Introduction / History The Surma people live in the remote southwest corner of Ethiopia. The Surma have a basic subsistence and barter economy. Their wealth is based on their cattle, and the main food source is the produce from their own crops. There is very little outside trade. The Surma are a highly monolingual and homogenous society, living beyond most of the influences of the modern world and its technology. Their tenuous relationship with neighboring ethnic groups often erupts in fighting and loss of life.
The girl pictured here shows some of the typical Surma characteristics for both men and women: large earplugs, decorative body painting, the hair shaved in patterns. Women wear a leather garment fastened at one shoulder which encircles the waist like a skirt. Men and children typically wear no clothing. Surma women are noted for the large clay lip plates worn in the lower lip.
Mission work was initiated among the Surma in the early 1970s. Due to various outside pressures, however, this Christian outreach lasted only a few years before leaving. A church was not established and today, there are no known Christians. The language has no written form and there is no Gospel witness among the Surma. Christian missionaries are in the beginning stages of making contact and initiating a new outreach to the Surma people.