Snapshots from Ethiopian tribal life, in the Capital
Where mankind is said to have originated, an eclectic celebration of life exists even today. It’s here that fruits become part of colourful headgear and plates are inserted in the lower lips of women. And a glimpse of such traditions of the tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia can be caught in the work of the wildlife biologist and photographer Latika Nath. Over 150 images from her collection will be exhibited at Omo — Where Time Stood Still.
The photographs on display show the skill the Omo tribes possess in body painting, and their expertise with creating accessories out of basic resources. “It all began three years ago when I planned to visit Ethiopia to photograph the rarest wolf in the world,” says Nath, who holds a DPhil in Tiger Conservation and Management. By and by, her list of subjects to photograph grew, but just reaching the valley took months to plan. With modern development knocking at their door, the time was ripe for Nath to capture the tribes in their natural habitat.
“I had to drive and fly for hours to get to the remote place that these tribes live in, but I did all that because I really wanted to see these people before they get integrated in modern society,” says Nath, adding, “These tribes are master craftsmen in the art of body painting, and the only ones today to insert lip plates. And compared to the Maasai or any other tribe, they haven’t been exposed to tourists much.”
Having travelled to the country in the middle of a political emergency, when she finally reached the valley, Nath was shocked to see that despite being in little contact with the technological advancement of the outside world, the tribespeople possessed modern weapons and ammunition. “Some of the tribes are very friendly, and some can be quite hostile. I saw tribesmen carrying AK47 to protect their cattle and their villages from raids by other tribesmen. This has got to the point that to buy brides, the normal rate is 35 cattle and one AK47,” reveals Nath, who turned photographer since she felt she could “draw more attention using photographs than with scientific papers”. Nath reveals that she narrowly escaped getting shot in a stick fight, the ‘donga’, that took place over common grazing land.
The biologist also witnessed the “horrific” lip plate insertion ceremony, thought to add to women’s beauty and increase her bridal worth. Nath is now compiling a five-volume book on these tribes.