The Lost Tribe of the Omo Valley

The Lost Tribe of the Omo Valley

The body canvas of the Surma tribe 

Imagine growing up without artwork on the walls, minimal paper and no pens but surrounded by bodies, nature, coloured minerals and all sorts of animals with amazing designs.

The vanishing Surma tribe have a long history of body painting, decorative scarring and piercing. Both men and woman pierce their ears for discs. Woman used to commonly pierce and stretch their lower lip for a plate.

Boys and men usually paint one another. As there are few mirrors in the region, the affect is in other’s reactions.

Mothers paint their babies and so starts a lifelong tradition. White face paint is thought to help protect a child from the supernatural.

The natural pigments are extracted from the soils and clay of the area. Red ochre, yellow sulfur, white kaolin, white limestone and grey ash are common minerals in the area. Certain clay deposits are sacred to the tribes.

Colours are used to designate position, for ritual, to ward off illness, to attract the opposite sex, to associate with family, a tribe or an animal.

White limestone also acts as an insecticide. Clay also prevents sunburn. As well as for decoration, clay also blocks the sun and keeps the insects from biting.

The Surma tribe use flora and fauna as adornments. They devise creative head ornaments from leaves, branches, seedpods, fruit and seeds.

The Omo Valley is one of the best locations on Earth to see indigenous people living as they have done for millennia.

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