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Published: December 6th 2011
Painted in white and wearing animal skins. Decorated with bones and walking on stilts. Carrying spears and wondering naked. You have been transported back in time. A time when the first adventurers stumbled across African tribes. A time when food was gathered by painted warriors, a time when only the strongest survived.
Intimidated into paying a bribe for a bogus guide you head deeper into the Omo valley trusting only your driver. As an Ethiopian soldier jumps in the vehicle to offer protection, you can’t help but laugh at the poor state of his AK47. Carrying no bullets and speaking only Americ, he sits and smiles, expecting payment for his services.
Driving through mountain terrain and stunning fields, its hard to believe you are in Ethiopia. A country that once struggled to feed its people. A country that conjures up images of famine and poverty. A country in the troubled horn of Africa, often regarded as war torn and dangerous by the UK foreign office and western 'experts'
Searching for one of the last remaining tribes in Africa is surreal and adventurous. Being warned that the tribes are armed, aggressive and demanding creates a daunting sense of preparation
for the most surreal cultural exchange.
"Dropping into the Omo valley is like being transported to an Africa of days gone by. For generations the tribes of the Omo have been shielded from the outside world, tucked away in southern Ethiopia" (Piper Mackay, Selamata, Oct 2011)
While suicidal animals block the road, tribal children follow by example. Trying to intimidate a moving vehicle, they standing on their head, wave their legs, and stare with fearless expression. Armed to the teeth carrying spears, they shout 'highland' while you navigate road blocks made from branches and rocks.
"Highland was the first bottled water in Ethiopia, and it has become synonymous with plastic bottles, which are a rare commodity in Ethiopia. This “Highland frenzy” often involves children running after fast-moving vehicles in hope that a plastic bottle will be thrown out to them" (Wikipedia, 2010)
Suddenly they stop and stare at the faranji through an open window. With expressions of shock and joy their mood changes. Like a movie star you are chased by obsessed admirers, waving and shouting. Excitedly screaming, running with spears along side the vehicle.
Arriving at the village you are met by painted people.
Warriors carrying shotguns and machetes. Boys and men carrying spears and stone hammers. Women decorated in animal skin and bones. Often topless, sometimes naked, the women standing proudly showing off their lip plates like the latest London fashion accessory.
"One claim is that the size of the lip plate is correlated with a woman’s bridal wealth. The other is a deliberate disfigurement, designed to make girls less attractive to human traders." (Piper Mackay, Selamata, Oct 2011)
No one really knows the reason behind the lip plate. It is an ancient tradition that has been passed on through generations. While you struggle to accept the painful appearance and size of the lip plate, it’s difficult to imagine how they eat and drink each day. You soon realize the affection of kissing within the tribal community must be completely out of the question!
"These tribes are among the last of the ornate and intact tribes living in their ancient traditions - migrating, warring and making peace in ways that have vanished almost everywhere else in Africa" (Piper Mackay, Selamata, Oct 2011)
You can’t help but notice ancient traditions being eroded by adventurers from distant lands. Carrying expensive cameras,
sweets and money, you quickly become an object of curiosity. They stoke your hair and pull on your clothes, touch your skin and push you around, while the warriors stare at you with intimidation.
As you wonder around the village followed by a curious entourage, it’s strange to see how they live. In primitive mud huts and straw roofs. Cleaning clothes with sticks and rocks. Cooking food in leaves and clay pots. Carrying wooden weapons and stone hammers. Occasionally an AK47 thrown into the mix as the tribe move into the 21st century.
When you brandish your camera, they quickly line up for a photograph in an orchestra of precision. As they demand gifts for each photo, it quickly becomes clear they have played this game before. Handing over a small token of appreciation exasperates the situation into frenzy. Suddenly surrounded you find yourself running for the vehicle followed by a screaming, aggressive and armed tribe.
It soon becomes clear who the warriors are. While other tribal members move away, you quickly notice their aggressive and intimidating behavior. Often painted and carrying a machete they grab your arm and don’t let go, sizing you up then demanding
When a tribesman grabs your camera and laughs at the photos, attempts at getting it back is soon met with a grunt and slap across the face. Carrying a sting that would usually lead to a bar brawl, you stand there bemused wondering what to do. The social interaction and cultural differences shocking, it’s primal but astounding.
While the Chinese build roads throughout Africa in an effort to rape it of natural resources, the effect on these tribes is shocking. As they begin to leave their nomadic villages and set up camp along the roadside, begging, Ethiopia will be transformed forever. Losing its ancient traditions as one of the last remaining tribes joins the rat race, with eyes wide open.
-Tribes Of The Omo-
More photos below...
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