WILD Stories: The Peoples of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley
We worry about money, power, status and the way the world perceives us. While we spend our energy succumbing to such pettiness, there are people living parallel lives, a place where nothingness sprawls before them. The Omo Valley in Ethiopia, home to tribes like Mursi, Hamer, Benna, is one of the most surreal places I have ever experienced.
As I drove through the dirt roads of the wilderness of Ethiopia, I moved through an ineffable scope of feeling. Never before had I seen a group of people so detached from what you and I call civilization. Looked at them through my lens, the intensity of their gazes and the force of existence they emitted was almost unnatural.
We didn’t speak the same language, but when they welcomed me into their homes, silence felt appropriate; words would only disturb the calming sound of barren lands.
Photographing the Mursi tribe was the most challenging. Temperamentally they seemed heated. With the advent of tourism, they’ve learned that they can charge for photographs of them. It was hard to focus on a subject as long as I would have liked, as they were in constant communication with one another—talking out the scene. It was also complicated that every time the flash went off, they believed the light to be sucking up their blood. Their discomfort was evident and the more flash that went off, the angrier they got. The fact that they were carrying AK-47s didn’t help with my own serenity, either—so there was slight unease on both ends.
While the entire trip was magical, there are some stories that stand out more than the others. The night I saw a young boy perform his rite of passage is one of them. Seeing him jump over the backs of these bulls was an extraordinary display of physical prowess. Before he took the leap, the nervousness hung thick in the air. It didn’t last long. though. The women of the tribe, inebriated by now, broke into loud, manic chants and cheers to encourage the boy into manhood. It seemed to work.
Our tour guide incidentally belonged to the Benna tribe, and I can safely say, being amongst them was the most peace I have felt in a very long time. The content they lived with was almost contagious. I remember sitting down and taking the landscape in when a plane flew overhead. I remember thinking that the people on the plane must have no idea what was right beneath them, a new—or perhaps old is more appropriate—world, where humans exist in their rawest form; the most beautiful people I’d ever spend time with. Some of them were bare naked, some had adorned themselves with beads, some had painted themselves with ash. There was a potent sense of regality, pride, and yet modesty. That raw beauty, in it’s most natural form, is what I want to show the world through my photographs. The people of Omo Valley compelled me to reassess the way I look at life, reminded me of what is important. We get too caught up in the rat race. Ethiopia told me that money is not essential to happiness. That what matters is the hunt for our own interior joy, where we see beauty in all things.