Suri - Sociopolitical Organization

The Suri can be seen as a virtually independent ethno-political unit: they live in their own area (although the land is formally owned by the Ethiopian government), where there is no administration and where members of non-Suri-speaking groups do not live. They do not pay taxes to the state, no state agency has offices in their area, and they receive no agricultural and/or veterinary services. In the later Haile Selassie years and also in the first decade of the Dergue regime, there were such services in rudimentary form, but they have been crumbling because of security problems and the absence of transport facilities.

Suri political organization is not centralized. The formal war leaders and ritual mediators that are the figures of moral authority inherit their offices along three lines, within three clans. These men are much respected, not primarily for personal reasons, but because they are the incumbents of the ancient lines. These leaders have no executive authority and cannot force their will on any member of the society. They express and synthesize common opinion—that is, they are always the last to speak and summarize matters during public debates. They also initiate fields and perform protective rituals. Suri society is divided into age sets, of which the senior one ( rora ) is the most important. The Suri have been able to maintain their basically acephalous structure without much interference from the Ethiopian state. There was a brief encounter between the Suri and Ethiopian revolutionary cadres in 1976, but this was not successful in bringing about change.

Conflict. On the interethnic level, there has always been tension and violent conflict between the Suri and the Nyangatom and Toposa. The Bale Suri see as their traditional enemies the Murle and the Anuak peoples, who live to their northwest. When the Suri area (including the Borna plateau) was nominally incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire, the level of intergroup fighting, stimulated by slave and cattle raiders in the wake of the conquest by Ethiopian imperial troops, intensified. Since the 1980s, the Suri (having been pushed to the north by the heavily armed Nyangatom and Toposa) have encroached on Dizi lands. This infringement has led to frequent—almost monthly—violent incidents. Armed robbery on the roads to the market towns has been on the increase since the mid-1980s.

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