New York-based art director and photographer Diego Arroyo recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia to document the ancient tribes of the Omo Valley.
During his time in Ethiopia, Arroyo spent time with the Hamar, Mursi, Dassanech, and Arbore Tribes. They, along with several others tribes, make up the 200,000 people situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley.
The people of the Omo Valley are still primarily herders and farmers, living an isolated and simple life.
While they have yet to be truly touched by globalization, they could soon disappear. Their way of life is being threatened by a massive hydroelectric dam.
Arroyo explained his desire to photograph the tribes in a recent interview with MyModernMet:
For years, I wanted to photograph the people from the tribes in the remote Omo Valley, a place of exceptional anthropological value and amazing beauty. It was a fun and challenging journey full of adventures and great experiences, during which I got to spend some time learning about the amazing cultural heritage of the ancient tribes in the region.
Cattle are at the center of Omo Valley tribal life. Men take care of the cattle and a tribesman's wealth is measured by the size of his herd.
Mursi people, like many in the Omo Valley, paint their bodies using clay. The paint protects against sunburns, indicates how virile they are to women, how intimidating they are to other men, and supposedly wards off evil and disease.
Using only the clay, they can make face paint that is ocher, red, yellow, white, and grey. They usually apply the paint with fingers, but occasionally use reeds as paintbrushes.
Men and women both wear colourful jewelry and often carve intricate designs into their bodies using thorns.
Women of the Omo Valley tribes wear headdresses made out of corn husks, gourds, feathers, and other plants.
Neck rings can indicate if a women is a first or second wife. Hamar men often have more than one wife.
Hamar women are beaten with canes by the tribe's men during their brothers' initiation ceremonies. The women consider the beatings a source of pride.
Many Mursi boys perform acrobatics on stilts when tourists come by, as a means of making extra money.
The Hamar tribe practices ritual infanticide. If a child's first tooth appears in the upper jaw, instead of the lower, he or she is 'mingi' and considered to be bad luck. The tribe leaves 'mingi' children in the desert to die.
Before a Mursi man can marry, he must face an opponent in a stick battle. Whoever wins is then taken by a group of women to determine who he marries.
The Arbore tribe believes that, with singing and dancing, they eliminate negative energy and cause the tribe to prosper.
The way of the Omo valley tribes are being threatened. Their homes are being destroyed by sugarcane plantations and the development of a massive hydroelectric dam.
One tribeswoman told Survival International, 'The government says cattle and people have to move from the Omo valley to where there is no grass and no crops. So that means we and the cattle will die together.'
Strong cheap alcohol is being trucked into the Omo River Valley and excessive drinking is becoming a problem in the tribes.
Growing numbers of people from the Omo River Valley are migrating to the region's cities and the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
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