A LOOK BACK at the beautiful documentary photography of Hans Silvester’s stay with the Surma and Mursi people of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia from 2006 - 2007. Focusing on these tribes’ ancient traditions of temporary body adornment via mineral paints and floral headpieces, Silvester created this portfolio as a means to “save… as much as possible of this truly living art, which is mobile, changing, subject to infinite variation, and whose constituent elements… form a link between man and nature.”
Surma is the official Ethiopian umbrella term for three ethnic groups in South Ethiopia: the Suri people, the Mursi people and the Mekan people. Very often the name ‘Surma’ is used for the Suri people as well, but this is wrong, a Suri would never call himself a 'Surma’. The Suri people are semi-nomadic cattle herders and live on the west side of the Omo River in the southwestern part of Ethiopia. This area is still much undeveloped, only an unpaved road leads to the heart of the Suri settlements: Kibish.
Fulani noblewoman with tattooed lips and gold earrings, from a large semi-nomadic pastoral settlement
Fulani (Peul, Fulbe, Fula) women of this region often tattoo their lips, gums and the area around the mouth before marriage, a painful aesthetic practice and rite of passage signifying marital status. The extravagant gold earrings or “kwottenai kanye” symbolize the wealth and prestige of a husband or family based largely on the ownership of cattle among the semi-nomadic pastoral Fulani of this region. The earrings are also an aesthetic symbol of cultural pride and identity. They are usually a gift from a husband to his wife or an heirloom passed on to a daughter on the death of her mother. The large earrings are made by local smiths or artisans concentrated mostly in the Mopti region of northern Mali. They are crafted from a 14-karat bar of gold that is first chiseled and heated over a fire, then hammered into thin blades and twisted into a four-lobe shape.