The Past and the Present in Ethiopia

Dariusz Chmielarski learned that even cultures that have managed to resist the influence of television can succumb to the globalization of machine guns when he visited Ethiopia. His story, The Shadows of Old Africa, can be found at Tripsource, and tells about the old and the new coming together in Ethiopia.

“In the hardly accessible part of south-western Ethiopia close to the Sudanese border, among the hills covered with dry savannah lives the proud and warlike Surma tribe, numbering about 35 to 40 thousand people. This is one of the last African tribesfolks, whose lifestyle and habits at the beginning of 21st century have remain unchanged for hundreds years.

The women still practice the extension of lower lips, using earthen or wooden round plates. This custom, once common in many places of Africa, is preserved nowadays only among two southern Ethiopian tribes i.e. the Surma and the Mursi. The other original Surma ritual, especially popular amongst children, is painting of imaginative patterns on their faces and bodies with the help of white fossil lime.

The traditional occupation of Surma is the nomadic cattle breeding. Some of them still wander with the cattle herds, but the majority, who have settled in about a dozen villages, cultivate maize and sorgo. There is constant fighting in the area between Surma and their traditional enemies, Bume (also called Nyangatom) and the Dizi tribes, despite Ethiopian army intervention. The background of the conflict is water and pasture-grounds for the cattle. Traditional weapons like spears and sticks have been replaced by AK-47s long ago. There are a lot of casualities on each side and you cannot see any Surma warrior without a Kalashnikov rifle these days.”