"The Last Warriors"

February/March 1998 - They gathered around our base camp before the blazing Ethiopian sun parched the savanna. This region of low mountains covered with acacia and cacti, between the lakes of Stephanie and Turkana, is home to the Hamar tribe of Gema Gofu Province. The Hamar are considered the most beautiful in East Africa, an agro-pasturalist tribe skilled in pottery, beekeeping and blacksmithing. Cattle are the focus of their culture. Both men and women are very concerned about their appearance, and decorate themselves extensively with cowrie shells and animal skins, embellished with beads. Beautifully decorated and spectacular to observe, the hair is artfully twisted, and coloured with iron oxide mixed with animal fat. The body's painted, pierced and scarified. The arms and legs play host to an array of brass and aluminum bracelets.

'Baroo' was waiting to have her photo taken just as the sun broke the distant horizon and silhouetted the giant termite mounds surrounding our base camp. Two small fingers held against her goat skin bib indicated the amount she required to grant the permission to photograph her.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

 

Two Birr, the equivalent of ten cents, would allow me the privilege, and she released her grip from her older sister's hand. It is next to impossible to photograph the tribal groups in the lower Omo Valley without paying for the privilege. They also prefer new uncirculated notes, which were difficult to obtain, unless you get them at the National Bank in Addis Ababa. Employees at the foreign currency wicket were bewildered: No one knew the whereabouts of the cashier, but all agreed he should be back shortly. Eventually he arrived, with a large sheet of blank paper, and stared at it for over five minutes. The contemplation complete, he acknowledged me by pointing to the wicket next to him. The line there was ten deep. Twenty minutes later I explained my request to the clerk, and he directed me back to the foreign currency wicket! I pushed one hundred dollars under the wicket, and asked that it be changed into new one Birr notes. He took the money and disappeared. Minutes later, a young woman appears with my original one hundred dollars and advises me to try the main branch as they are out of money. On by cab to the main branch of the National Bank. Walking through the parking area people are being frisked and searched. A smiling guard, noticing my bewilderment, waves me through, while clutching an antiquated assault rifle. Again I explain my request, the money is passed through to the cashier, who promptly passes it back, telling me that first the money has to be exchanged for Birr, and then I must come back for new notes. "Where?" I ask, "Up on the second floor," he says. A cashier on the second floor sends me to the third floor, where a foreign currency form is filled out in triplicate. Then back down the stairs. The money, now in large denominations of Birr, was passed through the wicket along with the completed forms... and promptly handed back, "Sir, you will have to wait, the foreign currency teller has gone for lunch."

The photograph of Baroo was chosen as the judge`s favourite for "Travel Photographer Of The Year 2004". Juliet Coombe, photojournalist, broadcaster and editor of Get Lost  had the following comments: "You feel the power of Africa through the eyes of this young girl`s brilliantly framed portrait. The picture has a feel of the great master painters and yet brings a new way of looking at tribal imagery. The gaze is owned by the African warrior and we as the viewer are forced into a position of respect and awe of a world that is vanishing from our daily lifes. The photographer has a clear understanding of story telling, incredible technical skill and an eye for the perfect moment".

It was chosen by "Fuji Digital" in the launch of the Fuji Finepix S9500 camera. (Ironic, since it was shot with a Nikon on Fuji Film). It also appeared on the cover of an Arizona Travel Company's Brochure. The editor wanted the fly removed from her eye as it might deter future clients!!

BarooBarooThe 15,000 to 20,000 members of the Hamar make their living as successful cattle herders and farmers. Baroo posing©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
 
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                        Omo Valley accommodations                                   Challenging Terrain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Comments

Vanishing Cultures Photography
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments Maja, very kind of you.
Maja Nedeljkovic(non-registered)
Beautiful pictures and sad stories. Specifically I was touched by the story of people with elongated necks that they are being treated as exponents in the zoo.
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