Snap­shots from Ethiopian tribal life, in the Cap­i­tal

HT City - - MY CITY - Henna Rakheja

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.

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