The Changing Faces of the Omo Valley, Ethiopia

The Changing Faces of the Omo Valley, Ethiopia

around Ethiopia
for a month, I was rewarded not just with the beauty of this
diverse country but with a deep connection that can only come from
raw, unadulterated experience.

While most visitors head to northern Ethiopia which is rich in
cultural and religious history, I travelled south to the Omo
Valley. Relatively cut off from modern civilisation, this region
has been home to nomadic tribes for centuries. Across luscious
green valleys and off-terrain roads, I encountered five different
tribes: the Hamar, Karo, Dassanech, Mursi and Banna.

This journey is traditionally reserved for the rich, or those
mainly interested in photographing these unique peoples before
immediately moving on to the next tribe. It’s a sad fact that we
noticed when visiting the Hamar tribe, where a bull jumping
initiation ritual was taking place. So many travellers took
pictures of the spectacle before leaving without any interaction. I
resolved not to do this. While I was interested in photographing
the people of the Omo Valley, I also wanted to build a relationship
with them.

Over the following days, with the help of my local guide, I
visited the chalk-painted Karo tribe, the hospitable Mursi and
Dassanech cow herders. With each encounter I got to know the people
of the tribes well before even taking my camera out.

I spent countless hours in each village, camping overnight,
playing with the children, learning about how the use of cows – not
cash – for currency, and realising that no one knew their age.
What’s more, I shared photos of my own life, my family and my home
back in London.

I gave away some of my cameras, teaching the tribespeople how to
utilise symmetry, composition and lighting to capture the best
photographs. This genuine mutual exchange and sharing of lives led
to a beautiful, nourishing experience both for the local people and
for myself as a visitor. Our connection ran far deeper than the
quick transaction of paying to take a photo.

As tourism slowly rises in
, I believe, as visitors, our awareness of interactions
with local tribes needs to be elevated as well. | @kishanth

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