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Mursi woman tribe with hippo tusks - Omo valley Ethiopia | by Eric Lafforgue
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Mursi woman tribe with hippo tusks - Omo valley Ethiopia

On this picture, a Mursi woman, the most agressive tribe i met.

Agressive in the way that when you come to see them (after hours of 4x4 on a very bad track), they only think about the money they can get from you! The craziest thing is that they ask for a fee to park the car (20 euros!) at the entrance of the village!!

They use pigs tusks or hippo teeth as a decoration. the main problem is that they tend to use more and more things to attract photographers!

You may have seen or read books about this area by great photographers those last years, and many of the people inside are just "disguised"...


But at the end, those tribes really live like in the primitives times, whitout anything around apart their catle, and still fighting with other tribes to catch cows and women...

This is a daily reality in this area of the world!


7 000 tourists visit the mursis every year. It makes an average of 20 by day in a very big area, so it's very few.But as 70% are from Spain and pay a low fee to the tour operator, some tribes start to settle close to "hotels" or campings to get money from the photographers.

I had the chance to go in Omo valley with a guide who avoid those touristic spots.


The Mursi (also called Murzu) is the most popular tribe in the southwestern Ethiopia lower Omo Valley, 100 km north of Kenyan. They are estimated to 10 000 people and live in the Mago National Park, established in 1979. Due to the climate, they move twice a year between the winter and summer months. They herd cattle and grow crops along the banks of the Omo River. The Mursi are sedentary rather than nomadic. Their language belongs to the Nilo-Saharan linguistic family.Very few Mursi people speak Amharic, the official Ethiopian language. Although a small percentage of the Mursi tribe are Christians, most still practice animism. Mursi women wear giant lip plate, a sign of beauty, like in Suri tribe, and also a prime attraction for tourists which help to sustain a view of them, in guidebooks and travel articles, as an untouched people, living in one of the last wildernesses of Africa. When they are ready to marry, teenagers start to make a hole in the lower lip with a wood stick.

It will be kept for one night, and is removed to put a bigger one. This is very painful at this time. Few months after, the lip plate has its full size, and the girl is seen as beautiful by the men. The lip plate is made of wood or terracotta. They have to remove the lower incisors to let some space for the disc. Sometimes the lip is broken by the pressure of the plate. This is a big problem for the girl because men will consider her as ugly, she won't be able to marry anyone in the tribe apart the old men or the sick people. Women and men are shaved because they hate hairiness. Both like to make scarifications on their bodies. Women as a beauty sign, men after killing animals or ennemies as competition for grazing land has led to tribal conflicts.

The Mursi men have a reputation for being aggressive and are famous for their stick fighting ceremony called donga. The winner of the donga will be able to select the girl of his choice to have relations with if she agrees. Similar to the Surma tribe, the Mursi tribe commonly drink a mixture of blood and milk. Over the past few decades they and their neighbours have faced growing threats to their livelihoods cause the Ethiopian government officials have been actively evicting Mursi people from the Omo National Park, without any compensation to rent their land to foreign investors. Drought has made it difficult for many families to feed themselves by means of their traditional mix of subsistence activities. The establishment of hunting concessions has added to the pressure on scarce ressources.


© Eric Lafforgue


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Taken on October 25, 2008