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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Mursi Tribesman
OCTOBER 24, 2007

Lip Plates & Other Circus Acts

The main draw card of travelling through the remote Omo Valley is to visit the untouched tribes. After the hard slog west on the back of several Isuzu trucks we picked up in relative style from the Gemja Hotel in a shiny Landcruiser - at 1000 birr for the day it wasn't cheap, unfortunately due to the remoteness of the Mursi tribe this is the only way to visit them.

After a rough night in a dodgy hotel we moved to one slightly better - although it appears that the whole town of Jinka was temporarily out of water so for a few extra bucks we got a nicer room with a shower - albeit no water.

Leaving town and heading into the hills we first had to cross the Mago National Park - this included paying all of the required park fees knowing there was almost no chance of spotting any animals. And so it was that an hour later we appeared on the far side of Mago no better off but a little closer to our Mursi goal.

Joining a mini convoy of two other vehicles we collected a Mursi scout to take us out to the villages, a few more kilometres down the road we turned off into the scrubby bush towards what was supposed to be a remote little visited village. After our Masai Boma experiences in Tanzania and Kenya we were expecting a show, we were not expecting the full moscow circus...

Rounding the final bend in the track we came into a clearing literally filled to the edges with 4x4's. Mursi Adults and children alike swarmed over the vehicle demanding you purchase souvenirs and take their picture. We were slightly shocked having been promised it would probably only be us at the village.

We hung back for about ten minutes hoping we could visit an alternative village however we were kindly informed that the "bridge" was out and this was the only village we could visit that day. With no choice we took the plunge and headed in through the crowd.

For a while we walked around with the camera packed away - this seemed to work in stopping the persistent villages hassling for a photo every two seconds. I then got our driver to negotiate with the village chief for a fixed rate to take as many photographs for the day rather than paying 2 birr per picture - no go on that front as it was clearly every man for himself out there.

With no choice I changed 50 birr into 1 birr notes, pulled the camera out of the bag and walked into the fray. First of all we just walked around selecting a subject, taking a quick photo, Donna then handing over the 2 birr fee.

Mursi Woman with Body scarringMursi Woman with Body scarring and cash in hand

After a while I realised that everyone in this whole charade had sold out long ago and it would be much better to really concentrate on getting the best shots, treating the whole experience as a photo shoot. We then were much more selective of each photo, making people get out of the road if they were blocking a good shot, trying to get only the prettiest of girls - it really was a sick joke.

Near the gate of the village where most of the other tourists were congregating it was madness. Simply standing there meant you had massive Mursi Warrior men with Kalishnakovs and Machetes grabbing you and pulling at you to take their picture. The women were no better - and some were armed just as badly.

After about an hour of this culturally pointless freak show most of the tourists had left the village and were milling about their vehicles ready to leave. We took this opportunity to skulk around the back of the village getting some more "Natural" shots of the villagers going about their business.

Boys and their toys

Donna and I relaxed and could really focus on getting the shots we wanted - it turned into a cold photo shoot I would pick a subject who looked interesting or pretty, we would then get them to stand where we wanted and the photo would be taken.

The rules for photography were simple - 2 birr per photo, three if there's a baby. Group shots are two each - though if someone just stands in the photo you can tell them to bugger off no worries. The bigger the zoom the further back you can stand and the more free shots you can take. Click twice and if they hear that's 4 birr.

At one point we asked to take a photo of a young boy, when the mum stood next to him thinking we wanted both we said, no, only the kid, the mum then forced the kid away from her into some space and the kid was balling, we tried to say don't worry but she persisted until we took the photo.

At this point we had pretty much had enough and were ready to leave. I managed to buy the lip plates out of the mouths of two young ladies - a little gross but semi authentic me thinks. When our photographic habits were finally sated we reboarded the 4x4 and headed back to the Goh Hotel in Jinka.

Feeling thoroughly disgusted I spent the remainder of the afternoon/evening relaxing on the porch with a cold St George Lager. Tomorrow we head to the little township of Key Afer - hopefully in time to catch the big weekly market and some non touristy tribalism...

Click here to see the Mursi Photo Gallery (21 photos)

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