We left our hotel and headed south in order to visit the Mursi tribe in their remote village. We ended up sitting in a line of cars for about an hour, as our guide tried to find out what the delay was. It seems there was a bit of trouble ahead – there was no love lost between the local townspeople from Jinka and the nearest tribe, the Ari. There had been some kind of conflict, and the local authorities were sorting it out. Meanwhile, 4 or 5 vehicles carrying tourists had to wait it out.
After a bit we were given the go-ahead, and we all followed a police vehicle through the Ari territory.
As the police escort left us, we pulled to the side of the road to pick up our “scout.” Our scout was a very large man in a military uniform, and he carried an AK-47. Okay, so not exactly a Boy Scout.
He squished himself into the rear of our Toyota, and off we went. Every other tourist vehicle had a scout as well. Better safe than sorry, right? We later learned that the heavy trucks coming through the area often run down livestock, which has a serious impact upon the finances of the tribes. Therefore, any vehicles that travel that portion of the road are looked upon as potential threats and/or victims; hence, the increased security measures.
This woman is the first person we saw as we entered the village. Had it not been for the setting, I would have thought she was a fashion model!
She exemplifies the traditional Mursi body decorations: the stretched earlobes or bottom lip to accommodate a clay plate, and bodily scarring. Our guide told us the scarring was done with thorns from the acacia tree in order to decorate and beautify the body. We saw some men with scarring, but it was much more prevalent on the women.
The Mursi people are very accustomed to visitors, and have developed a system for dealing with tourists. Photographers are welcome to pay for the privilege of taking photos. Each villager, children included, charges a fee to pose. The fee is nominal, but when you take as many pictures as Craig and I do, it made our tour guide Ephrem feel like an ATM, doling out small denomination bills constantly.
We had to laugh when we realized that some of the villagers were popping into their huts, changing headgear, and coming back out for another photo op and tip. The Ethiopian monetary unit is the birr, and there are 30 birr to one US dollar. Ten birr was a pretty typical fee for a photo. Some of the folks decided that it should be 10 birr per photographer, so after a while I backed off to keep Ephrem from running out of money.
Ethiopian bills are kept in circulation until they fall apart!
Here is a collection of photos of the Mursi people.
It disturbed me to see the condition of the children. Many of them looked undernourished to me, and had coughs, runny noses, or eye infections. As I said in my earlier post, these folks live a very hard life. Water must be carried. In order to cook something, they must first grow it or catch it. If they want bread, they must first grown the grain, then grind it and cook it. There are no convenience stores. The local open-air markets offer produce, charcoal, and Chinese plastic goods. Cattle are plentiful but don’t give much milk, and aren’t often slaughtered for food. The earth is dry and dusty and there simply isn’t enough water for the luxury of cleanliness.
More tribes in my next post. Come back soon!