The Bashagi goldmines are located near Kibish. After a 40km drive on an unpaved small field road from Kibish to the south there is a small police station where it is possible to stay overnight. Basically the 'police station' consists of two small houses and a ranger with a Kalashnikov in the middle of nowhere. The goldmines are very popular amongst young Suri teenagers between 12 and 17 years. They go in groups of a about 9 or 10 people, and after a 1,5 or 2 days hike from Kibish they finally reach the police station where they sleep and eat.
Usually they stay up to 10 days at the goldmines, and they work every day very hard. If they are lucky they can earn around 400 Birr in 8 or 10 days, which is something like 20 USD. The money is very important for them. Either it is used for the family to buy seed. Especially the young men also save the money for a new cow, which is important for later when they marry, because they have to pay for the bride, and the family of the bride only accepts cattle for the payment.
There are serious changes in the south-western part of Ethiopia, which hosts some of Africa's most fascinating and colorful ethnic groups. Things are changing very fast and not everything is for the better for the people there, like for example the Suri people around Kibish, Tulgit and Koka. The Ethiopian Agriculture and Rural Development State Minister Aberra Deressa once claimed: " ... at the end of the day we [do] not really appreciate pastoralists remaining in the forest like this ... pastoralism is not sustainable ... we must bring commercial farming, mechanized agriculture, to create job opportunities to change the environment." In 2011 the Ethiopian government started a 5 years development plan for the region around the Omo River. It covers among others state-run sugar plantations and factories in South Omo, the Gibe III dam, a resettlement program and the Malaysian plantation in Koka.
In October 2012 I visited the Koka plantation which is operated by the Malaysian company Lim Siow Jin Estate. The plantation was founded almost 2 years ago. Right now around 140 people are working on the farm, among them also a few Suri people. The manager of the plantation explained me the master plan of the 55-year leasing contract between the Malaysian owner and the Ethiopian government, which is quite impressive. The plantation has a size of about 31.000 ha, which is half the size of Singapore. The plantation grows palm oil, sesame and rubber trees. For 2013 an airport is planned, and in the near future a number of factories. The plantation is far away from the harbor (Djibouti), so transportation will be a problem. Since the target of the plantation is the world market, the plantation is planning to process the raw material in new factories directly on the farm, and the transport will be managed by airplane. At the end of the leasing time over 40.000 people should work on the plantation and in the nearby factories.
I just returned from a one month magnificent trip to the Suri tribe in the South Western part of Ethiopia. To reach Kibish it is still a 3 days drive from Addis over Jimma, Bonga and Mizan. There are two roads from Mizan to Kibish: the old road via Bebeka Coffee Plantation and Dima, or the new Waji-Maji road via Tum and Koka. From time to time the roads are blocked because of rain, so you should better ask in advance which road is open. Drivers usually prefer the new road, although the new road is a detour and the old road is well maintained and the scenery is by far more beautiful. But there are security issues between Dizi and Suri people around Dima and sometimes government cars are attacked, but for tourists it should be safe. Beginning of October only the old road was passable so we had no choice.
The countryside in October after the raining season is lush and green, and more diversified than the more commonly travelled South Omo. In four weeks I only met a handful of tourists. The area around Kibish, Tulgit and Koka is still quite untouched, and there are plenty of opportunities to see and experience the traditional life of the Suri tribe.
The Suri people love to sing and dance. First day on the trip we had car trouble, the leaf spring was broken, so we spent the afternoon in Tulgit where a Suri mechanic repaired the spring. Luckily there was a big dance in Tulgit this afternoon. But suddenly a fight between young men started during the dance, and from one moment to another I was in the middle of a pretty violent stick fight. The stick fights are called Donga, and the government banned the Donga for Suri people. But a Donga is still a very important tradition for young Suri men, so the Suri keep on fighting secretly. October is Donga season, so almost every day there is a Donga somewhere around Kibish, Tulgit or Koka. And obviously the young men on the dance still had to settle an outstanding score of the last Donga. Lucky for me to get at least an impression of a real stick fight, since I'm not allowed to join and watch a Donga as a tourist.
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.
Suri people have a cattle-centered culture, the wealth of a family is measured by the number of animals owned. Usually the animals are not eaten unless a big ceremony takes place. The animals are used for milk and blood which they both drink. Sometimes Suri warriors are preparing a mixture of cattle blood and milk for a ceremonial rite called 'cow bleeding'.
Like the Mursi people the Suri women are wearing lip plates. The girl's lower lip is cut when she reaches the age 15 or 16. The girl's lip is pierced by her mother or another woman of her settlement and a simple wooden plug is inserted. The cut is held open by the wooden plug until the wound heals. After that the plug is replaced by a bigger one. The stretching of the lip continues by inserting progressively larger plugs over a period of several months. At a diameter of about 4 cm the first lip plate made of clay can be inserted, the final diameter ranges from about 8 cm to over 20 cm. Nowadays the girls in some Surma settlements decide for themselves whether to wear a lip plate or not. However, wearing a lip plate is still an expression of social adulthood and self-esteem for a Suri woman and demonstrates respect for the men.