In October 2012 I stayed 4 weeks in Surma area around Kibish and Tulgit. Surma is the official Ethiopian umbrella term for three ethnic groups in South Ethiopia: the Suri people, the Mursi people and the Mekan people. Very often the name ‘Surma’ is used for the Suri people as well, but this is wrong, a Suri would never call himself a ‘Surma’. The Suri people are semi-nomadic cattle herders and live on the west side of the Omo River in the southwestern part of Ethiopia.
Dietmar from Germany writes:
This area is still much undeveloped, only unpaved roads lead to the heart of the Suri settlements: Kibish. There are two roads from Mizan to Kibish: the old road via Bebeka Coffee Plantation and Dima, or the new Waji-Maji road via Tum and Koka. From time to time the roads are blocked because of rain, so you should better ask in advance which road is open. Beginning of October only the old road was passable.
Suri people have a cattle-centered culture, the wealth of a family is measured by the number of animals owned. Usually the animals are not eaten unless a big ceremony takes place or a family member is sick. The animals are used for milk and blood. The Suri tribe is used to conflict, like for example the constant conflict with the neighbouring Nyangatom (Bume) tribe over land and cattle. In October 2012 however, the Suri and the Bume tribe lived together in peace. The Suri culture demands that the men are trained as warriors as well as cattle herders. Stick-fighting events like the ‘Zegine’ (or ‘Saginay’, also commonly known as Donga, the Amharic name for the stick fights) take place to train boys and young men and also to allow them to meet women.
However, Kalashnikovs are omnipresent and threaten to destabilize their society. Many ceremonies like weddings or funeral celebrations (Kilonga) look more like a military ceremony these days with a lot of Kalashnikovs and many gunshots. Even the stick-fighting events are accompanied with gunshots, sometimes deadly in case too much local beer was involved. As a result the Ethiopian government banned the stick fights, which now have to take place secretly and without presence of tourists.
In four weeks I only met a handful of tourists. This area is still quite untouched, and there are plenty of opportunities to see and experience the traditional life of the Suri tribe. The Suri people love to sing and dance, especially in full moon nights. If you are lucky you can see scarification, blood drinking ceremonies and other traditional rituals of the Suri people. All in all a wonderful experience.
If you are looking for a flexible, reliable and trustworthy company South Expedition Africa could be your choice. Especially if you are looking for off the beaten tracks or a tour operator who supports photo expeditions. The owner Nathaniel Taffere, helped always in any possible way to create a perfect logistic and to get the best local guides. The driver Gecho was great, a wonderful travel companion and advisor, and always driving very carefully and responsible. In summary, I had an amazing time and I would like to recommend http://www.south-expedition-africa.com/ to anybody planning to visit Ethiopia, especially people who are interested in photo expeditions and indigenous tribes.