The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - ONLINE - The Eloquent Suri of Ethiopia: People, Art, Culture, Language

Mark Overgaard

Wednesday 9th November 2022

Online event starting at 19:00 GMT - Public lecture (all welcome to join).

Note - Register for the event on Eventbrite and you'll be emailed a Zoom link shortly before the event.

Mark Overgaard will introduce the Suri people, whose homeland is in a remote southwest corner of Ethiopia. Mark first visited the Suri during a photographic tour in late 2019 (with Henok Tsegaye as lead Ethiopian guide), just before the pandemic shutdown. He was immediately struck and inspired by their grace and beauty, including the artistic adornments based on local natural ingredients that they create for their bodies, particularly for special occasions. With Henok’s help from Ethiopia, Mark spent much of the pandemic back in California immersing himself remotely in Suri culture, art and language.

The names of Suri portrait collaborators, when translated to English, provide fascinating glimpses into the Suri language and culture and can show the written form of the language, which didn’t exist until the mid-2000s. The Suri Literacy Project (SLP) worked for 20 years to help define, refine and teach that written language to children and adults, but the project ended in 2021. The challenge now is how to ensure that key thrusts of that project continue, including mother tongue literacy initiatives for both children and adults.

Mark combined the portraits from his 2019 visit and the Suri names (with their English translations) of his portrait collaborators, plus drawings and stories selected (with permission) from Suri literacy primers, to produce a first generation of the Eloquent Suri of Ethiopia project. The project included an exhibit, a small book and an online presence at his website, and on Instagram

During a return visit to the Suri in late 2021, teamed with Shem Compion, Henok and Suri translator/guides, Mark interviewed and photographed new and previous Suri collaborators, leaving a copy of his book with each of them. With additional material from that visit, Mark is working on a second generation of his Eloquent Suri project and will preview the updated project in this presentation.

The Eloquent Suri of Ethiopia, a ~9-minute short film, features film photography of the 2021 visit by Shem Compion, with narration and stills photography by Mark. The film is part of his second generation Eloquent Suri project and will introduce the session.

Mark Overgaard is a retired technology executive who was born in Thailand of missionary parents, spoke Thai before English, and attended fifteen schools in five countries before college. After those peripatetic early years, Mark settled in California for his professional career. With retirement, he has resumed traveling the world, aiming to experience and record cultural and natural beauty, finding reverence within and beyond, envisioning our shared humanity and fragile natural world. For more about Mark and his work (including coverage of the first generation of his Eloquent Suri project), visit

Please reserve your place soon to avoid disappointment.

Eventbrite Tickets - The Eloquent Suri of Ethiopia: People, Art, Culture, Language by Mark Overgaard

Photo - Barmugur & Barhallo, 2019

Barmugur & Barhallo, 2019
Suri names for boys usually have a "Bar" prefix, followed by a word that suggests the circumstances at their birth. Barmugur was born at night; mugur means darkness. Barhallo was born when cell phones were just coming to Suri land; hallo means hello on the phone.

Photo - Ngaidho, teaching in a Suri classroom, 2021

Ngaidho, teaching in a Suri classroom, 2021
She is working with a group of students that spans a broad age range. Ngaidho taught in the SLP for ten years, working mostly with adults, especially women. That job ended when the SLP ended. She believes strongly in the benefits of literacy training for adults and is eager for it to resume.

The photographs and film in this listing are copyrighted and must not be copied or used for any purpose outside of this event listing without express written permission.

First Published in News File Summer 2022

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