The history about Suri people

by Bardula Uya – 1 JUNE 2019

The early years of the twentieth century, the Suri never belonged to any overarching state structure—neither colonial nor indigenous. Their area of Shulugui and the Tirma range was penetrated by the imperial troops of the Ethiopian emperor Menilek II (r. 1889-1913) in 1897. The region was formally incorporated into Ethiopia, but the Suri were not really conquered, in the sense of being brought under political and administrative control. They were able to maintain their relatively autonomous way of life in this frontier area between the Ethiopian Empire and the British-controlled territories of Kenya and Sudan.The activities of soldier forces, northern traders, and hunters and adventurers in the new encampment villages such as Maji, Bero, and Jeba led to frequent raiding of the native groups, including the Suri, for cattle and slaves. The Suri, however, suffered less from massive slave-raiding than the “Gimira” or “Dizi” peoples, who were also made subservient as a kind of serf class. Few European travelers visited the Suri—the first were probably the British consuls in Maji, among them A. Hodson. Italians entered Suri territory in 1932; they established three posts—two on the border mountains of Shulugui and Tamudir and one in Zilmamo, near the Bale area. These small settlements of soldiers only endured for about three years. Compared with the relations between northern Ethiopian settlers and Suri, relations between Italians and Suri were less tense and violent. There was barter and trade for livestock and foodstuffs, and peace generally prevailed.Intergroup raiding was suppressed. In the war of liberation of Ethiopia in 1940-1941, British forces crossed the Suri area in the south, toward Maji, to drive out the Italians (in 1940). The new administration established upon Emperor Haile Selassie’s restoration included some soldier posts in the Suri area, and, in the first decade of the Haile Selassie era, part of the Suri paid taxes. In the last year of the revolutionary Marxist era in Ethiopia (1974-1991), the soldiers left the area, having become redundant and/or frightened because of the massive purchase of automatic weapons by the Suri from Sudan (through the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, a guerrilla organization, or through Anuak gunrunners). The Suri effectively have “law and order” in their own hands and now form a kind of virtually autonomous enclave in the Kefa region. The struggle with the Nyangatom, their “archenemies,” has continued unabated. Violent raids and counterraids, during which livestock are robbed and dozens of people are killed, remain one of the constants in Suri history.

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