11-22 February 2020 ‘Tribal traits and traditions tour’ – Upper + Lower Omo Valley
The Omo valley of Ethiopia is part of the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region (SNNPR) and is a relatively isolated area of the country, renowned for its indigenous people or tribes. There are approximately 40 tribes in the region, many of who are living as they have existed for millennia. It is these tribes that we have come to photograph – in their villages, the bush, roadside and local markets.
The photography. With tribal peoples photography is different. A very good local guide is necessary but here the precedent of paying villages and/or individuals is almost universal. This was something the tour companies seem to have instigated decades ago when tourism was in its infancy. We always try to give to the village instead of the ‘person’ because it is less discriminating, and we get our local guides to deal with payment to take pressure off the ‘photographers’. We are sensitive to the impacts that tourism can cause, hence, we try to make visits sustainable and avoid promoting ‘zooification’! It is all a delicate balance and the local guides are often best in deciding which strategy to adopt. In some cases when we have stayed in a ‘Suri’ village, for example, we wander around the village without a camera just to become a familiar sight. It is interpersonal skills, which make the moment count. And in that moment we want to capture light, colour, emotion, insight, character and spirit. We try to shoot in the golden hours or at least where there is shade from the intense African sun. In the right light, at the right time the ordinary becomes extraordinary and that is something to strive for. Extraordinary portraits, tribal life and street markets. Arbore, Hamar, Kara, Nyangatom, Bena, Ari, Suri, Dassenech, Tsemai – names of some of the tribes we will encounter.
Villages are sometimes remote and this is what makes the photography rewarding. We travel in comfortable 4X4’s (Toyota land cruisers or similar) to get to some of the very best locations. There is always a plan B if plan A has to be abandoned due to the occasional downpour, for example, making unsurfaced tracks impassible. It is also possible that we change the itinerary spontaneously if we hear of a local festival or celebration (bull jumping – hamar tribe, Stick fighting – Suri tribe).
Camping is in good quality tents with thick roll mats, a toilet tent and a cook to cater for all our meals. A bucket shower is also available. Ethiopia isn’t like Kenya or the countries to the south where ‘luxury tented camps’ are the norm, but the camping is comfortable and good. And you get to places others so not see!
You do need a sense of adventure for this trip. A good first aid kit with Malaria prophylaxis. I will send out a ‘things to bring’ list later. We will be off the beaten track but will not be doing any arduous ‘treks’ except to walk around, and to, some of the villages, which are short distances.
I first travelled to the Omo valley in 2000 and lived in Ethiopia from 2006-2010, hence I know the country well and love it. In the last few years, since living there, I have been back once every 12-18 months to capture those inimitable moments in the Omo and elsewhere.