I. Ethiopia

Travelling by jeep through OMO Valley, from the riverbanks, the highlands, down to the Kenyan border, we came across 5 different indigenous groups. But shooting in Ethiopia wasn’t easy. Tribes like the Banna, Karo and Mursi can be quite intimidating and their attitude towards foreigners isn’t necessarily the friendliest. We came to take pictures of Kalashnikov wielding warriors, with credos like ‘It’s better to die than to live without killing’ and ‘A close friend can become a close enemy’.

"In hindsight their fierce warrior spirit resulted into some of the most powerful photographs in the book, but on location things weren’t always comfortable"

The only way to get anyone in front of the camera at all, was through the universally spoken language of money. On the one hand an effective door opener, but at the same time a potential liability. Of course we couldn’t take photographs of everyone. We would always carefully select the people that would make the strongest portraits, but you really don’t want to tell an agitated man carrying an automatic rifle he’s not good-looking enough to be in the picture.

Mursi

Mursi

Ethiopia

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The nomadic Mursi clan lives in the lower area of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Extreme drought has made it difficult to feed themselves by means of traditional cultivation and herding. The establishment of national parks has restricted their access and threatened their natural resources.

“It’s better to die than live without killing”

The Mursi are famous for their stick-fighting ceremony and Mursi women are known all over the world for wearing clay plates in their lower lips. Their economy concentrated on bartering and sharing possessions. This changed when tourists arrived, offering money in exchange for photographs.

Dassanech

Dassanech

Ethiopia

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The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, is home to an estimated 200,000 indigenous peoples who have lived there for millennia. The 20,000-strong Dassanech (meaning ‘People from the Delta”) inhabit the southernmost region of the valley, where the Omo River Delta enters Lake Turkana.

“A close friend can become a close enemy” 

Cattle are central to the lives of the Dassanech. When they lose their cattle due to disease, drought or raid by a neighbouring indigenous groups, they turn to the world’s largest desert lake for sustenance. The indigenous culture is typical in that it is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Anyone can be admitted.

Banna

Banna

Ethiopia

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The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, southwest Ethiopia, is home to an estimated 200,000 indigenous peoples who have lived there for millennia. The Banna, approximately 45,000 in number, are a mainly agricultural people who inhabit the highlands east of the Omo River. 

“A close friend can become a close enemy” 

Like other indigenous groups, the Banna practise ritual dancing and singing. To prepare for a ceremony, they paint themselves with white chalk mixed with yellow rock, red iron ore and charcoal. The biggest ceremony in a man’s life is called Dimi, to celebrate his daughter for fertility and marriage.

Karo

Karo

Ethiopia

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The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, is home to an estimated 200,000 indigenous peoples who have lived there for millennia. Amongst them are 1,000 to 3,000 Karo who dwell on the eastern banks of the Omo river and practise flood-retreat cultivation, growing sorghum, maize and beans.

“A close friend can become a close enemy” 

The Karo were known for their magnificent houses (when still rich in cattle) but after they lost their wealth, they adopted the much lighter conical huts. Every Karo family owns two houses: the Ono, the principal living room of the family, and the Gappa, the centre of several household activities.

Hamar

Hamar

Ethiopia

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The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, southwest Ethiopia, is home to an estimated 200,000 indigenous peoples who have lived there for millennia. The indigenous groups have always traded between each other, for beads, food, cattle and cloth. More recently, the trade has been in guns and bullets.

“A close friend can become a close enemy” 

The indigenous group live a simple life of hunting, gathering, raising cattle and growing sorghum along the banks of the River Omo. They have been influenced by evangelist missionaries and are Muslim by name. Traditional Animism is also still practised. The groups now share a polytheist mixture of beliefs.

Arbore

Arbore

Ethiopia

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Life in the Omo Valley, in southwest Ethiopia, has changed very little since the turn of the first millennium. Over 200,000 indigenous peoples live a simple life of hunting and raising cattle along the banks of the River Omo. Within the village, the women build and take down the huts during migrations. 

“A close friend can become a close enemy” 

There are serious concerns about the impact of a gigantic dam, currently under construction. It will produce much-needed electricity, but at the same time reduce the river’s flow and tame the seasons of flood and retreat. The fencing of game parks is another threat, restricting the access of the local indigenous peoples.