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The Surma People: Tribe with The Most Extreme Body Art

People | October 10, 2016

In the lush, green forests of south western Ethiopia, disappearing tribes live in their timeless grass huts.

The Surma people, made up of the Suri tribe and the Mursi tribe, are known for their impressive lip discs, a sign of beauty and status for the women.

But extreme drought, building of dams and the establishment of national parks have threatened their livelihood and are seeing their way of life slowly being wiped out.

Hoping to capture the unique culture of this traditional tribe before it is wiped out, photographer Louisa Seton travelled to the African country to find and record on film the lives of these extraordinary people.

Children of the Suri Tribe. Seton found these kids resting on the tree trunk that was in the middle of a field of corn and sorghum. The tribe brew sorghum beer, quite a lethal potion that they consume in vast quantities. Photographing the tribes after lunch was near impossible because of this reason
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Seton, pictured here, said: 'The children are always the easiest to photograph as they love to touch, laugh and joke with me. These children were fascinated with my long blond hair and loved to touch it. The baby was a afraid of my white skin and cried when she was handed to me to carry'
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The women, pictured in the Upper Omo valley, are traditionally known for their lip plates and intricate scarification patterns on their skin, all for beautification. The women and children often decorate themselves with white clay patterns and flowers on their head
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Suri tribeswomen are famous for inserting clay plates in to the lower lip and often decorate themselves with the local flowers and clay patterns
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Depending on their social status and size of their herd the men can have up to three wives. The first wife receives the privilege of wearing a large metal necklace with a long thorn on the end as seen on the top necklace. The second and third wives wear simple round metal necklaces, like the Hamer woman above. When you see a Hamer woman you can immediately identify her status by her jewellery
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One of the most famous traditions of the Surma are the clay lip plates inserted into their lower lip. This practise happens when women reach marriageable age. The two lower teeth are knocked out (usually by a rock) and a slit made in their lower lip in which a small wooden plug is inserted. This plug is replaced by a larger one until the lip is stretched enough to hold a clay or wooden plate
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It took three days of driving from Addis Ababa to Kibbish in order to photograph this Suri tribe boy who resides in the village of Naregeer in the Upper Omo valley, a very remote area of Ethiopia close to the border of South Sudan. This image was the first shot of the day at about 6:30am. The boy was balancing on the tree trunk in a field of Sorghum
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Seton said it was slightly intimidating negotiating to photograph this man. Historically the tribes in this remote region of Ethiopia have engaged in inter-tribal feuds for years
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These three men were photographed in a village in Margo National Park, within the Mursi territory. They carry weapons to protect their cattle against raiding. The different tribes are known to kill each other over cattle, grazing land and water hole disputes
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This Hamer girl is not yet married and you can see this by the necklace she is wearing. There is no metal round her neck. She is wearing a traditional goat skin skirt with intricate bright bead work
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Hoping to capture the beauty of this traditional tribe before it disappears, photographer Louisa Seton travelled to the African country to track down these extraordinary people
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Of all the tribes in the Omo the Hamer are the largest and the most fashionable. They wear goatskin skirts decorated with cowries and bright bead work, copper bracelets and rings. They are pastoralists and agriculturalists. The women work in the fields tending to crops of sorghum, beans and maize while looking after their children
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Traditionally the Suri women take care of the household and child rearing and tend to fields of sorghum, maize, beans, tobacco. The women's pot was used to carry sorghum beer a much loved beverage amongst both male and females
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This Hamer woman is pouring milk into a gourd. Her husband had just milked their cows beside their hut and given her the milk to feed the children
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The landscape in Upper Omo valley is dense with lush, green bush. This was taken high up and very close to Sudanese border
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H/T Louisa Seton Photography

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