Located in southwestern Ethiopia, the Surma tribe, originally known as the Suri are well known for their unique and flamboyant use of plants as fashion accessories.
In the Omo Valley of southern Ethiopia, the Surma and Mursi people don’t have glue guns, sewing machines, sequins or Sharpies to accessorise with.
Inspired by the tools and textiles provided by nature alone, these ancient African tribes manage to create their own unique fashion that could easily rival and certainly influence the fashion trends around the world.
Body accessories and spectacular looking headpieces are made with just flowers, leaves, grass, shells and animal horns. They have an exquisite and innate sense of form, shape and colour.
Because they are a nomadic people without permanent architecture on which to express their art, they use their bodies as their canvases, embellishing their skin with mineral pigments from powdered volcanic rock and dressing in “textiles” obtained from the natural world around them.
The two tribes reaching the southern end of Ethiopia and the northern part of Kenya share a similar culture. Their homelands are remote, located in desolate mountains in a largely unexplored region. But as civilization encroaches and civil war becomes more violent, Hans worries that these people will lose their beautiful tradition.
They have practised some of the same traditions that their ancestors did centuries ago living in the same remote area, but most tribes now carry AK47s to hunt or protect themselves from tribal rivalries, provided by parties in the Sudanese Civil War. Police allow foreigners to travel there only with a hired armed guard.
It’s also reported that visitors to the region are seeing the artistic traditions of the tribes being exploited for tourism, fueling fantasies of exoticism.
Some photographers have expressed their disappointment at witnessing a “fancy-dress parade”, performed solely for the benefit of the visitor who pays for the privilege of photographing it.
Whether they actually dress like this on a daily basis or just once a year for a wedding, the fact is, they are clearly capable of creating something truly exquisite that deserves recognition.
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