By Nigel Morris
I recently traveled to Ethiopia for two weeks, and I must say, it was one of the most interesting, and beautiful experiences of my life. I have learned so much about myself as a person, especially my ability to adapt to different situations. Ethiopia is a beautiful place, but it does present some challenges for city folk such as myself. My main reason for visiting Ethiopia was really quite simple. I was intrigued by the history. Ethiopia has never been colonized. They have all of their history intact. As an African-American, I felt that I could quite possibly be visiting home, so to speak. Without diving too much into slavery, African-Americans have no clue of their point of origin in Africa. When my ancestors were brought here, they were cut off from their bloodline, and history. But, I digress. As I have stated, I basically wanted to immerse myself in the history and culture. I first visited Lalibela, which is located in the north of Ethiopia. Lalibela is so rich in history. It is mostly known for the 11 rock-hewn churches, and it’s large christian community. The churches located here were created in the 12th century, and are a striking sight to behold. All 11 were built by hand, using hammers and chisels. I was taken aback by these historic marvels. So much so, that I really didn’t shoot a lot of portraits. I remember feeling such a strong presence while visiting the churches. It was very moving spiritually. To see the religious art, depicting biblical characters of Ethiopian decent was a very unique experience. Learning the history of each church, and the reasons they were built in their specific manor was so interesting. All in all, I spent 4 days in Lalibela, and I remember feeling down upon my departure, because I felt it was so much more to learn. I will definitely visit Lalibela again sometime in the near future.
For the second leg of my trip, I traveled south, to the Lower Omo Valley, to visit the different tribes that live there. The road to Omo is a long and arduous one. It takes two days of travel by road, from the capital, Addis Ababa. Me, my guide, and my driver left from the capital, Addis Ababa, and hit the road on a Thursday. I can remember the way I felt sitting in the backseat of the jeep, just looking around at one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. The landscape, the people. It was like sensory overload. I felt so very blessed and fortunate to just be alive, and to see all that I saw along the way. It is a humbling experience to see people make due with so little, when back home, we have so much, and we still complain. The people in Ethiopia are very strong, and I found myself admiring their strength. After a two-day ride, we arrived in Turmi. Turmi is like a central hub for visiting the tribes. The tribe most prevalent in Turmi, is the Hamer tribe, the tribe my guide just so happened to belong too. We had reached Turmi rather late, so it was very dark. I remember the jeep turning down a long dark road, a road I had assumed would be empty. Boy was I wrong. There were many people from the tribes walking in what appeared to my eye, pitch black darkness. I recall saying to myself, wow, these people can see in the dark. It was an incredible moment.
We stayed in Turmi for three days. In those three days, I visited the Hamer tribe, known for their bull jumping ceremony and mud colored hair for the women. I actually slept in a tent, in a Hamer village for the 3 days, and even got to eat with the villages chief/elder. That was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. The chief/elder and I dined on injera and tibs, which is a common meal in Ethiopia.
Day 1 I visited the Abore, who are known for their women wearing beautiful beads and black head cloth. The Abore also believe in singing and dancing to do away with negative spirits/energy.
Day 2, I visited the Karo tribe. The Karo are known for their strength and scarification. The men in the Karo tribe can take on as many wives as they’d like, but only if they can afford to support them. They also live by one of the most beautiful sights along the Omo River. It’s been seen in countless photographs. The funny thing is, the day I visited the Karo, the temperature reached a blistering 108 degrees. Yes, 108. I never even considered pulling my camera out of its case, so I never photographed any of the Karo people. I regret it a little, but it was simply too hot.
Day 3, I visited the Daasanech tribe. They are considered to be one of the poorest tribes in Omo. I had a blast with them. To get to where their village is located, you must cross the Omo river. Now, the boat they provide you to cross the river in, is, risky. No outboard motor, and it looks as though it was on its last sea legs so to speak. I jumped in, and said my prayers, and was across the river in no time. I remember the breeze that I felt while crossing the river. It was perfect. The Daasenech people were very welcoming, and I really felt a connection with them while in their village. They are known for both male and females being circumcised.
On day 4, we left Turmi, and made our way to Jinka.
Day 4, which was my first day in Jinka, I visited the feared Bodi tribe, and the Murisi tribe. They are in very close proximity to each other. My driver, was very adamant about maybe skipping the Bodi tribe. Among all the tribes, they are feared for their lawlessness. Prior to us leaving to see the Bodi, and Murisi, my guide told us of a story of the Bodi actually shooting and killing some one that was just driving by in close proximity to their village. A very harrowing story for sure, but, if I came this far, life threatening situations aside, I wanted to push on anyway. Besides that, you must hire an armed guard to see the Bodi and Murisi anyway, so that helped a little. Upon arrival to the Bodi village, I would like to say that I was met with some slight hostility. You see, to photograph the tribes, they expect to be paid. Now, the Bodi, they wanted to be paid, a lot. I let my guide settle everything, but I will tell you, I wasn’t too comfortable photographing while in their village. I surely didn’t make a lot of photographs there. The Bodi are known for their aggression and they are also known for a competition. The men in the Bodi tribe try to see who can get the largest by June. They consume a lot of honey, and a mixture of milk and cows blood. This “contest” is called, “Ka’el”.
For the second half of the day, I visited the Murisi. The Murisi are also an aggressive tribe. They are known for the lip plates that the women wear. The men are fierce warriors and hunters. I really enjoyed my time with the Murisi because one of the elders spoke english, and had actually been to New York. His english was very good. He showed me around the village, and we spoke about different things about Africa. The Murisi are also known for their scarification. I noticed that the Murisi had some of the most beautiful skin I have ever seen, especially the women. Their complexions were gorgeous.
Day 5, I visited the Ari tribe. Now, the Ari tribe, are very modern. The majority of the Ari tribe dress like me and you, shorts with a t-shirt is very common. Now, to see the Ari, you have to ascend to their village. They live in the mountains in Jinka. It was a tough journey just getting up to the village, because a few hours prior to my visit to the village, it had rained. Ever try hiking up a mountain in the mud? I got to see the village blacksmith and the woman who made the pottery. The air up in the mountains in Jinka was cold and thin. I really didn’t photograph while visiting, because of the conditions I stated earlier. The Ari tribe are known for While leaving the village, I actually fell. Yes, fell, on my butt. I basically slid down the mountain, in mud, on my rear end. The villagers got a big kick out of it. Heck, I even laughed.
Day 6, I visited the Bena tribe. Day 6 was also the day I prepared to hit the road again for two days, as it was nearing the time to go home. The Bena tribe are very similar to the Hamer tribe. The Bena are actually believed to be direct descendants of the Hamer. The Bena tribe are known for the clay caps, adorned with feathers, that the men wear. They also participate in bull jumping, as do the Hamer tribe. I didn’t photograph any of the Bena, because the day I visited them, it was very cold, and most of them didn’t want to leave the confines of their huts, which was understandable.
Day 7, and 8, we hit the road again. On day 7, I stayed in a town called Awasa. Awasa was beautiful. I got to visit the fish market, and Lake Awasa. Awasa is a fishing town. All around Awasa, there are these very tall, and ominous birds, called Marabou Storks. They are a sight to behold.
Day 8 was back to the capital, and then homeward bound. Ethiopia has left such an impression on me. I have never traveled so far from home, alone. In my solitude, I discovered things about myself, and found myself re-evaluating my life, and how I have lived up to that point. I have learned to appreciate what I have, and to be thankful for it more often. I was so pleased to be amongst people who genuinely care for one another, and who have such a high sense of pride. It was really a beautiful experience as a whole, and I more than likely will be visiting Ethiopia again sometime soon, hopefully.