The Surmas are a pastoral tribe of southwest Ethiopia, nestled in the Omo valley, the very place where the traces of the first human beings were found. Like western people carry their tattoo art onto their skin, these belligerent people take their courage and spirituality from the scarification gleaned over the years.
Scarification : a mental and identity test
With dignity marked across their chests, the Surmas exclude the very idea of pain: weakness, synonymous to frailty, is severely punished by the community. They develop mental strength and spirituality through the practice of scarification in which it is forbidden to show any sign of suffering, to the point that the word does not even exist in their vocabulary. The Surma are proud of their scars, evidences of an act of bravery for men or proof of beauty undoubtedly leading to marriage for others.
This identity art marks one’s unfailing loyalty to the tribe. Men emphasize their status of brave warriors. For women, these scars serve an ornamental function, these ladies transform their bodies into a single medium announcing their femininity to the assembly. The physical body becomes a canvas reflecting artistry, social status and seduction!
Body art in the Surma tribe is not confined to scarification. They also master the art of painting directly on the elongated bodies decorated with plants and flowers with medicinal properties. To be continued…