Surma People, also known as the Suri people live in the southwestern plains of Ethiopia. They raise cattle and farm when the land is fertile. Cattle are important to the Suri, giving them status. The more cattle a tribesman has, the wealthier they are.

In order for a man to marry a woman in the Suri tribe, he must own at least 60 cattle. Cattle are given to the family of the woman in exchange for marriage. Like the other tribes, the Suri will use the milk and blood from the cow. During the dry season, the people will drink blood instead of milk. Blood can be drained from a cow once a month. This is done by making a small incision in its neck.

The Suri are very much like the Mursi tribe and practice the same traditions. The women wear lip plates that are made out of clay. The men in the tribe fight with sticks called Dongas. Both the men and women scar their bodies. If you see a Suri man with a scar, it usually means that he has killed a member of a rival tribe. Lip plates are a strong part of the Surma culture. At the point of puberty most women have their bottom teeth removed in order to get their lower lip pierced. Once the lip is pierced, it’s then stretched and a lip plate is then placed in the hole of the piercing. Having a lip plate is a sign of beauty and the bigger the plate, the more cattle the women are worth. This is important when the women are ready to get married.

It’s is still unknown why and how lip plates came to be used. One theory says lips plates were used to discourage slave owners from taking the women who had them. In recent years, some young women are refusing to have their lips pierced. On the other hand, the men scar their bodies after they kill someone from an enemy tribe. These rituals which are extremely painful are said by some anthropologists are a type of controlled violence; a way of getting the younger tribe members use to seeing blood and feeling pain. It is also a way of adapting these young children to their violent environment.


A sport and ritual the Suri/Surma take extremely seriously is stick fighting. In most cases, stick fighting is done so young men can find wives. It is a way for young men to prove themselves to the young women. To the Suri/Surma, the ideal time to stick fight is just after it rains.

Donga Stick fightingThe fights are held between Suri/Surma villages and the fights begin with 20 to 30 on each side. Of these 20 to 30 people, all get a chance to fight one on one against someone from the other side. During these fights there are referees present to make sure all rules are being followed .many stick fights end within the first couple of hits. Stick fighting has proven to be dangerous because people have died from being hit in the stomach. Since stick fighting draws a large audience, the audience, it becomes a threat of danger. Shooting can easily break out and this seems to be the new trend for young Suri men; using guns instead of sticks.

It’s said to be one of the fiercest competitions on the entire African continent .but here among Ethiopia’s Surma tribe; the donga stick fight takes place in the name of love…. When their harvest season is over, the Surma people observe a period of courtship, spending days by the river, and finger-painting designs on their bodies. And according to photographer Angela Fisher, co-author of the book “African ceremonies”, the next stage of the Surma courtship tradition is not quite so peaceful.

“Once the bodies are painted and men and women have started courting one another, the other side of courtship starts. Once a week, the surma men from different villages come together, sometimes walking thirty miles on very small grass paths to meet one another to perform the wildest sport we have ever seen on the entire African continent. The donga stick fight is fought with long, straight poles of about eight foot long made of very hard wood, and the Surma men perform these fights to prove their masculinity, to settle personal vendetta, but most importantly, to win wives.”

This competition has only one rule: you cannot kill your opponent.

“And at the end of the day, the winner of the day’s fighting bout is carried out of the arena on a wonderful platform of poles, and he held high in the air, and he carried towards a group of very beautiful young girls. So as he arrives, the winner is taken by one of the girls.”

Print   Email