YiOu meets members of the Kara tribe in the Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Ethiopia

Omo Valley

Before traveling to Ethiopia, I knew very little about the country other than its association with distance running – Haile Gebrasaillase and the Dibaba sisters are among the greatest runners in history. I was excited to learn about where they were from.

We landed in Addis Ababa and immediately felt a huge transition from South Africa. In contrast to Cape Town, Addis was chaotic, smoggy, dusty and everything was under construction. We then took a small plane south to a camp on the banks of the Lower Omo River. Here, close to the borders with Kenya and South Sudan, tribes live much as they have for the past several thousand years.

We had a memorable visit to a local community of the Kara people. That evening they were in a festive mood because there was full moon, so the entire village gathered to dance. The men were adorned in traditional body paint, feathers, and more than a few automatic rifles. They stood in a semicircle strictly arranged in order of age. The women and children stood in the middle and sang and clapped. They invited us to dance and we joined in the celebration. Even a dust storm could not dissuade them from their celebrations.

The people of the Omo are in the midst of a tectonic change. The construction of the Gilgel Gibe III dam has disrupted the flooding cycles that they depended upon to irrigate their crops. They are now in their second year of famine, and the food aid is in short supply. The influx of automatic weapons from the conflict in Sudan has also led to the eradication of essentially all wildlife in the area. Skirmishes amongst the tribes, usually over cattle, now leave 50 or more dead. We saw a few schools but they were poorly funded and inadequately staffed. I can’t help but wonder how long their way of life can continue.

The Kara adorn themselves with jewelry made from seeds and melted-down bullets.
The Kara adorn themselves with jewelry made from seeds and melted-down bullets.
Sean Pont
The Kara come together for a huge dance every lunar month during the full moon. Even this dust storm could not deter them. Unfortunately, dust storms are becoming more common as a consequence of overgrazing.
The Kara come together for a huge dance every lunar month during the full moon. Even this dust storm could not deter them. Unfortunately, dust storms are becoming more common as a consequence of overgrazing.
YiOu Wang
The Kara adorn themselves with paint made from clay. Collecting the clay can sometimes be dangerous because different colors come from areas that are controlled by different tribes. Some months prior, one of the Kara men was shot in the heart while he was collecting yellow clay. He survived, and with the money he raised for the surgery he bought a motorbike and three AK-47s.
The Kara adorn themselves with paint made from clay. Collecting the clay can sometimes be dangerous because different colors come from areas that are controlled by different tribes. Some months prior, one of the Kara men was shot in the heart while he was collecting yellow clay. He survived, and with the money he raised for the surgery he bought a motorbike and three AK-47s.
YiOu Wang
Kara boys investigate a camera
Kara boys investigate a camera
Sean Pont
Young Kara men. Note that unlike the elders they do not carry the wooden 'pillow', which is reserved for circumcised men. The initiation process involves running on the backs of 6 cows several times. Fall off, and you are branded a failure for life.
Young Kara men. Note that unlike the elders they do not carry the wooden 'pillow', which is reserved for circumcised men. The initiation process involves running on the backs of 6 cows several times. Fall off, and you are branded a failure for life.
YiOu Wang
These Hama boys (a neighboring tribe) had never seen a drone before. Some were amazed, others afraid. One young boy was so frightened that he ran back to the village, losing all of his clothes in the process. The missing front teeth of the boy on the right is a clear sign that he has had tetanus, also known as lockjaw. The front teeth must be removed to feed the child while he is sick, or he will starve.
These Hama boys (a neighboring tribe) had never seen a drone before. Some were amazed, others afraid. One young boy was so frightened that he ran back to the village, losing all of his clothes in the process. The missing front teeth of the boy on the right is a clear sign that he has had tetanus, also known as lockjaw. The front teeth must be removed to feed the child while he is sick, or he will starve.
Sean Pont
YiOu prepares for a run / photoshoot with two Kara men. The guy on the left is named America (no joke) and is considered to be the best body artists in the village. Also note his ammo belt -- ammunition is status and he has a whole heaping lot of it. It was America's son who was shot while collecting yellow clay. And in case you were wondering, yes, YiOu was faster.
YiOu prepares for a run / photoshoot with two Kara men. The guy on the left is named America (no joke) and is considered to be the best body artists in the village. Also note his ammo belt -- ammunition is status and he has a whole heaping lot of it. It was America's son who was shot while collecting yellow clay. And in case you were wondering, yes, YiOu was faster.