Karo people


“Today we will visit an area where one of the oldest tribes in Ethiopia lives,” Ephrem told me.

“Can you tell me more about them?”

“These people are called Karo. There are not more than 3,000 of them left today,” said Ephrem as he started the engine. “Their history goes back more than 500 years.”

“Interesting!”

“We need to pick up a local guy on our way there.”

We left Turmi at 8 am. After thirty minutes of driving we got onto a dirt road. We were in Hamar people’s country.

“It’s unfortunate that the Karo people may be forced to leave the area, along with another eight tribes.”

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because of the Gibe III dam. The dam completely changed the local ecosystem. Thousands of people, including the Karo, rely on the annual flooding of the river to feed their crops. The dam disrupts this process, creating food and water shortages for all tribes in the Omo River valley. It’s a sad reality. They’ve been living there for five hundred years and now they may be forced to leave. That would be the end of the Karo people’s life.”

After forty minutes of driving we stopped in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, a guy with a big smile and an Ak47 showed up out of the bushes.

“This is Negasi,” Ephrem said to me. “He will be our guide for today.”

“Thanks God! For a moment, I thought we are about to get murdered!” I replied laughing.

Negasi laughed and joined us, taking the back seat of the car.
We drove for another hour when Ephrem finally stopped the car.

“Here we are,” he said. “These are the Karo people and their land.”

The village was on a hill looking down onto the river. The huts were made using sticks, straw and dirt. The Karo decorate their bodies with paintings. Negasi explained that paint is made by mixing colored ochre, white chalk, yellow mineral rock, charcoal, and pulverized iron ore. The Karo people use only naturalmaterials for the paint available in the Omo River. The body paintings can be changed anytime depending on various occasions. I saw various shapes and patterns of paintings, ranging from simple stars and lines to animal motifs, such as guinea fowl plumage.

The Karo were very friendly. Like in other places in the Omo valley area, men carried Ak47s. Women cooked food on fire or were breast-feeding babies. They smiled at me and posed for photos in exchange for small Ethiopian cash. I walked around followed by an army of kids who laughed and loudly screamed: “Farangi! Farangi!”

Suddenly, I heard an Ak47 gun shot. The kids ran away. I looked at Negasi:

“I think, we should leave.”

“Okay,” Negasi smiled.

We returned to our car. Ephrem ran toward us.

“What happened?” he asked.

“I don’t know, probably someone was too drunk?! Let’s go!”
We headed back to Turmi.

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