Travel to Ethiopia: Tribes of the Damned


Words & Pictures by Evan Haussmann

With more than 80 languages and different ethnic groups, Ethiopia is a mass of diverse people and cultures. Evan Haussmann chose to visit the tribes of the South Omo Valley, the oldest among them. He came back realising that to have your expectations met, is to be denied an adventure.

The rapping on my flaky-paint hotel room door infiltrated my dream. A blur of bags and toiletries later, I entered the pre-dawn dampness still bleary-eyed. There, the dim Addis Ababa street light illuminated a man leaning against a Land Cruiser 70 Series, both reflected on the dark wet road like a decipherable Rorschach test. A couple of days prior, on a whim, in a moment of madness with the oppressive crush of a city propelling me, I’d booked a tour to photograph tribes living in Ethiopia’s South Omo region. On the map, South Omo lies at the foot of Ethiopia, bordering Kenya at Lake Turkana like a small, torn scrap of paper.

It’s not particularly impressive to look at and the road network is decidedly sparse. Perhaps road ‘network’ is not the right word. This lack of infrastructure is a clue, however, to the treasures that lie within the confines of a cartographer’s arbitrary line. The 112323 square kilometre patch is called ‘Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s State’. The name describes a region caught in time where a few tribes exist outside of the world that you and I know. Their world has changed very little when compared to the First World in the same timeframe. The promise was that they were the last truly untouched traditional civilisations in Africa. The Cruiser lurched and stamped through muddy potholes as we skirted traffic, dodging men pulling carts with impossible loads. We broke the city limits before dawn, avoiding the full surge of human traffic that dutifully pulses into its grubby, concrete heart every day.

Addis behind us Pretty soon the landscape flattened around the Cruiser, changing from brick, and buckled, muddy plastic, to brilliant, variegated green shrubbery and fields. Herders wrapped in bright yellow and red cloth boldly set against the luminous landscape, sauntered past trees barely recognisable as acacias. Their thick, old trunks sprouted young, shrub-sized limbs – providing evidence of being religiously pared back once they’d reached burnable girth. Roughly 230 kilometres south of Addis, we stopped at Tiya for some strong Ethiopian coffee served from a traditional thin-necked clay jug, before heading off into a field of tall grass. We’d come to see the remnants of what is thought to be the 700-year-old gravesite of fallen warriors.

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