Welcome to Suri land, a region in between Ethiopia and South Sudan where rampant rivers wind through dry grasslands. Here, there is an abundance of flora and fauna, with fresh water enlivening the native flowers and wild fruit trees. This is where nature instigates and invites spontaneous creativity to those that are receptive to its influence.
Within hand’s reach flourishes plants, branches, horns, and more – inspiring art, imagination, and self-expression. Civilisation here is among the most ancient, mystical, and exotic in the world. The grounds are rich in the colours of white kaolin, red ochre, yellow sulfur, grey ash, and white limestone, all of which are common minerals of the earth and a palette of hues for the body. The Suri tribe are people who are as creative as they are proud.
For them, beauty is impromptu, and accessories are born in a moment. They make mesmerizing hats and headdresses, bracelets, and bangles – from fallen leaves, plant roots, and seed pods. Extravagance, drama, and theatre are the only trends known. Their practices of body painting, decorative scarring, and piercings have been exercised for centuries. And so, the tradition continues – heritage is passed from generation to generation. These costumes demand craftsmanship that levels any dressmaker or designer in our developed world. To observe these people, even for an hour, is to observe strength, dignity, and pride. Piercing lips and lobes and inserting lip plates was a strong part of the Suri culture. Things are changing nowadays and the younger generation has stopped lip piercing and is only doing the earlobes.
As you will see in many of the photographs, the women have ornate scarifications, etching permanent storytelling patterns into their skin. The Suri pride themselves on their scars and the amount they carry. Culture is quite literally etched into their skin. A painful form of storytelling. Women perform decorative scarification by painfully 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. The Suri men used to traditionally scar their bodies after they killed someone from an enemy group. A primal incision intended to assert dominance. The creativity embedded into not only their culture, but also their skin, continues to fascinate me, and consistently draws me back.
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