Brief Encounters with Three Tribes: the Arbore, Dassanech and Mursi!

Though revisiting the Hamar (Hamar), Kara and Nyagatom (Kara) after 5 years was the main goal of my trip to the Omo Valley, I also ended up spending a little time with tribes that I had not met before. Here is a glimpse of what I saw.

One of these groups was the Arbore, a small tribe, which lives in the Southwest region of the Omo Valley.  Though men were out with the cattle, we visited with the women and children of a small Arbore village, including a baby just a few weeks old.  As with other tribal groups, the women and girls have found unique ways to adorn themselves, wearing beads in a very distinctive pattern. In addition, young unmarried girls completely shave their skulls and they cover their heads with a piece of black cloth so as to protect themselves from the relentless sun. Married Arbore women let their hair grow and braid them tightly.

We also stopped briefly at a Dassanech (Dassanach) village. I had met with people from the Dassanech ethnic group previously at the Turkana festival (Turkana) but had never visited a village. As we arrived, all were sitting in front of their huts very welcoming. For me, this is both good and bad. Of course I am always grateful to be happily greeted, but it also means that it will be difficult to see people in their daily activities, as we become their focus as opposed to them being ours. Yet we saw many women of all ages carrying pots on their heads with a balance and an elegance that I can only dream of.

The third tribe we saw was the Mursi. It was my fist time seeing them though I had previously spent time with the Suri (OmoValleyTribes), a sister tribe. Like the Suri, the Mursi women wear lip plates. The plates mostly made of clay mark a rite of passage and are only worn in front of strangers. Mursi tribe members are also famous for their headdress.   As they get many visitors, the Mursi have the reputation of being somewhat more aggressive than other tribes in their dealings with photographers. I was prepared for aggressiveness but what I experienced felt more like desperation. Most of the men were absent from the village and the women and children present were determined to ornate themselves iOn whichever way they could to be photographed, hoping to earn a little money. Though most of the tribes one visits are happy with a donation to the group, the Mursi insist on being paid individually (I should enroll my favorite economist to opine on who is doing it optimally). Flies were swarming the village and the women would relentlessly adorn themselves with dried fruits, horns, beads, anything they could get their hands on to attract attention, even using their children as props. I quickly moved aside trying to photograph the few people who had decided not to be part of this exchange. Once again, I was struck by the feeling that for the beautiful tribes of the Omo Valley, life is harder than ever.

If you want to know more or help the Omo Valley tribes, please visit “Survival International” (Survival), an organization concerned with the survival of tribal people.

France

P.S. For better viewing enjoyment, click on the title of the post to get to the website.

P.P.S. To see more of my images, follow me on Instagram at franceleclerc

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15 Comments

  1. michele June 18, 2017 at 15:26 #

    Beautiful. Love the Omo and your images!

    • franceleclerc June 19, 2017 at 09:37 #

      Thank you Michele. I know you love the Omo. Your beautiful images convey your love for the region.

  2. Jane Bradbear June 18, 2017 at 16:23 #

    Hello France, These are beautiful photographs and I love the black and white. The portraits are particularly engaging and my favourite is of the woman 11th photo from the start! Are you planning to publish a book of your photographs of all these wonderful people you meet? Jane

    • franceleclerc June 19, 2017 at 09:47 #

      So nice hearing from you Jane. And glad to hear you still visit the blog. I am also happy that you like my black and white images as I know black and white is what you do. Thank you. I have given some thoughts to doing a book but it seems like it would be a lot of work and there are so many beautiful books out there, I am not sure I have much to add. I may feel differently one day, who knows. Warm regards, France

  3. karen gilovich June 18, 2017 at 16:47 #

    your photographs are stunning. I hadn’t thought about the economics in this way, and it is thought-provoking. Thank you, France.

    • franceleclerc June 19, 2017 at 09:49 #

      Thank you Karen. I don’t think I could get my favorite economist to make the trip though 😉

  4. Osman Ahmed June 18, 2017 at 20:04 #

    Great coverage France. Like your narratives much. The b&w shots are just amazing!!!

    • franceleclerc June 19, 2017 at 09:51 #

      Thank you Osman. I am glad you like the narrative and the images. Thanks for putting the trip together.

  5. Karl Grobl June 18, 2017 at 21:12 #

    My favorite is the last shot…..wow!

    • franceleclerc June 19, 2017 at 09:54 #

      Thanks Karl. I like that one too. A strong beautiful woman. I’ve been enjoying reading about your adventures in Ladakh. Warm regards, France

  6. Kathy Hornsby June 19, 2017 at 14:02 #

    Echoing comments above, wonderfully descriptive narrative and compelling photography, France! I too like the B/W. There’s something very haunting about the B/W. I love all of the images, but perhaps the one that truly speaks to me is the portrait of the young woman, perhaps 14th down, with her head slightly canted. Through your image, her personality reads as soft and yet a bit edgy and hardened, perhaps due to her tough environment. In anticipation of my first trip to the Omo Valley next year, your insight is especially relevant and helpful! Interesting about some tribes posing, being more aggressive about payment etc. (Far be it for any of us to ever begrudge them for that, right?)

    • franceleclerc June 20, 2017 at 16:47 #

      Kathy, As always thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. At this point, the tribes all want to be compensated and you are right, you can hardly begrudge them for that. But it was quite a surprise the first time (have a look at my old blog post ( http://franceleclerc.com/page/3/?s=ethiopia ) to see my initial reaction. The money is never really the concern as it is so little but the impact of the payment on behavior is what I worry about. Let’s talk before you go. XX

  7. Emilie June 25, 2017 at 15:25 #

    Very moving photos . They make me quite sad..what a struggle . How much longer can they live this tribal life as we march into the 21st Century. Elon Musk dreams of life on another planet , this may as well be another planet . Such proud, resilient people living in the harshest conditions one can imagine. I found it fascinating that the only person to really smile was the senior woman . Beautiful young girl with eyes wide sitting in her low hut ..as stunning as any model anywhere . I’d have liked to have seen the condition of the cattle ….drought is severe. Good you put a link to Survival International..I have not heard of that organisation. Interesting that one group preferred individual payment ..do you think that indicates a fracturing of community under severe stress ?

    • franceleclerc June 26, 2017 at 18:19 #

      Dear Emilie, Always happy to read your caring and thoughtful comments. Yes life is a struggle for most of the tribes in the Omo Valley. It may have felt even more so because of the drought, but even though it is now raining some, I can’t imagine that they have a bright future ahead. Between the harsh conditions, the dam project and the cotton industry, there is very little resources left for them. If you have a chance, watch the documentary: Omo Child, The River and the Bush. It will give you a sense of the living conditions (not to mention the unfathomable practice of mingi). As to why this particular tribe and village insisted on individual payments, I am not sure but it was intriguing to me. Maybe they did not trust the village elders to share with the rest of the village, or maybe it is the tribal structure that is different. I don’t really know. Hope you are well. France

      • Emilie June 28, 2017 at 00:26 #

        Thank you , yes all good here , hope you too are well. Thanks for the suggested ..Omo child ,the river and the bush .I watched the trailer ..it looks very interesting .Will need to watch whole story !

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