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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.