d.). BBC HOME. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from The Suri:

Countries and thier Cultures. (n.d.). Countries and Their Cultures. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from Suri - History and Cultural Relations:

dietmar Temps Photography. (n.d.). dietmar Temps Photography. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from Surma: The Suri people in the southwestern part of Ethiopia:

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