Self-expression in the African Style

Ethiopia’s Surma and Mursi tribes in the southwest Omo River valley region present a unique perspective on self-expression in the African style.  As a result of their nomadic lifestyle, location near lush vegetation, and inventive nature, tribe members have taken body painting and adornment to a new level of creativity which has inspired the color palette for ethniciti collections.

Sophisticated color palette

Colors taken directly from nature, the various strata of rock in the vast Rift Valley geologic formation, yield subtle shades of ochre, red, pure white, off white, and light gray.  Green is obtained from stone found in the riverbed.  The canvas for this sophisticated mixture of colors is the flesh of the tribe members, a reddish, copper hue, lighter in shade and more reflective of light rays compared to the darker skin of the Ugandans, Kenyans, and Sudanese to the south and west.

Natural accessorization

Flora and fauna found near the river – grass, leaves, stems, flowers, roots, shells, nuts, wild fruit, papyrus, and gourds- are accessories to this creation of natural fashion.

Shapes and forms

The amazing and aesthetically brilliant juxtapositions of color, texture, shape, and form, are not pondered and studied.  Spontaneity is key to the effects achieved with body painting done rapidly to preserve the natural colors.  Pigments created using water and stone fragments dry within a minute’s time. The result is a creative work worthy of any modern artist or fashion designer, but with the natural freedom of childhood.

The design spirit of the Surma and Mursi exemplifies ethniciti’s philosophy of organized eclecticism, freedom of self-expression, and African-inspired design.  Three of ethniciti’s color palettes are inspired by the Omo River valley tribes.  What do you think?


Photography by Hans Silvester in his book, Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa


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