BEFORE THEY PASS AWAY.Karo tribe, ETHIOPIA, by Jimmy Nelson


Karo tribe, ETHIOPIA, by Jimmy Nelson

The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, is home to an estimated 200,000 tribal people who have lived there for millennia. Amongst them are 1,000 to 3,000 Karo who dwell on the eastern banks of the Omo river and practise flood-retreat cultivation, growing sorghum, maize and beans.

The Karo were known for their magnificent houses (when still rich in cattle) but after they lost their wealth, they adopted the much lighter conical huts. Every Karo family owns two houses: the Ono, the principal living room of the family, and the Gappa, the centre of several household activities.

The tribes here have always traded between each other, for beads, food,
cattle and cloth. More recently, the trade has been in guns and bullets.
Inevitably, as roads are made through the area, other goods like beer
and food find their way into the villages. There are serious concerns
about the impact of a gigantic dam that is currently under construction.
It will produce much-needed electricity, but at the same time it will
reduce the river’s flow and tame the seasons of flood and retreat,
which the tribes living downstream rely on to nourish their crops.

The Karo women are known for their productive work and dedication to serving their families. From sunrise to sundown, they travel on foot to their working places – the surrounding bush and fields of the Karo Tribe. They do this every day of their lives to keep their family healthy and alive while the men of the tribe protect the village and people from wild animals, hunt crocodiles or other predators, or simply just sit under a hut and chew tobacco. 

The biggest ceremony in a man’s life is called Dimi. Its purpose is to
celebrate and bless his daughter for fertility and future marriage.
When he has gone through Dimi, a man becomes an elder.
About 10 cattle and 30 smaller animals are slaughtered and other
stock is traded for coffee. Men and women dress in animal fur capes
to feast and dance, and the leaders of the village bless the girl.

The Karo were known for their magnificent houses (when they were still
rich in cattle) but after they lost their wealth, they adopted the much
lighter conical huts. Every Karo family owns two houses: the Ono, which
is the principal living room of the family, and the flat-roofed Gappa,
which is the centre of several household activities.

Until the age of around 10 to 12, as a tease, girls are called ‘wild animals’ or ‘boys’, since they cannot act like women (i.e. wear clothes, get married etc.) before they are circumcised.

The bull-leaping ceremony is a rite of passage to mark the boys’ coming of age. Each boy, naked, has to make four clean runs over the backs the cows, without falling. 

The Karo or Kara is a small tribe with an estimated population between 1,000 and 3,000. They are closely related to the Kwegu tribe. They live along the east banks of the Omo River in southern Ethiopia and practice flood retreat cultivation. The crops that are grown by them are sorghum, maize and beans. Only small cattle are kept because of the tsetse flies. These flies are large and consume the blood of vertebrate animals.

The boys have painted their body and faces with white chalk for a ceremony. An iportant ceremony in a young man’s life is the bull-leaping ceremony to qualify for marriage.

After marriage the most important ceremony in is the Dimi, to celebrate and bless his daughter’s fertility and marriage.

Like the Dassanech and the Banna, the Karo practise ritual
dancing and singing. To prepare for a ceremony, they paint
their bodies and faces with white chalk mixed with yellow
rock, red iron ore and charcoal.

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