Wednesday, April 19, 2006


[You've heard of one of these. Now here's the another...]
Suri is the name of a sedentary pastoral Nubian tribe and its Nilo-Saharan language in southwest Ethiopia, near the Sudan border.

Their location is remote, in desolate mountains, and traditional rivalries with their tribal neighbors have become quite bloody as automatic firearms have become available from the parties in the Sudanese Civil War. The police allow foreigners to travel there only with a hired armed guard.

They have a macho culture, with an obsession for stick fighting called donga bringing great prestige to men - especially important when seeking a bride- and their competitive, cheering villages that can spill over into group amuck, at the risk of serious injury and occasional death. The males are often shaved bald, and frequently wear little or no clothes (to western eyes the exposure of the privates seems particularly unashamed, but unlike nudism it is not a minority choice in several regions cultures), even during stick fights.

At a young age, most women have their bottom teeth removed and their bottom lips pierced, then stretched, so as to allow insertion of a clay lip plate. The bigger the plate a woman can hold in her lip, the more cattle she will be worth in trade when married. No one is quite sure how the tradition was started, but it is believed that it could have been to discourage slavers from abducting the women. There is, however, a small but growing consciousness among women now refusing to wear the lip plates.

Life is largely communal, sharing the produce of the cattle (milked and bled, as the Maasai do) which is the measure of wealth in which brides are priced according to the size of the ornamental clay plate women wear in their lower lip.

Though their chief (styled komaro) wears the fur crown of a pagan priest-king, he is merely the most respected elder and can be removed.



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