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Surma girl bringing cow meat - Ethiopia | by Eric Lafforgue
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Surma girl bringing cow meat - Ethiopia

Like in all the poor countries, people walk for hours to go in the markets and sell or exchange local products. This girl was coming back from a market with some meat on her head. As cow is precious thing in Surma tribe, like in Massai, people eat meat only for special events.

As you can see, this girl wear a lip plate, a big one, which makes her a very expensive future wife.

A Surma / Suri girl will be beautiful if she has a big lip plate, and if her body, is covered of scarifications. They do it with accacia spine and razor blades. Razor blades are the worst thing to use as it may spread diseases thru blood. The local population are no more isolated and, as some surma men start to travel in big ethiopian cities, they also can meet prostitutes...

Piercing and lip plates are a strong part of the Surma -Suri culture. These traditional adornments are worn by almost all the adult Suri women. When a Surma woman becomes engaged to be married, usually in her teens (around 14 or 15), she disappears from village life to live in her family hut. The gap between her front lip and the flesh below is pierced and gradually stretched. In the beginning a hole is made in the lip with a wooden stick. The strecth continues as successively bigger discs of clay or wood are accomodated by the disfigured lip. Generally the two lower front teeth are pulled (or knocked) out to aid the process. The final size of the plates determines how many cattle the woman will receive as a dowry, so the more stretched her lip the better, and the more the more cattle the woman is worth. Some women have stretched their lips so as to allow plates up to 20 centimeters in diameter. Having a lip plate is considered a sign of beauty. The origins of this tradition are unknown. Sometimes the lip is broken by the pressure of the lip plate. This is a very big problem for girl because men will consider her as ugly, she won't be able to marry anyone in the tribe apart from old men or ill people.

Although it is seen as a sign of beauty nowadays, it is said that the disfigurement began as a way to prevent slavers from seizing Suri women. Over the last few years, a growing number of young Surma women refuse to have their lip pierced. The increasing exposure and opening of the Suri to other cultures is the main reason of this trend. Indeed, some Suri teenagers have the opportunity to study in Addis Abeba, and once back in their village, they tend to try to change customs and traditions.

Mursi have also the same tradition.


© Eric Lafforgue


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Taken on July 5, 2010