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Omo Valley Journeys – Suri for Tourists

A brightly painted Suri woman with her lip disk and baby

OK. The Omo Valley trip I led this year in February left me to do a lot of thinking. After all, the tribal people living there see more tourists and photographers than any people I’ve ever worked with in Africa.

The fact they see so many is due to their incredible appearance and the diversity of people over a relatively small geographical area.

I’ve tried hard to show what the real people are like on my blog posts so far. Tried hard to propagate accurate information about them and our experiences with these beautiful people.

One of the most curious aspects of their cultures is the way that photographers have altered them, to an extent. For the beautiful Suri people, the sheer number of photographers visiting them for photos has encouraged them to take a very obscure practice that was once reserved for special occasions like weddings, funerals and rites of initiation and then turned it in to an everyday thing.

This is what I call “Suri For Tourists”.

Spending time around painted up Suri people is a lot of fun. I mean it really is. It seems the more time you spend with them doing this, the more wild they get. Drawing much of their inspiration from nature and the things they find around them, we photographed people with fruits, seeds, flowers, gourds, horns, bells, goats and puppies.

At first I wasn’t sure what to make of all of this. On the one hand I rolled my eyes when I saw them doing it, then we had a lot of laughs with the people who had dressed up. Not only do the Suri have a natural affinity with what is around them, they have a tremendous colour sense and they are born posers for these sessions. They truly are a portrait photographers’ paradise!

Sadly this act of extreme decoration has very little anthropological value but we enjoyed seeing it anyway and I will take my guests on my future trips to see this, simply because I like their creativity and sense of whimsy.

After my previous post about the REAL Suri, here is a selection of images of the TOURIST Suris!

Gorgeous Babuku with his painted face. He is surrounded by the traditional copper bracelets of his mum and the women of his Suri clan

Gorgeous, smiling Bagogu with his face decorations. The circles are made with bottle caps!

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