What was your first reaction when you saw this picture? No doubt, you were shocked and I bet you still are. The ladies in the picture above are from the Suri tribe of southern Ethiopia. In our world today, piercing of body parts is now being associated with beauty. The Suri people, however, take piercing to a whole new level.

Life and Culture of the Suri people.

The Suri are an agro-pastoral people and inhabit part of the Suri woreda , West Omo Zone of the South western Ethiopia peoples regional state (SWEPRS) in Ethiopia, while the other live partly in neighbouring South Sudan. They are culturally related to the Mursi tribe.

The piercing of lips and earlobes and inserting lip plates are a huge 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. Some women have their lips stretched so as to accommodate plates that are up to 16 inches in diameter. Having a lip or ear plate is a sign of true beauty to a Suri woman. In fact, the bigger the plate the more cattle the woman is worth for her bride price. So, the woman in the picture above must worth a lot of cows. Cows are highly valued in the Suri culture.

On special occasions, the Suri people wear on their heads brightly colored flowers, and paint their faces and bodies. Because there are no mirrors, people paint each other. 

The Suri people also hold high respect for their scars and how many they carry. Suri women carry out beautifying 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 used to traditionally scar their bodies after they killed someone from an enemy group.

Decorative scars on the back of a Suri woman

Suri men take part in a sporting ritual called the ‘Donga’. The Donga is a ceremonial stick duel between young men in other to the gain the respect of their families and the society. Though there are referees during the fights, it is not uncommon for the fights to end fatally or turn brutal leading to the injury or death of a contestant. Shooting incidents occasionally occur too. Even though stick fighting is outlawed in Ethiopia, the Suri people still carry on with their tradition.

In much recent years, contact has been made with the Suri people and it has had very positive results. Quite a number of schools have been built and the literacy rate among the Suri’s is increasing. A number of Suri’s have now embrace the Christian faith leaving behind their animistic sky god “Tumu”. Though a large part of the population are still animists, it is encouraging to see some changes. Some young girls are now refraining from piercing their mouths.

The Donga
An injured Donga fighter

It is surprising how freakishly large lip plates are considered beautiful by the Suri’s. It is something we may never understand. Beauty is really, in the eyes of the beholder.

For more information, watch the video below ;


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