Growing up in Southeast Asia within missionary communities, I was infused with reverence and empathy for cultures and communities not my own. Born in Thailand, I spoke Thai before English. By the time I graduated from high school, I had attended fifteen different schools in five countries.

During my retirement years, I have resumed traveling the world, most recently visiting a remote village in southern Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. While there, I developed a deep respect – even awe – for the proud people of the Suri tribe and their exquisite adornments. With these images, I hope to celebrate the beauty and strength of these people and affirm our shared humanity.

The Suri paint their bodies in intricate patterns, using natural pigments ground from local rocks and mixed with water. Clay or wooden earlobe discs and lip plates extend the Suri body canvas. Many Suri wear decorated discs in their stretched earlobes. Women of marriageable and child-bearing age often choose to wear lip plates. Carefully sculpted scar patterns are another popular adornment for Suri women. Beyond providing opportunities for play and creativity, this body art fulfills other social functions, such as attracting a partner. These longstanding traditions, still practiced with whimsy and freedom, are an integral part of Suri life.

This small tribe faces significant stresses, including externally from encroaching development and aggressive tribal neighbors. With these challenges, income from visitors can be crucial; during the pandemic the visitor flow has ceased and the economic impact is serious. I am inspired by the resilience and grace I found in these proud people and will be sharing the proceeds from this work with Suri support groups.

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