Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Young Boy, Paint, Mursi Community, Mago National Park, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010


While most of the portraits are in black/white, a sizable minority of images from my trip to Ethiopia have color parallels. It seemed both natural and important for me to do so, since the color spectrum was already almost duotone in presentation.

When the time came to do so, the film backs of the camera were exchanged and color images made. It was pretty simple actually, and the people cooperated fully for the most part. We stayed in a small town just outside of the park system, since staying within was forbidden. Every time we entered the park system we would need to take with us an armed park ranger, usually a member of the very tribe we wished to visit.

Before visiting this community I was told about the difficulties some have faced, the aggressive nature of the park's inhabitants. Stories of trucks being approached by large groups of people, products being thrown upon the tourists for purchase without choice. The reality was much different, and the communities accepted us with kindness. While they did approach me with lip discs and baskets for sale, they did so with respect and humor. They allowed us to set up the equipment without hassle and with the simplest of negotiations.

There were times when we would ask of them something different, for example to have their children stand on the bumper of the truck. They never disagreed with us and made it a most amicable environment. The older men helped us with the children, and the women stood at a distance watching all of this unfold in front of them.

The young boy above was photographed in both color and black/white. Most of the boys wore necklaces with white and black beads. Their faces were painted in various patterns of white, and sometimes this extended to their torsos. The white of their eyes was rarely white, the environment having much to do with this. They live a most difficult life, with scars on their skin as evidence.

What struck me about the color images was the sky. While I wanted so much for it to be clear, the various cloud formations proved to be quite beautiful. This, coupled with the importance the sky plays in the religious beliefs of this community, has made these images supremely important to me.

According to Wikipedia:

Like many agro-pastoralists in East Africa, the Mursi experience a force greater than themselves, which they call Tumwi.This is usually located in the Sky, although sometimes Tumwi manifests itself as a thing of the sky (ahi a tumwin), such as a rainbow or a bird. The principal religious and ritual office in the society is that of K├┤moru, or Priest. This is an inherited office, unlike the more informal political role of the Jalaba. The Priest embodies in his person the well-being of the group as a whole and acts as a means of communication between the community and God (Tumwi), especially when it is threatened by such events as drought, crop pests and disease. His role is characterized by the performance of public rituals to bring rain, to protect men, cattle and crops from disease, to ward off threatened attacks from other tribes, to safeguard the fertility of the soil, of men and of the cattle. Ideally, in order to preserve this link between the people and God, the Priest should not leave Mursiland or even his local group (bhuran). One clan in particular, Komort├¬, is considered to be, par excellence, the priestly clan, but there are priestly families in two other clans, namely Garikuli and Bumai.

I plan to return to this land in the near future, but need to attend to another part of Africa until then. However when I do return the work will hopefully manifest itself differently, with more sensitivity for the daily routines of the communities being photographed. A fuller picture of these incredible people is the desire.

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Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad analog system.