Scarred with thorns and adorned with flowers: Fascinating images show the beauty rituals of Ethiopia’s remote Suri tribe
- The Suri tribe from south-western Ethiopia is one of the fiercest indigenous tribes in the world
- Their faces are often adorned with lip plates and scarification and stick fighting is the norm
- The Suri are a self-conscious and culturally proud people who own large herds of cattle
- Women and children often decorate themselves with white clay patterns, and flowers on their heads
- Photographer Jan C Schlegel, 52, from Germany, first encountered the tribe when he was volunteering
Fascinating portrait images show the striking beauty of Ethiopia’s Suri tribespeople whose bodies are cut with thorns and razors to create distinctive scar markings.
An elderly woman is seen sporting a 16-inch plate in her bottom lip, made out of wood or clay. It is a form of body modification that, along with ‘scarification’, is considered by some experts as a form of controlled violence, to enable young Suris to get used to feeling pain and seeing blood.
Lip-plates are also considered a sign of beauty. To have the discs inserted, a woman’s bottom two teeth are removed before the hole is cut. The larger the plate, the more cows the girl’s father can demand in dowry when his daughter marries. The painful practice is less common in the younger generation of Suri women.
Meanwhile, the painful process of ‘scarification’ involves the tribes people’s skin being lifted with a thorn, then sliced with a razor blade, leaving a flap of skin which will eventually scar. This starts from a young age, as seen in these black and white images – even children are scarred.
Women and children in the tribe also often decorate themselves with white clay patterns, and flowers on their heads.
One of the fiercest indigenous tribes in the world, stick fighting and living off the land are the norm for the Suri people who own large herds of cattle, which they graze while travelling through south-western Ethiopia. Until they were formally incorporated into Ethiopia in 1897, Suris had been living on the Sudan-Ethiopian border from the early 1800s, and feeding their cattle on pastures in the Sudan.
Some women stretch their lips (pictured) with large wood or clay plates up to sixteen inches in diameter. Increased exposure to other cultures, however, has resulted in a growing number of girls now refraining from this practice among the Suri
A child is pictured wearing a striking horn necklace with the scarification marks visible on their skin. Photographer Jan C Schlegel, 52, first took some photos of the Suri while travelling with a group of friends to the south of Ethiopia to help dig a well for a village during a several-years-long drought
The photographer stayed in the centre of the village, where the elders were, to try and learn about the Suri culture, language and difficulties they face day-to-day in modern day Ethiopia
Suri is a traditional local name for a people living in south-western Ethiopia. The Suri are a self-conscious and culturally proud people. They take part in a form of stick fighting called saginé or ‘ceremonial duelling’. It 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
Cattle are also enormously important to the Suri, as owning herds boosts status. This is because cattle can be traded, and are used as a source of milk and blood. The average man owns between 30 and 40 cows. In order to marry, he needs about 60 cows to give to his wife’s family
Photographer Jan Schlegel said his portraits show ‘uniqueness, pride, something special and beautiful; I see hopes and dreams of the people I photographed but also the pain and hardship’
This portrait shows scarification, where the skin is lifted with a thorn, then sliced with a razor blade, leaving a flap of skin which will eventually scar. For the men, these scars show they have killed someone from an enemy tribe
Suri villages range between 40 and 2,500 people, with decisions made by an assembly of tribesmen, although women make their views known in advance of any local debates
Each household is led by a woman, and women run their own fields, spending the proceeds as they wish. Money made from selling beer and grain is usually spent on buying goats, which can later be traded for cattle. Women and children often decorate themselves with white clay patterns, and flowers on their heads
At the age of about eight, Suri youngsters start helping with the cattle, carrying out work with the herding, and earning the right to become young elders by their stick fighting and general care of the cattle
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