The Suri are a sedentary pastoral tribe in southwestern Ethiopia. They live on the west bank of the Omo River. The Suri tribe has a cattle-centered culture. They breed their cattle, mainly cows, on their land in the Omo Valley. The total population of the Suri is estimated on 7,500.
The Suri are one of many tribes living in the Omo Valley, near the Omo River. They have lived there for centuries, but now their territory is threatened by modernization. A massive hydroelectric dam, Gibe III is being built over the Omo River and forces the indigenous tribes of the Omo Valley to move away from their land. Results of this dam are conflicts amongst neighboring tribes over land and cattle.
The Suri have a fierce culture, with a preference for stick fighting, also known as Donga. It’s part of an important ritual, where young men from various Suri villages duel with sticks. There are several referees present to ensure that all rules are followed; it’s not allowed to hit anyone on the ground, for example. At the end of the battles, it’s customary to arrange marriages between parents of the young boy and a girl who has chosen him as her favorite duelist.
Piercings and lip plates are an important feature of the Suri culture. A lip plate is a sign of beauty. A woman is worth a larger dowry when the lip plate is bigger. Most women have their lower teeth removed during puberty, in order to get their lower lip pierced. As soon as the lip is pierced, it will be stretched, and a lip plate will be placed in the hole. It is still unknown why the Suri have started wearing lip plate. One theory claims that lip plates where used to discourage slavery amongst Suri women.
The young Suri men are always looking at their competitors during stick fighting. Before the battle: how does he move, what’s his weakness, and what’s his strength? Knowing these things gives him the best chances to win the duel. It’s something business nomads and especially the real entrepreneurs, also (need to) do! What are your competitors working on? Are they expanding or working on something innovative? Only if you keep them in sight, you’ll know when you need to act: ‘attack’ or ‘retreat’!