Ethiopia, the living museum

A little boy from the Karo village

(Fausto) Ethiopia? Why do you want to go there? People are starving and dying! This is the general impression of the general public about this very populated country in the Horn of Africa. And yet, when you start researching deeper, a different story will unfold. Ethiopia has some of the most fertile volcanic and alluvial soils on the continent; it is regarded as the water tower of Africa; the Blue Nile originates here; the skeletal remains of Lucy are proof that this is one of the birth places of humankind; and on the theological side, names like the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon, the Arc of the Covenant, Balthazar, (one of the three wise men), are indicative of an old Christian past.

For the visitor the country can be divided into two:

The historical north showcasing the great Aksumite and Solomonic dynasties of the 1st and 12th century, rock-hewn churches, castles and…

the cultural south, a melting pot of cultures.

Kids in an Arbore village

As a wildlife destination, Ethiopia, or Abyssinia as it used to be called, cannot compete with Southern and East Africa, two of the continent’s most prolific animal regions, but it nevertheless has it’s own draw card: endemic species well worth seeing. The Ethiopian Wolf, Gelada Baboon, the Walia Ibex, to name a few and a myriad of bird species enough to make a birder twitch! This fauna having been protected from extinction or hybridization by the natural mountainous shelter, is still around to be looked at in these elevated gardens of Eden.

Flying from the highland areas of Addis Ababa southward to Arba Minch, and then driving in the same direction along the Great African Rift Valley, towards the Kenyan border, it becomes obvious how populated and farmed the land is. The vehicle journey feels like one of Dr Who’s journey back in time. Driving past or visiting villages where the local people still use their traditional dresses, practice the century old rite of passage, and live a pastoralist and agrarian lifestyle, is an experience which is becoming very difficult, if not impossible to find in Africa. But here in the lower Omo valley, a kaleidoscope of cultures live within a day’s drive of each other.

Just to name a few….

Dorze– The weavers, living off the false banana plants up in the mountainous regions in their very large bamboo structure huts.

Konso– One of hardest working tribes in the country, living in stone walled and well fortified villages on hill tops.

Dassenich– Living on the wind blown shores on the Omo river just before it enters Lake Turkana. Have many of the traits of their southern neighbors, the Samburu and Masaai in terms of dress and hut building.

Hamar and Benna– Very closely related, the most noticeable difference with the women is the color of their hair, red and black respectively. Very proud people best known for their Bull Jumping and woman whipping ceremonies.

Karo– their use of natural paints for their ornate body art, and scarification as a form of beauty, make them a very photogenic ethnic group to look at.

Arbore– their attire has many beads and the women have a black cloth that they cover their heads with.

Mursi– The best known tribe, here the women wear very large clay plates which they wrap their bottom lip around, enough to make their eyes water!

Emma and Arbore women

With recent “development” such as hydro electric schemes on the Omo river, sugar cane farming, new tarred and gravel roads into the forgotten south, are warning signals that the living museum will soon become part of history.

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