Forgotten Tribes of Ethiopia

Posted by Crooked Compass

Ethiopia is a country that is rich with colourful history, amazing wildlife, breathtaking scenery and fascinating tribal groups that have resisted pressures of the modern world to hold onto their ancient traditions. There are three types of ethnicity that belong to Surma which are Suri, Me'en, and Mursi. They live in southwestern Ethiopia.

Vanishing Ethiopian Tribes || Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

The term Surma is the Ethiopian government's collective name for the Suri, Mursi and Me'en groups that inhabit the southwestern part of the country, with a total population of 186,875. The tribes are so remote that it can take up to five days to reach them by car, but along the way you will not be disappointed with stops at various sites along the way to enjoy the magnificent landscape of Africa with rolling hills and barren deserts.

Our Forgotten Tribes of Ethiopia small group tour is a great way to be introduced to two of these indigenous people in a land that time forgot, learn and discover what makes these vanishing tribes so special.

Mursi Body Painting || Photo Credit: Africa Geographic

The Mursi (or Mun as they refer to themselves) people are known for their body scarification and (among the women) the wearing of lip plates. They are a Nilotic pastoralist ethnic group and principally reside in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region, close to the border with South Sudan. The Mursi see themselves as the product of a series of migrations, all of which were part of a continuing effort to find and occupy a "cool place" (bha lalini), a place with riverside forest for cultivation and well watered grassland for cattle herding. Cattle continue to make a vital contribution to their diet. But although often described as 'nomads' by government officials, they lead a relatively settled life and depend heavily upon cultivation.

Life for the Mursi is often arduous and sometimes dangerous. But they have learnt to live well and there is much time for relaxation, chatting, music and storytelling. They have a rich oral tradition through which they preserve and transmit their history, philosophical knowledge and moral stories. They have a keen aesthetic life that centres on their awareness of colour, cattle and body painting. Two distinctive features of their society by which they have become known to outsiders are ceremonial duelling and the large pottery discs or 'plates' which are worn by women in their lower lips.

Fruit Head Dress Mursi || Photo Credit: Africa Geographic

Contrary to some accounts, the Mursi women do not wear  lip-plates to deter slave-raiders. Rather, ear and lip-plates instil a certain type of embodied morality, and are ways in which the Mursi teach their children to become social, moral and healthy persons. The mud lip-plates are traditionally worn by marriageable girls and child-bearing women. They are an indication of fertility, and may even be connected to an old folk-story.

Mursi African Culture || Photo Credit: Africa Geographic

The Suri people share a similar culture and show social and historical kinship with the Mursi and Me'en groups. Within Ethiopia, their homeland is relatively remote, located in semi-arid plains, valleys and foothills.

The Suri are a culturally proud people, with, among others, a liking for stick fighting called saginé. This is more properly called 'ceremonial duelling', and serves as a rite of passage for male youngsters and brings great prestige to men — it is especially important when seeking a bride — and they are very competitive, at the risk of serious injury and occasional death.

Young Suri || Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

The Suri have a sky god named Tumu. The Suri also believe in spirits and take recourse to (female) diviners as well. Another belief of the Suri is in rainmaking. This skill is passed down through heredity and is only given to one male in specific clans. When his services are needed, the men collect chips from a specific tree. These chips are then masticated and the remaining juice is then mixed with clay. This combination is poured and smeared over the man's body. After this process, rain is expected to fall.

Each household in the Suri village is managed by a married woman. The women prepare the food, take care of the children, and cultivate their own fields and gardens, and are allowed to use their profits however they wish.

Mursi Tribe || Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Why not experience these diminishing tribes for yourself and join our small group tour - Forgotten Tribes of Ethiopia. We would love to welcome you onboard to learn and discover more about these fascinating tribes for yourself.